LESSONS FROM THE CORONAVIRUS SCARE
Curtis Knapp is pastor of New Hope Baptist Church of Seneca, Kansas. He has served on the Executive Committee of the Sovereign Grace Baptist Fellowship and is Assistant Editor of The Sovereign Grace Messenger.
At the time of this writing, the non-stop preoccupation with the Coronavirus has faded into the background, while racial tension and rioting takes it turn center stage. By the time you read this issue of the Messenger, something else may have shoved its way onto the platform and grabbed the microphone. Who knows, but God?
In any case, there are many lessons to be learned from the Coronavirus scare. God’s Word is rich with instruction for us through war and through peace, through sickness and through health, through foolish governance and wise governance, through revival and through apostasy.
Lesson 1: We should be thankful that God’s Word is reliable
One of the trials we have experienced in 2020 is that we have been asked to contemplate weighty decisions and make major changes in our lives on the basis of a few epidemiologists at the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Disease Control. Unfortunately, the information given to us has often been like the shifting sand. At first, we were told to expect 2 million deaths in the U.S. Then that prediction was ratcheted down significantly. We were told that masks would help. Then we were told they wouldn’t. Then that was reversed again. There were mixed signals about how long the virus could survive in the air and how long it could survive on surfaces. At first we were told to “stay home, stay safe” in order to “flatten the curve”, which meant we were to work to prevent rapid spread of the virus in order to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients. But then, much of the ongoing decrees seemed to imply that we were engaged in an effort to stop the disease, not slow it. Some indicated that shut-downs and social distancing would be the new normal until a vaccine was found. Others pointed out that we are still without any vaccine for any other Coronavirus.
Though the news was always dire and ominous, we were never able to get an accurate handle on the death rate (i.e. the rate of deaths per infections), because we had no idea how many people had been infected. That made it near impossible to know how deadly the virus really was. In short, there were many contradictions, many course reversals and much confusion.
How refreshing then to know that in a world of ignorance and ever-changing dogma, we can always completely depend on the accuracy and trustworthiness of the Word of God. God is never mistaken and He never lies. He never downplays something that is actually dead serious and He never exaggerates something that is not worth worrying about.
“Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” (John 17:17)
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)
Have you considered what a blessing it is to be able to read God’s Word and count on it?
Lesson 2: God is able to make the whole world focus on one thing
It was astonishing to see the nation, yea the whole world, consumed with one prevailing interest. The news was dominated by Covid-19. Politicians were consumed by it. Government, churches, business, families, schools, individuals. All were thinking about one thing. You couldn’t walk into a store (the ones allowed to be open) without being confronted with COVID-19 signs on the door, instructions to keep six feet away, and canned store announcements assuring you of how much that business cared about keeping you safe and encouraging you to practice “social distancing.” What an extraordinary phenomenon! Have you ever seen anything like it?
Sadly, that one thing, that one consuming interest, was not the glory of God and the salvation of souls through Christ. It was rather an obsession with the preservation of the flesh. Even so, be encouraged. If God can turn the whole world in one direction in a week’s time, then He could in fact turn the whole world to the consideration of eternity and the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is able. He has proven it. Many of us have been praying for a revival of true and godly religion in the world and a great enlargement of the kingdom of Christ in this world. Let us be encouraged by what we have seen God do, though it be with a different focus and end. God has just shown our doubting hearts that He can grip the whole world with one consuming pre-occupation.
“All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name.” (Psalms 86:9)
“For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)
Lesson 3: We should hold plans loosely
In February of this year, everyone had plans for March, April, May, June, etc. Many businesses were planning to be open and to sell products to customers, as usual. Athletic teams had games on their schedules and were planning to compete in those games, as usual. Schools had plans for the rest of the school year. High school and college seniors had plans to graduate in May and have commencement ceremonies and possibly graduation parties. Churches had various events and conferences planned as well. Some had plans to go on vacation in a certain month. And yet, within a short period of time, all those plans were suspended or nullified.
