Eight things the coronavirus is teaching us:
This global crisis is teaching us just how weak we are as human beings.
At the time of writing, 98,429 cases of coronavirus have been reported worldwide, causing 3,387 deaths. We are trying our best to contain its spread. And for the most part, I guess we’re confident of eventual success.
Now imagine a virus appears which is even more aggressive and contagious than coronavirus. Faced with such a threat, could we prevent our own extinction as a species? The simple answer is clearly no, we can’t. It’s so easy to forget, but as human beings we are weak.
How the words of the Psalmist ring true… 'The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind [or covid-19] blows over it and it is gone and its place remembers it no more.' (Psalm 103:15-16)
How does this lesson of our fragility hit home? Perhaps by reminding us not to take our lives on this earth for granted. 'Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.' (Psalm 90:12)
This virus does not respect ethnic boundaries or national borders. It is not a Chinese virus, it is our virus. It is in Afghanistan, Belgium, Cambodia, Denmark, Estonia, France - 77 countries and counting have been contaminated by the coronavirus.
We are all members of the great human family, created in the image of God (Genesis 1:17). The colour of our skin, the language we speak, our accents, our cultures count for nothing in the eyes of a contagious disease. In the eyes of the world, we’re all different. In the eyes of the virus, we’re just the same.
Perhaps this is one of the things the virus is reminding us of. In our suffering, in the pain of losing a loved one, we are completely equal, weak and without answers.
We all love to have a sense of control. We think that we are captains of our destiny, masters of our fate. 'I’m in charge, I’m in control,' we shout deep down in our hearts.
And the reality is that today, more than ever, we can control significant parts of our lives. We can control our home’s heating and security remotely, we can move money around the world with a click of an app, and we can even control our bodies through training and medicine.
But perhaps this sense of control is an illusion, a bubble that the coronavirus has popped, revealing the reality - that we’re not really in control.
Now, in Italy, the authorities are trying to contain the spread of this virus by closing, opening and closing again our children’s schools. Have they got the situation under control?
What about us? Armed with our disinfectant sprays, avoiding physical contact - easier in some countries more than others - we try to lower the risks of being infected.
Are we in control of the situation? Hardly.
A few days ago a member of our church travelled to northern Italy. On her return to Naples, she was excluded from a dinner with work colleagues. She was told it would be better for her not to come due to her recent travels up north, even though she hadn’t been anywhere near the red zones and was not displaying any coronavirus symptoms. Obviously, this hurt.
A 55-year-old restaurant owner from central Naples has recently been in quarantine. Having tested positive for covid-19, he was said to have felt relatively well physically, but was saddened by the reactions of many of his neighbours. 'The thing that has hurt him more than his positive diagnosis for the coronavirus, is the way he and his family have been treated by the city in which he lives' (Il Mattino newspaper, 2nd March 2020).
Being excluded and isolated is not an easy thing to deal with - we were created for relationship. But many people now are having to deal with isolation. It’s an experience that the leper community of Jesus’ day knew all too well. Forced to live on their own, walking the streets of their hometowns shouting 'Unclean! Unclean!' (Leviticus 13:45)
What is your reaction to this crisis? It is so easy to be gripped by fear. To see the coronavirus everywhere I look: on the keyboard of my computer, in the air that I breathe, in every physical contact and around every corner, waiting to infect me. Are we panicking?
Or perhaps this crisis is challenging us to react in a different way - with faith and not fear. Faith not in the stars or in destiny, not in some unknown deity. Rather, faith in Jesus Christ, the good shepherd who tells us he’s the resurrection and the life (John 11:25) just before he raises a friend from the dead. Surely only he is in control of this situation, surely only he can guide us through this storm. He calls us to trust and believe, have faith and not fear.
In the midst of a global crisis, how can we as individuals possibly make a difference? Often we feel so small and insignificant.
But there is something that we can do. Something vital that we must do - call out to our Father in heaven. Pray to him, that he might show us his mercy.
This virus makes us pray. To pray for the authorities that run our countries and our cities. Pray for the medical teams treating the sick. Pray for the men, women and children that have been infected, pray for the people that are afraid to leave their homes, pray for those living in the red zones, for those at high risk with other illnesses and for the elderly. That the Lord would protect us and keep us.
Pray for the Lord Jesus to return, that he might come back to take us to the new creation that he has prepared for us, a place with no tears, no death, no mourning, crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).
'Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities. All is vanity.' (Ecclesiastes 1:2) It is so easy to lose perspective in the midst of the madness of our lives. Our days are so full of people and projects, works and wish lists, homes and holidays that we struggle to distinguish the important from the urgent. We lose ourselves in the midst our lives.
Perhaps this crisis is forcing us back onto the right path. Perhaps it is teaching us once again what really is important in our lives and what is vanity, vapour, meaningless and without substance. Perhaps the Premier League or the Superbowl, perhaps that new kitchen or that Instagram post aren’t that essential to my survival. Perhaps that’s what the coronavirus teaches.
In a sense the most important question is not, 'what hope do you have in the face of the coronavirus?' because Jesus came to warn us of the presence of a far more lethal and widespread virus. A virus that has struck every man, woman and child. A virus that ends in not only certain death, but eternal death. A virus called sin. And our species, according to Jesus, lives in the grip of a pandemic outbreak of the virus of sin. What is your hope in the face of that virus?
The story of the Bible is the story of a God who came down into a world infected with this virus. He lived amongst sick people, not wearing a mask or a chemical protective suit, but breathing the same air as us, eating the same food as us and sure enough he was infected and killed. He died in isolation, excluded from his people, far from his Father on a cross that he might provide this sick world with an antidote to the virus, that he might heal us and give us eternal life. 'I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?' (John 11:25-26)
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Mark Oden is a mission partner in Italy. Along with his wife Jane, Mark is establishing a church in central Naples.
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