Are you afraid of COVID-19?
I must confess that there are moments when fear creeps over me about the Coronavirus.
Being the kind of person I am, who self-isolates from people with sick bugs, I can easily become anxious about it.
Some of the people who catch it could die.
It could be a relative or friend. It could be me.
News is essentially “fact-based” entertainment these days, and Coronavirus (COVID-19) has taken over from Brexit as the big news story. Talking about the spread of this virus has all the ingredients of a dramatic story that people become obsessed with, consuming each new episode with a degree of fascination and dread.
I feel drawn towards finding comfort in the practical steps we can take to stop the virus spreading, like washing hands and keeping your distance, and consolation in the statistics that I am not in the high-risk category. But then what if…?
The symptoms of this new coronavirus include fever and respiratory symptoms including coughing, sneezing, and shortness of breath.
The current evidence is that most cases appear to be mild but the potential if it becomes widespread is that it could cause many deaths, perhaps 1% of those infected. Compared to many global diseases or causes of death, it is currently pretty insignificant but we don’t really think about those diseases but we are thinking about this one.
And all this news is stoking people’s fear of the unknown, fear of being out of control. Witness the almost daily school and workplace mass emails, news headlines, frenzied social media feeds, and face-to-face conversations about quarantine measures, shutting borders and social isolation. One of the aisles at our local Sainsbury’s normally full of every possible option for toilet roll is completely empty this evening.
As David Robertson says “The casual, well-informed, well-travelled, well educated, well entertained “worried well” are just one day away from an all encompassing, all consuming sickness that would see people fighting over toilet paper as if it were a flatscreen TV for sale on Black Friday.”
Hand sanitiser has become the new gold currency. One UK manufacturer said that they were producing 100,000 bottles a month in December then went to 100,000 bottles per week in January and now are attempting to produce 160,000 bottles per day. And they’ve run out of bottle caps.
Into this atmosphere, how should we think and respond as Christians?
This is a genuinely dangerous disease. We do not need to be in denial about the real potential to cause harm. We all know people whose immune systems are compromised, who are fearful about catching COVID-19 and we understand that.
But we are also realistic that illness is part of living in a fallen world and actually a real and daily threat to many people across the world.
And we do not want to get caught up in disproportionate irrational panic, stoked by media hysteria but keep our heads in all situations.
Prayer not panic
Because we know God cares for us and knows all about us, we can cry out to him with honesty about our fears and weaknesses. We know that God is kind and gracious and often preserves us from illness and death. We pray for protection for ourselves and our loved ones.
We also pray for those suffering the effects of this virus, especially our brothers and sisters across the world and for any who are anxious about it, that we would all find our hope and comfort in God.
But also pray that we might serve and love people in their fear and that God would be glorified. We ask God to be at work to bring many to realise the frailty of life and the need for lasting hope.
This is an opportunity to love. Compassion means that we empathise with those who are suffering the effects of this virus and those who are concerned about themselves or those they love. Jesus sees a widow at the funeral of her only son and we read ” his heart went out to her” (Luke 7:13). He does not give a clinical lecture on the effects of the fall but enters into the pain of death.
We need to be responsible and to love and care for one another by using the information and advice we have been given about reducing the opportunities for the disease to spread and not be flippant or casual about it because we are considered “low risk”.
Faith not fear
The temptation to fear is real. God know this. It’s why God says “do not fear” hundreds of times in the Bible.
This is an opportunity to exercise our faith. To show our feet are planted on something solid as rock. If being Christian doesn’t mean something in the face of a deadly disease then it doesn’t mean anything. But it should make all the difference. As it says in Isaiah 8:12,13
‘Do not call conspiracy
everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
and do not dread it.
The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread.
As Robertson also says “The ‘worst-case scenario’ is not that 100% of us get Covid 19 and 3.4% die. The worst-case scenario would be if there were no Christ and no Saviour. A far worse and more infectious virus is that of sin. 100% of us are born with it. 100% will die because of it. But we were created for eternity and that is why we fear death. The world’s answer is to panic and buy toilet paper. The Churches answer is to look to Christ. The confidence of our secular culture is all smoke and mirrors. The self-aware casual irony of a culture that has never had its centre tested by anything is disappearing faster as the loo rolls at the supermarket.”
We do not put our trust in the medical practices we adopt or the low mortality rates. We trust our sovereign and gracious God. We need not fear but look to the Lord to provide, protect and teach us through these testing times.