The spread of a dangerous disease is certainly nothing to take lightly. However, in recent days and weeks, as new information revealing the reach of the Coronavirus continues to surface, people are panicking. Chinese businesses are taking significant hits; the stock market has dramatically dropped, worrying investors; and our Chinese brothers and sisters are being treated with racism and abuse, all seemingly for reasons based on fear. A dangerous, spreading virus is certainly not to be dismissed. But it is also an opportunity to offer the love and healing grace of Jesus to a world overcome by pain and fear.
There is of course wisdom in washing hands often, spending more time indoors and taking wise precautions to prevent the viral spread. For people of faith, however, there is also reason to tame our own, fear-based reactions to the Coronavirus. Fear begets restlessness, and when we are restless, we tend to panic, fixate on worst-case-scenarios and act chiefly out of self-preservation. In other words, fear cripples our ability to fulfill our calling to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Jesus knew how relevant his command to “fear not” would be throughout the ages, considering that it is the most discussed topic in all of Scripture, with this single command repeated more than 300 times in the Bible. God tells us not to be afraid over and over again for a good reason; fear is a crippling motivator, as evidenced by our broader culture’s current reaction to the Coronavirus. More than this, we are no longer slaves to fear because God has promised to be with us and for us in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow.
A counteractant to being fueled by fear is to love one another.
1 John 14:18 tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.”
Fear compels us to injure and lash out at our fellow human beings, to make rash decisions with money and other resources and to behave as if God is no longer sovereign.
Love, on the other hand, is patient, kind and hopeful; it is not self-seeking or dishonoring to others. Having been loved in this way by Christ at the cost of his life, Christians, in particular, are free to love our fellow human beings with intentionality and sacrifice and without abandon. Rather than falling into panic, those whose eternity rests in the “saving health” of Jesus, who called himself our great Physician, are now free to live as instruments of his peace. “Peace I leave you; my peace I give you,” Jesus said.
Because the Everlasting God and Savior is our peace, we have a resource that enables us to say “no” to our fears and “yes” to trusting God and loving our neighbors. Whatever external threats may loom, those threats for the believer are temporal. Indeed, our long term worst-case scenario, according to Scripture, is resurrection from the dead and everlasting life. With this future having been secured for us at the cost of Jesus’ life, we are now free to serve others, even at the potential risk of our own.
One very practical way that we can serve our neighbors is with our prayers. We can pray, right now, for every country and region and people group affected by the virus. We can pray that God would prevent its further spreading. And as we pray that the virus would cease to spread, we could ask that in its place, the good news of Christ, His healing grace, and His promise to make all things new would go viral.
Finally, we can treat a global outbreak as an occasion to remember how the faithful have responded to such things in the past. It is followers of Christ, after all, who founded the vocation of healthcare, not to mention the many hospitals and clinics around the world that are named after a Christian Saint.
Tracing even further back to the first three centuries A.D., we can draw inspiration from how Christians responded to the plague in Rome. As Roman citizens shielded themselves from contagion by sending their own sick relatives into the streets, it was Christians who went into the streets to retrieve them, tend to their needs and in many cases, welcome them into their homes so they could die with dignity. It is for reasons like these that one emperor whose agenda included exterminating all Christians from Rome through religious persecution and genocide conceded in a letter to a friend that he could not stop the rapid growth of the Christian “sect” because Christians treated Rome’s poor, sick, and vulnerable with more care and compassion than Rome did.
I hope that my fellow Christians will, for the many reasons Jesus has given us for doing so, reject fear, panic and self-preservation. Instead, may we live as the light he has equipped us to be in a world overcome by pain and fear.