“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” – Romans 12:2
We swim in a culture of fear. Right now it is fear of the Coronavirus, but this comes in the middle of rising fear about climate change, and we can all cast our minds back to when it was fear of Brexit, or a double-dip recession. The reality is that all of these, and many more, present a real threat to humanity – the Gospel doesn’t tell us that we will walk through life unaffected by sickness or hardship. But God has given us a way to live in a world where suffering is present. These are in addition to, and not at all in conflict with, the public health advice which you can read here.
- We are called to pray, not to worry
The Sermon on the Mount lays this out at length: “Do not worry … for your Heavenly Father knows what you need”; “You are worth more than many sparrows”. Paul takes this up in Philippians 4: “Do not worry about anything; instead, pray about everything…”. Paul witnessed a “worldwide famine” (Acts 11:28) in addition to shipwrecks and frequent attacks on his life – so his statement is not a shallow platitude. And Jesus taught His followers not to worry about tomorrow, despite predicting intense suffering in the near future (Mark 13:14-19).
- We are called to look beyond our own suffering
When Jesus was hanging on the cross, He looked beyond His own suffering to those around Him. He asked John to care for His grieving and vulnerable mother; He forgave those who mocked and insulted Him, knowing the harm they were doing to themselves; and He led a repentant thief to salvation. For us, this means thinking of the needs of others ahead of ourselves (particularly the most vulnerable), and responding with generosity rather than raising the drawbridge and “looking after number one”.
- We have a hope that is stronger than death
In most conversations about Coronavirus, the looming spectre – the thing that must be avoided at all costs – is death. It can be hard to step outside this prevalent worldview, but we must. Scripture tells us that “Death has been swallowed up in victory”, and we know that there is no sting left in death for the believer in Christ. This is not to say that we act recklessly; only that we do not fear the possible outcome.
- We are called to be ambassadors
As ambassadors, we must be clear on our message. Our message is not that Coronavirus is the judgment of God, or that if we pray we won’t get sick. In this matter, we should look again to the words of Jesus, when His disciples told him of a recent atrocity: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” In the face of suffering, our hope is in repentance and trust in Christ.
So, two closing thoughts (for now):
- Read, treasure, and believe the Scriptures! It is one thing to say that we believe God’s Word – but the test comes when it affects our behaviour. All the points above are drawn from the Scriptures, and there are plenty of passages I’ve not drawn on. Let’s dig into God’s promises, and know them for ourselves.
- Think about others ahead of ourselves. Let’s not live primarily to protect ourselves, but to please God by showing love to others. This could be in actions such as phoning or delivering supplies to people who are self-isolating; it could be supporting those who live hand-to-mouth and whose work is affected; it could also be in extending a certain hope to people living in fear. The Gospel is true, and God’s words are life – let’s “shine like stars as we hold firmly to the word of life.”
“Do not be overcome by evil; instead, overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:21