When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6:7-8, NIV)
Can the Bible give us some way-marks to help us navigate a possible Coronavirus epidemic? There is a great deal to say, but here are some starters:
1. We should not be surprised. In the passage from the book of Revelation, quoted above, the Lamb (the crucified and risen Christ) opens a scroll with seven seals. War, famine and plague follow. In our human pride, we’d like to think we can stamp these out - but Revelation (as true today as two thousand years ago) indicates that they will happen, right up to Christ’s return and the last judgment.
2. We should learn, and pass on, the good news of the Christian gospel. Sitting in an empty building and speaking online to his congregation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjAUC1_Kmt4), a pastor from Wuhan, China draws their attention to Hosea 6:1: “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but will bind up our wounds.” In the original context, God disciplined wayward Israel in order to bring them back to Himself. Both we and our surrounding society so easily forget God. An epidemic of this kind shows how much in our lives we take for granted; it brings us beyond our own abilities to cope; it humbles us and might even make some begin to fear and seek God. Could it be that in some way He has allowed this in order to help us do that? We should be ready to point those around us to both our need and what Christ has done for us.
3. We need not fear for ourselves. Paul wrote: For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21) The mortality rate from Coronavirus seems to be quite low, but even if we were one of those who succumbed, in Christ we have solid hope, guaranteed by the Lord’s death and resurrection.
4. We must love our neighbours as ourselves. Jesus told us to (Mark 12:31). There may be people around us with needs of various kinds. I have read that in the past Christians have been in the forefront of providing help in times of plague, even at risk to themselves. There may be practical ways in which those around us will need our help.
5. We should not give up meeting together. (Hebrews 10:24-25). This was written to Christians who were tempted not to meet. In our current circumstances, we too may need the encouragement! Of course, it is not wise to come to church if you are feeling unwell. As a staff team we are working out practicalities so that we can be very careful about hygiene. We are monitoring developments. But for the moment, if you are able to, come!
6. And, of course, we should pray: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people, writes Paul (1 Tim 2:1). We can pray for our our world, for governments and medics to be given wisdom, and for God to have mercy on us and use even this horrible episode so that many seek Him.