Christians and Covid – by Joe Palcsak

This article will be very blunt.  For this reason, I am compelled to include this strong disclaimer:   We cannot put God in a box.  Countless numbers of Christians have fallen victim to the Coronavirus.  It is not the purpose of this article to pass judgement on any individuals, but to examine how the church as a corporate body has responded to the reality of this pandemic and to see whether this response is in harmony or dissonance with the Scriptures.  To be sure, many Christians have died; the cause of death, at least in part, being the coronavirus.  Each of us has an appointment at the end of our time here on earth; an appointment that was set even before our birth (Psalm 139:16).  It is certain that this appointment will be kept and if God sees fit to use the coronavirus to achieve his ends, then so be it.

That said, we can inquire of Him.  We can ask Him, “Why Lord?”  We can ask Him, “How should those of us who call ourselves by Your name  respond to this world-wide pandemic?”   Should our response be the same as the response of the unbelieving world?  And if our response should be different, in what way should it be different?”  Fortunately, He does not leave His people without an answer to these questions.  We can turn to His Word for answers.

According to my Strong’s Concordance, the word “pestilence” appears in the Bible 50 times.  Pestilence is defined as a “contagious or infectious disease that is virulent and devastating.” Strong’s (Webster’s 11th edition) references the King James Version.  It is worth noting that in many cases the Amplified Version uses the term “virulent disease” instead of the word “pestilence.”   It should be clear then that the current coronavirus fits the Biblical description of a pestilence or a virulent disease.  If we roll up our sleeves and dig a little deeper by examining how the word “pestilence” is used in context, something else becomes clear:  48 of the 50 appearances of the word connect pestilence with judgement or punishment from God.  Specifically, pestilence is identified as an act of God, the result of continual and persistent unbelief and disobedience.  No less than 17 times, through the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah, God warns idolatrous Judah, “I myself will fight against you…I will strike the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast;  they shall die of a great pestilence” (Jeremiah 21: 5,6). Notice God’s active role in the process.  And so it goes through all 17 appearances of the word throughout the book of Jeremiah, and throughout 48 of the 50 times the word is used in the law and the prophets.  Pestilence is always used as an instrument of divine retribution, and never as a naturally occurring phenomenon.  That is – or certainly ought to be – a startling revelation!  When a word is so narrowly and consistently applied throughout the entire Scriptures, we ought to take notice at the very least.  Surely, we ought to consider that God means what He says.  Should we see the coronavirus as judgement and/or punishment from God?  Let me ask the question in a different way:  given the consistent application of the word throughout the Scriptures, how could we not?  I am not categorically saying that it is, but I certainly have no biblical warrant to declare that it is not.

Perhaps you are wondering about the other two times the word appears in the Bible. What is the context?  Well, they both appear in Psalm 91:

“He who abides in the shelter of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of Yahweh, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress.  My God in whom I trust.’  Surely, He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence.  He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge” (verses 1-4a).

“You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness…” (verses 5-6a).

Even here, God’s purposeful control is in evidence; but this time He is speaking of those who trust in Him, who abide in Him, who seek His shelter;  that He will indeed protect them from the deadly pestilence.  Moreover, He tells those of us who trust in Him exactly how we should manifest our trust: we should not be afraid of the deadly pestilence.  We should not fear it!

In Malachi (and elsewhere) God speaks of treating those who love Him and trust in Him differently than those who do not:

“Then those who feared Yahweh spoke to one another, and Yahweh listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear Yahweh and who meditate on His name.  ‘They shall be mine,’ says Yahweh of hosts, ‘on the day that I make them My jewels.  And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.’ Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not” (Malachi 3:16-17).

So then, as He promises to make a distinction between those who are His and those who are not, He also makes a distinction concerning “the deadly pestilence”:  He will  use it as an instrument of punishment and judgement upon those who live in continual unbelief and disobedience while at the same time He promises His protection against it for those who trust and obey Him.  Does this play out in Scripture?  You bet! He offers a very clear choice to the people of Judah:

“Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death.  He who remains in the city shall die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence; but he who goes out and defects to the Chaldeans who besiege you , he shall live and his life shall be as a prize to him” (Jeremiah 21:8-9).

If you trust and obey, you will be spared from the deadly pestilence; but if you do not obey, you will die from it!  God makes a distinction between those who love Him – those who trust and obey; and those who do not believe or obey Him.  And history records that this is exactly how it played out: those who remained in Jerusalem perished in gruesome ways, but those who defected were taken to Babylon and flourished.

Obedience to Him concerning this deadly 21st century pestilence begins by refusing to fear it (Psalm 91:5).  But how have the churches reacted to the virus?  By shutting their doors for the most part.  Through the apostles, Jesus has given us a “great commission”, which appears in all four gospels.  Mark puts it this way:

“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned.  And these signs will follow those who believe:  In my name they will cast out demons;  they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no mean hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.” (Mark 16:15-18).

They will cast out demons…They will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.  These are signs that will follow those who believe.

They will not fear the deadly pestilence.  They will be protected from the deadly pestilence.

So, I ask again, should there be a distinction between the response of the believing Church to the coronavirus and the response of the unbelieving world?  The answer is yes, because God Himself clearly makes that distinction!  The unbelieving world has reacted to the virus with fear.  The church, to a great extent, has reacted in the exact same way.  How can we read Psalm 91 and fear this virus?  Fear is the opposite of trust.  How can we read Psalm 91 and not trust Him to protect us from the virus?  How can we read Mark 16 and shut ourselves out or “social distance” ourselves from a world that is badly in need of faith and healing?  Why are we not rather out there preaching the gospel, laying hands on those who are willing, healing the sick, and casting out demons?  How can we read warning after warning in the Bible that pestilence is one way God inflicts punishment and judgement on an unbelieving and disobedient people and then behave exactly like unbelieving and disobedient people?

As I said in the beginning, I do not judge individuals, but as a Christian, I am embarrassed by the response of Christianity to this coronavirus.  Jesus asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”  If the Christian response to the coronavirus can provide an insight into the answer, it seems that His question was much closer to an indictment than a rhetorical musing.

 

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