We watched in astonishment as big events, upon which billions of dollars were at stake, were suddenly canceled. Who could have predicted this? Even the Almighty Dollar had to stand aside. We have hopefully learned a valuable lesson. We should hold our plans loosely. Just because we have done something year after year in a particular month does not mean it will be so this year. Just because we opened our business yesterday doesn’t mean we’ll get to open it tomorrow. Just because something is on the calendar and millions of people are planning on it and depending on it, doesn’t mean it will come to pass. Yesterday’s routines may give us a clue to tomorrow’s routines, but perhaps not.
James 4:13-15 says, “Go to now, ye that say, To day or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.”
We may have had trouble believing that truth before, but we should believe it now.
Lesson 4: We are, in fact, dying
In America, we have seen wonderful advancements in medicine. Life expectancy has climbed from 68 years old in 1950 to 78 years old in 2020. Certain medicines and life-saving surgeries have provided an extension of life in situations that were almost always fatal in previous generations. It is no longer unusual to know many people living well into their 90s. But have we come to expect every disease to be eradicated and every physical problem solved? Have we put implicit trust in science? Do we still believe that we’re dying and that death is inevitable? Or, are we like the rich dreamers of Psalm 49?
“They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:) That he should still live forever, and not see corruption. For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others. Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names. Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish. This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah. Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling.” (Psalm 49:6-14)
The Bible is still true. We are all dying. Very soon, we will all be carried down the aisle of the church in a casket.
Lesson 5: Power corrupts
Lord Acton was the author of the now famous phrase: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Of course, the phrase is only partly true. No one has absolute power, except God, and it hasn’t corrupted Him. But in the human realm, the realm to which Acton was presumably referring, power does tend to corrupt. Or to be more precise, power tends to expose the corrupt man within us who has not yet found the opportune moment to reveal his true identity. We have seen this in the actions and decrees of various public figures during the last few months.
First amendment rights to peaceful assembly and the free exercise of religion have been trampled by state governors, mayors and county health officials. Some churches and parishioners have been fined for gathering for church, even in their cars. People have been arrested for simply trying to earn a living and pay their bills by means of their occupation as barbers and hairdressers. Arbitrary and head-scratching rules have been implemented, banning this business while allowing that business, forbidding the purchase of some products, while allowing others.
In Michigan, areas of certain stores dedicated to carpeting, flooring, furniture, garden centers, plant nurseries and paint were closed, having received the fatal diagnosis of “non-essential”, while other areas of the store were unrestricted. You couldn’t buy a couch at Walmart Mart, but you could buy a flat-screen TV. Children’s car seats were deemed non-essential, even though they are mandated by law. There is a control freak dwelling in all of us, and power emboldens that freak. If we had forgotten this, the Coronavirus phenomenon should serve as a needed reminder.
In 3 John, verses 9-10, the apostle calls attention to a church-going control freak. Perhaps you know him. “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.”
How different is our Lord Jesus Christ! While fully in control of all things, He is not an over-bearing taskmaster. The Good Shepherd rules His flock with tenderness and care. His laws are just, logical, sensible and consistent. His redeeming work is to set captives free, not enslave them. The life to which He calls His people is a life characterized as liberty (John 8:36; 2 Cor. 3;17). He even allows wicked people to run to great excess, indulging their wretched desires, before He puts a stop to their ways. In fact, that very patience He exercises with the wicked and the room He allows them to vomit forth their bile is often a great trial to the righteous.
“How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2)
“O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? Shall the enemy blaspheme thy name forever? Why withdrawest thou thy hand, even thy right hand? Pluck it out of thy bosom.” (Psalm 74:10-11)
Lesson 6: Our rights are fragile and our Constitution is easily set aside
If one thing has been made abundantly clear in 2020, it is that the state can and will easily set aside our constitutional liberties whenever it feels it has a compelling interest. (Disclaimer: This is not intended as a foray into politics, but rather a sober reflection on the tenuous nature of our religious liberties.) The first amendment to our Constitution reads as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
And yet, due to the coronavirus phenomenon, the state quickly abolished our right to peacefully assemble and to freely exercise our religion. Objection: But the state had good motives in suspending those rights; they were trying to protect us! Answer: We are a nation that is supposed to be governed by laws, not motives. Motives change. Motives can be deceptively proclaimed. Motives aren’t voted on. If all the state has to do now is claim good motives for the arbitrary suspension of our constitutional rights, then we might as well throw out the Constitution immediately, because it is worthless.
