Over the past few months we’ve watched this thing we now know as coronavirus make its way from China all the way to Fairfax County. Suddenly everyone is an expert about pandemics and mitigation and things most of us have never spent much time thinking about. How do we respond to this scary virus? Should I cancel my trip to meet up with my dad next week to watch the Giants play baseball? Should parents pull their kids out of school or field trips? Should churches stop meeting? Questions abound. I’m not an epidemiologist or a public health expert, but I am a pastor, and I want to offer a few thoughts that I hope might promote peaceful hearts at this time.

Fear

There’s a lot we don’t know about the coronavirus, but I feel confident in saying that there is something more dangerous than these germs, and that is fear. Fear is a powerful force that lurks within the human soul and has the ability to assert itself with enormous impact. Fear can lead people to do crazy things, like empty a county of hand sanitizer. Fear of sickness, fear of the unknown, fear of death, these things are ever-present and especially noticeable in times like these. Fear can’t simply be disposed of, like an empty candy wrapper. What are we to do?

The first thing to do is to listen to our fears. There is real danger here. Viruses make people sick and many thousands of people die from them each year. What fear fails to tell us is that there is a God who loves us and whose promises and presence can replace fear. Having listened to our fears, the next thing to do is to listen to God. Hear his words in Isaiah 41:10, …fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you by my righteous right hand. The “I will’s” of this promise have fear-displacing power. Grab on to them, and him, and don’t let go.

Facts

This virus has become the lead story on many news outlets for many days. It would seem that with the rise of the internet and the 24-hour news cycle, we can almost follow every new diagnosis of coronavirus almost anywhere in the world. Yet with all this information, there’s still so much we don’t know:

  • How many people actually have it?
  • What is the death rate?
  • How does that compare with the flu?
  • If something like 4,000 people have died from coronavirus as of this writing, and somewhere between 290,000 and 650,000 people die each year from the flu, how concerned should we be?

The fact is we don’t have a lot of facts about a virus that is so new, so let’s be careful to avoid being swept up by fear on the one hand and being careless on the other. Let us be patient while the good people who are working non-stop to study and stop this virus do their work. And we might pray for them along the way and thank them as we have opportunity.

Future

Looking ahead with so much uncertainty, how can we live in a way that gives honor and glory to the God who promises, “I am with you”?

  1. Let us be a people of hope. Like x-rays reveal the real condition of your bones, times like these reveal the real condition of people’s hearts and hopes. Fear can lead people to far more serious things than emptying the local Costco of toilet paper. Maybe God has put us right here for a time such as this, to display what it looks like when you know that the worst thing that can happen to you, death, is actually a step in the right direction. Our hope isn’t in our health or length of life, but in the assurance of an eternal life with our great God.
  2. Let us be a people ready to serve. In past pandemics, Christians have often chosen not to leave or isolate themselves, but to put themselves in harm’s way by going into the homes of the sick and dying to care for them, pray for them, feed them. My wife, Lesley, mentioned today that if we have more food or supplies than we need, we’ll be able to share later with someone who might not have enough. That’s the heart I want to bring into this. We can start now by reaching out to those who might be lonely or fearful and offering comfort and hope.
  3. Let us be wise. Going through our series on the 10 commandments, one memorable line from the Heidelberg Catechism, speaking of Commandment 6, is this, “I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either.” Let’s stay informed, follow best practices, and make the most of the common grace coming to us from institutions like the CDC, WHO, and Fairfax County Health Department. As a church, we’re closely monitoring this situation and will communicate with you the steps we believe we need to take to keep everyone in our community as safe as possible.
  4. Let us pray. Let’s lift up people who are suffering, people who are working tirelessly to respond, people who are terrified, people who are lonely, isolated and suffering. When we pray, we resist the lies and fears sown by the evil one and instead we draw near to God where we find life. As we pray to the Sovereign One, we drain away the fear-producing power of this virus so that it doesn’t dominate our lives. We’re not serving Lord Coronavirus, we’re serving the Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, and long after this virus is a footnote in history, he will still be on his throne. Fear not.

Mark Mullery

P.S. Got comments or questions about this post, or ideas for another one? Email me at midweekmusings@rgcfairfax.org.