Do not be afraid!
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39, NIV)
In our household we’ve been in Covid self-isolation for the past twelve days. Not quite, as the book title has it, A Hundred Years of Solitude, but it’s still felt like a while. Our daughter Alice seems to have picked up Covid from the care home she works in. That’s ten days. Then our son Tom caught it from her - and the iso got extended. The atmosphere at home has been socially happy but not epidemiologically ideal. We’re very grateful that so far we’ve all been OK, and the two Covid victims have bounced back. Others, of course, have had tougher experiences - my father was hospitalised with Covid over Christmas (now recovered), and earlier last year an elderly family friend died of it - as, so sadly, have many, many others.
In all this I’ve been pondering what a distinctively Christian response to this is. Here goes:
1. We should not be surprised. Such pandemics are recurrent features of the world we live in. Revelation 6:8 mentions plague as a warning of God’s judgment. When we hear that “the pandemic has radically changed society”, it’s only changing a society too arrogant to think these things don’t happen any more. Marilynne Robinson’s 2004 novel Gilead is the recollections of an elderly American pastor. At one point he says, “It is hard to understand another time. You would never have imagined that empty sanctuary, just a few women there with heavy veils on to try to hide the masks they were wearing, and two or three men. I preached with a scarf around my mouth for more than a year." Sounds familiar? This was the 1918-20 Spanish Flu pandemic.
2. We should pray. In the Book of Common Prayer there is even a prayer in the time of any common plague or sickness, imploring God for His mercy. Have we lost this emphasis, relying only on ourselves?
3. We need to be socially responsible, doing our best not to pass this beastly bug on - that’s part of what Jesus called the greatest commandment, loving our neighbour as ourselves.
4. We need to obey the governing authorities, as we’ll soon be hearing in church in 1 Peter, even if we find the rules irksome.
5. We should respect each others’ views, which can be strongly stated. In Romans 14 Paul urges his readers to do this, in matters that are disputable, i.e. not about sin, righteousness and the gospel. Covid polarises opinion like Brexit - the quickest way to ruin a meal together - if we could have them! Be gentle.
6. But - and this is my biggest reflection, CHRISTIANS SHOULD NOT BE WRONGLY FEARFUL. For, as Paul says in the verses above, nothing can separate us from God’s love. Not even death! In saying we must not be wrongly fearful, I’m not saying that Covid isn’t serious for some people. Rather, even if it is, if we belong to Jesus, we have a Christian hope! Moreover, we know that God hears our prayer, and the Bible assures of how how our Father in heaven will use even affliction to grow us in Christlikeness, according to His loving purposes.
I think my own personality is likely to be on the more anxious, less laid-back side of life, so I need to say this to myself. And, my brothers and sisters, what an opportunity we have to show the world around us of the hope we have in Jesus.
We are in a pandemic of fear. To that pandemic, the gospel is our great antidote. Reflect on the big picture: our almighty, loving Father who cares, the sting of death drawn, future glory, and in the meantime God working for our good. What good news!