This is a time for realism, reflection, and remembering.
No doubt the coronavirus will continue to spread and the number of those infected will increase before it decreases. Meanwhile we can expect the stock market to remain volatile and many will panic as we navigate this medical, cultural, and economic storm.
We all know about computer viruses and some of us have written blogs that we hoped would “go viral.” But who would have thought that we would be humbled and stupefied in the presence of an international virus that does not affect our computers, but far worse, attacks our bodies?
What is a Christian to do?
On a practical level, we do what our medical experts tell us: wash our hands, respect social distancing and when possible, avoid crowds. This and other measures are reasonable and important.
But as Christians we have another resource for strength and courage in the midst of our fears. We have the assurance of God’s promises; we have the knowledge that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28).
On Saturday, March 7, Rebecca and I flew to California where I had the privilege of speaking at the Harvest Christian Fellowship church (Pastor Greg Laurie’s church) in Riverside. Bombarded with news of the virus in the media, I wished I had not accepted Greg’s invitation. But a promise is a promise, so we flew to the Santa Ana Airport, returning just this past Monday evening.
But before we left, Rebecca and I read Psalm 91 together. It calmed our fears, helped us see things in perspective and made us realize that we should not be paralyzed by fear in the midst of this crisis. Fears of the coronavirus are mitigated in the presence of our great God.
Psalm 91 is a Messianic Psalm, so the detailed promises of protection apply to Christ and only in a secondary sense to us. We cannot have absolute assurance that we will be delivered from “the deadly pestilence” (v. 3) or that “a thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you” (v. 7). Nor can we be sure that angels will bear us up lest we “strike our foot against a stone” (v. 12). But the basic theology of the psalm applies to us at all times and in all circumstances.
Let us reflect on the assurances God does give us.
First, we are assured that “God is our refuge and fortress” (v. 2). If we should succumb to COVID-19, God’s presence is there with us, giving us a sense of calmness because we realize that Someone greater than the virus has ultimate control. We are assured, “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge” (v. 4). God does not abandon us when we need Him the most!
Second, God supervises every detail of our lives: whether it is Satanic attacks, war, or pestilence (v. 3). If these come to us, it is only by His divine approval. He must sign off on the events that transpire in the lives of His children. Yes, we must take all the precautions we can, but there is no guarantee that we will be exempt from illness of any kind. We, however, do have the absolute guarantee given by Jesus Himself, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6, 7).
Third, the psalmist reminds us that God knows the intimate details of our lives; our trials are given that we might draw near and become better acquainted with Him. God knows us by name and we also know Him by name (v. 14). God knows where all the corona germs are, how they multiply, and the strength of our immune system. We know in theory that God is more powerful than COVID-19, but now we must believe this for ourselves.
The church has been here before. When the Black Plague came to Europe, 75–200 million people died. In 1527, a terrible plague reached Wittenberg and the town was gripped in fear; many fled. Martin Luther wrote an essay discussing whether a Christian should flee for their own safety. His answer in brief: if you have no responsibilities in the city you can leave; but as for the magistrates and the care-givers, they should stay even if they die; after all, what could be greater than for one person to give his life for another?
Luther was urged to leave by his prince, the Elector Frederick. But in keeping with his own theology, Luther and his wife Katie stayed, even bringing the sick and dying into their home, believing that no matter the risks—and they were much greater than COVID-19—God is honored when we realize that it is better to die in service to others than to live concerned only for ourselves.
So, let us take heart.
Open your Bible to Psalm 91, take time to read, reflect, and remember that the people of God have been down this road before. And also remember the words of Jesus to His frightened disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1). Bible commentator Matthew Henry wrote, “God hides himself in the darkness but never far away.”
Let’s use the words of Isaiah as our motto:
“I will trust, and will not be afraid” (Isaiah 12:2).