There has been a lot of praise of late, and rightly so, for our amazing health care professionals. Most of them have fearlessly embraced their calling to serve their communities, even at risk to their own health and that of their families. They deserve our praise.
However, even in the midst of thanks where thanks are due, there is something, which at best is misguided and worst, is disturbing. That is how our naturalistic, death fearing society, treats health workers as saviours. If this life is all there is to existence and death is the great enemy, then of course they would view doctors and nurses and paramedics in this light. They alone, in their eyes, are the only ones who can deliver us from Covid-19.
And so we see signs that say, “honk, heroes work here,” or in some communities like the UK there are pot banging parties each night at 8 p.m. in praise and support of these heroes.
Now again, such praise is not inherently wrong, but it is wrong if we praise them as saviours.
100 years ago, there would have been signs and calls for national days of prayer during a pandemic. In an increasingly godless culture, turning to the One who is Sovereign over disease and death has been replaced by faith in medical saviours. Where are such calls to prayer, certainly not on the lips of most citizens or politicians (and even many Christians). I am aware that some organized one such prayer day in Canada. Christian politicians, church and business leaders in Germany recently organized perhaps one of the more cohesive events, but on the whole, a seeking of God (and a proper worldview which understands disease and death as rooted in the Fall and resolved in the Gospel), is absent in our society. It is that, the salvific heartbeat behind the praise of our wonderful medical professionals that makes this all so disturbing.
Speaking to godless Israel, the prophet Amos said, “Seek me and live, but do not seek Bethel…” (Amos 5:4b–5a). Bethel, among other locations the prophet goes on to list, were among the high places, the centres of false worship, false security, false hope, false assurance. These all, “come to nothing.”
And so it is with worshipping the medical system and professionals, as grateful as we ought to be for them, to place our ultimate trust in them over against the Lord is idolatrous and idolatry brings us to nothing. Ultimately spiritual (and physical) life is to be found in the Lord alone.
So may we seek the Lord that “we may live, and so the LORD,… will be with you.”
 Whether by healing or through the Resurrection.
Whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (Ro 14:8b)
In AD 252 there was a mysterious illness that broke out in Carthage, North Africa. It, indeed, swept the entire Roman Empire. Some have likened it to small pox or the measles. It was called the Plague of Cyprian after the North African bishop who had so graphically recounted its effects. (The previous century had also witnessed the Antonine Plague, which equally ravage the Empire.).
Those who contracted the disease were cut off from society, alienated, left to die. Indeed, in Rome 5000 people a day were said to have perished. The population in Alexandria, Egypt, declined some 62%.
Out of compassion for the sick, out of an intense desire to offer a cup of water to those in need, Christians came to help those abandoned by the culture, to care for them, to sit with the dying. As a result many Christians died. This plague also coincided with a renewed persecution of Christians under Decius (Cyprian himself was martyred under the Emperor Valerian in AD 258). Together their simple humble acts and their witness to their faith led to a great revival which saw Christianity further spread to become a major religion in the Empire.
I tell that story to remind us that disease is nothing new to the human existence since the Fall, and as the last enemy to be defeated is physical/bodily death, disease makes no differentiation between Christians and non-Christians. Our response as Christians can also bear witness to our faith. Cyprian reminded his listeners of the first point:
It disturbs some that this mortality is common to us with others; and yet what is there in this world which is not common to us with others, so long as this flesh of ours still remains, according to the law of our first birth, common to us with them? So long as we are here in the world, we are associated with the human race in fleshly equality, but are separated in spirit. (Cyprian, On Mortality, 8).
Today the number one news item is the Corona Virus, or Covid-19, a respiratory disease initially picked up from animals. Authorities, media and specialists are all noting it is unlike anything we’ve seen in recent times, not since the Spanish Influenza after WWI, have we seen a pandemic quite like this (though it remains to be seen how severe its spread and effect will be). With globalization and modern media we’re witnessing its spread, and this in turn is stoking fear and concern. As such we need to be diligent to know the medical facts.
If public gatherings are suspended we may have to worship at home and I’ll preach through the internet and we’ll encourage one another through email or telephone or text. For now we can thank the Lord that this is not the case. We wait upon the Lord with each new day.
What should the Christian response be?
· respect the communications of the government and medical authorities
· though there were no such authorities in Roman days and so Christians bridged the gap in offering aid; today we must respect the authorities’ public restraints, yet also still find ways in which to minister compassionately in a crisis, perhaps by bringing food to quarantined homes; perhaps by joining Health Unit emergency teams and bringing Christ’s light this way, and certainly through prayer.
o We must not test the Lord by presuming that we, simply because we are Christians, will be exempt from the disease. We must still take reasonable precautions, like washing our hands, etc.
But the biggest way we can make a difference is not to worry, not to fear; it is by setting the example of faith. Fear reigns in the world, it has since the Fall. We are slaves to fear because we are slaves to sin and sin is to distrust God and be under His just sentence.
In his address Cyprian spoke to his congregation many helpful words on the subject of trust and assurance in the face of the plague, yet these words stand out:
Who, in the midst of these things, is trembling and sad, except he who is without hope and faith? For it is for him to fear death who is not willing to go to Christ. (Cyprian, On Mortality, 2).
He recognized the truth of passages like Romans 14:8. That if we are in Christ we have nothing to fear, not even death, because we have a proper biblical perspective of the subject and of the hope of the Gospel. As a result, even in the midst of the Cyprian Plague or Covid-19 we can bear witness to our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ and the assurance that comes through believing in the Gospel and lead others to faith in Him by example of our resolute hope in the face of adversity and worldwide fear.
May the Lord increase our faith, for our good and His glory!
 Cyprian, On Mortality, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5., Treatise 7, p. 469. Online access: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/050707.htm
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.
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