It was just a few weeks ago that the World Health Organisation (WHO) described COVID-19 (an acronym for COrona VIrus Disease of 2019) as a ‘pandemic’ (a rapidly spreading global disease). But it was the former Australian Broadcasting Commission’s medical correspondent, Dr. Norman Swan who first referred to COVID-19 as “a plague”. When we read through the Bible it also seems to mass dying events as plagues. These Biblical plagues were often a sign of God’s judgment on wickedness – remember the squabble that Moses had with Pharaoh and the resultant plagues that eventually led to Israel’s deliverance? The Christian response to the current pandemic (A.K.A. “plague”) has ranged from responsible to embarrassing. What is called for is a Biblically-informed, Christ-inspired, God-honouring response from Christians and the churches they comprise.
In that hour He [Jesus] healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind He bestowed sight.
“WHERE’S YOUR FAITH?”
I have heard that some Christians have claimed that they are virtually immune from COVID-19 because of their faith in Christ. Maybe they have just cause to believe this because God has actually spoken directly to them about how they will be preserved from this virus. If so, their faith is justified. No Christian can reasonably claim that the Bible itself makes such a promise—after all, none the Bible is written to us (it is written for us though) which is why it would not be faith to believe that such verses as Exodus 15:26 (saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in His eyes, and give ear to His commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer”) were written to us to take as a promise, it would instead be presumption!
For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
First Samuel 15:23a
RUNNING INTO THE DARKNESS
In the 1800s, a Belgian Catholic priest was given an assignment that involved taking up a ministry post in Hawaii. So far so good. But even though this was an Hawaiian island, it was also where Hawaii sent all of its lepers! Father Jozef Damien gladly took up his post and ministered to the hundreds of outcasts who had been exiled to this otherwise picturesque island. Eventually the inevitable happened. He contracted Hansen’s Disease (leprosy). After a protracted deterioration of his health, he succumbed and died at the age of 49. His life and ministry were yet another example of how the Holy Spirit has led faithful followers of Christ to run into the darkness, not away from it.
Christianity has a long tradition of such selfless service for a world cursed by the darkness of evil. Down through the millennia Christians have gone into slums, prisons, leper communities, and concentration camps and given their lives to minister to those in the clutches of evil outcomes. In the second century, it was Christians who went into the forests around the Roman Empire at night to rescue the baby girls that the Romans had abandoned there to “expose” their unwanted baby girls to the elements and the ravenous wolves. When Rome was eventually sacked by the Huns, it was the Church and its leaders who gave moral and civil leadership to reassure and comfort its citizens toward recovery.
In the 20th century, believers like Desmond Doss, served unarmed on the front-line in World War II as a military medic risking his own life to rescue dozens of wounded comrades left for dead from enemy fire. More recently, in the USA, when Hurricane Katrina nearly wiped out New Orleans, it was the Christian community across the USA who immediately mobilised to assist in emergency relief and aid. And even more recently, in Nashville Tennessee when they suffered a devastating hurricane a few weeks ago, the generosity of and response from the nearby Christian community led to the disaster relief coordinators announcing that they no longer needed any further government support and that they now had enough help and aid to more than meet the need. Christians have traditionally run into the darkness, not away from it! To be led by the Spirit in times of calamity is to be a light in the darkness and an expression of the love of God to a community in pain.
A NEW AWARENESS OF MORTALITY
Last Sunday, Arend Pîest said to me, “Isn’t it amazing how a something so incredibly tiny [the Corona virus] is changing the world!” He’s right. It’s so tiny you need a reasonably powerful microscope to even see it. Yet, this tiny microbial parasite is bringing the world to a halt and causing some people to face up to their own mortality – perhaps—for the first time—as reports of its spiralling death toll continues to mount. This is causing a massive shift in priorities. Dr. John Sands, who is giving me Launceston’s regular medical response updates, sent me this delight piece by Richard Hendrick –
by Richard Hendrick, March 13th 2020
Yes there is fear.
They say that in the West of Ireland a young woman is spreading fliers with her number through the neighbourhood so that the elders may have someone to call on.
It is arrogant and conceited to deny one’s mortality (that we will all die, Heb. 9:27). This the Caesars were frequently guilty of. Only GOD is immortal (Rom. 1:23). When someone acknowledges their mortality they soon ask the question, “What happens to me after I die?” This is what happened to Job when his horrible afflictions began.
But a man dies and is laid low;
man breathes his last, and where is he?
Questions like this are inevitable when people realise their mortality. This is why during a pandemic, the world needs the church! Governments can’t answer this question. Celebrities with a giddilion Instagram followers can’t answer it. Bloggers can’t answer it. Twenty-year-old Life Coaches can’t answer it. But every Christian—the spiritual bricks and mortar of the Church—can! It is in times like this that people begin to wake up to what the Psalmist declared nearly two and a half millennia ago-
Man is like a breath;
his days are like a passing shadow.
THAT VIRAL PEACE MAY ABOUND
Kim and I went to the supermarket this morning after our regular Friday morning coffee date. There were people everywhere. There were empty shelves. There were even security guards. It’s difficult for the Prime Minister to tell Australians that there is no need to panic-buy months worth of essential items such as toilet paper, when you go into the shop to buy one packet of it and there is none. People are anxious, and they now have reason to be. Australia has now closed its borders, and in a necessary and extraordinary move, so will Tasmania from midnight tonight. But Governments do not have all the answers to this crisis. Fortunately though, in Australia we do not have the “Separation of Church and State”, because our society was founded on the “Cooperation of Church and State”. This means that we are free to live what we believe and practice the consequences of what we believe, which involves front-line services in emergency and crisis accommodation; drug rehabilitation; marriage and family counselling; education; emergency aid and relief; and providing certainty in times of uncertainty. And, in addition to all of these outreach services, now is the time for every Christian to know what they believe and why and then demonstrate its consequences. Consider –
¶ Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
Therefore, do not let your hearts be troubled. Believer, I remind you that our hope is not in this world! It is where our ultimate home is! As for me, I have made a commitment to the Lord that He can use wherever He sees fit. If that should mean that I go into dark places in His Name as a light and comfort to the afflicted, so be it. But please be assured that as long as Lord enables me, I will do all I can to pastor, shepherd, feed, reassure, and remind you of what God’s Word says so that we can launch our own virus: a virus of the Lord’s peace!
Peace be with you.
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