The more official way of putting this is in the language of “compelling state interest.” If the state has a compelling interest, the argument goes, then it may suspend our right to speech, our right to the free exercise of religion and our right to peacefully assemble. And yet, the state will always claim a “compelling interest” in revoking the rights of its citizens. Early in the book of Acts, the Jewish state had a compelling interest in forbidding the disciples from preaching the resurrection of Christ and preaching the name of Jesus. It was not in their “interest” for this truth to be proclaimed. So, they banned free speech, because they didn’t want to have a growing movement of people in their jurisdiction loyal to Jesus.
The Roman government had a compelling interest in arresting, torturing and exterminating Christians. They didn’t want Christianity spreading in the Roman empire, because the Christians refused to offer sacrifices to Caesar and to the Roman gods. And because of that refusal, the gods might be angry and bring wrath on the empire. And so there was a “compelling state interest” to ban religious liberty.
The Roman Catholic theocracy in Europe throughout the Middle Ages had a compelling state interest in banning religious liberty and exterminating any deviations from the popish system. Why? Because such deviations were considered a threat to the Catholic grip on power.
Likewise, in 2020, the state in America, believed it had a compelling state interest in banning worship services and peaceful assemblies. In many cases, people were not merely encouraged to stay home, they were prohibited from the peaceful assembly granted to them in the first amendment. This suspension of liberty was justified because the state had a “compelling interest.”
We see how quickly our constitutional rights can be abrogated. No doubt, there are many bad actors in the political arena and beyond who have been gleefully taking notes. They have seen how easy it is to nullify the first amendment so long as public health is the raison d’etre of the American people. A local sheriff’s deputy told a friend of mine that he was astonished at how quickly everyone surrendered their rights.
Lesson 7: The church needs to think through the issue of submission to authority
Our founding fathers formed a government and then wrote into the governing document (the Constitution) limits on their own authority. This was very unusual. These were our governing authorities proscribing their own ability to micromanage us, and the ability of future generations of governing authorities.
When politicians – whether governors or congressmen or presidents or justices – take an oath of office, they pledge to uphold the Constitution. When they violate that oath, they commit a serious sin, for it is a great sin to promise something before God and then break that promise (Numb. 30:1-2).
When we obey the authorities, we are obeying the law they vow to enforce (unless it is a wicked law that we can’t obey before God). What then is to be done when the temporary officeholders, who swore an oath to the Constitution, proceed to violate the Constitution and abrogate rights we are granted in the Constitution? Do we still have the right to freely worship and peacefully assemble, as the written document says, or has it been abrogated, as the temporary office holder says? Do we submit to a written Constitution or to a “living” Constitution that can be shaped like playdough in the hands of any politician who happens to be in office at the time?
If we are a nation of laws (not changing decrees of temporary office holders), then the Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land, not the officeholders who take an oath to it. Ultimately, we are obeying the Constitution primarily and office holders secondarily, insofar as they themselves obey the primary authority.
Another way of putting it is that the greatest submission is owed to the greatest authority, and this is true with respect to the civil magistrate, with respect to wives and husbands, church members to pastors, etc.
Wives should submit to their husbands as unto the Lord. If the husband commands his wife to do something that violates Christ’s commands, then the husband must be disobeyed, for she has a higher authority to obey in Christ. In such cases, she is not being unsubmissive, but rather submissive to her higher authority. If a private disobeys a sergeant who is trying to usurp the commander in chief, then the private is being obedient, not disobedient when he disobeys the sergeant.
Likewise, church members are commanded to obey their pastors. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” But what if the pastor goes against the Word of God? Are church members required to obey him no matter what he says? Or is it implied that their obedience is conditional upon his faithfulness to God’s Word?
When the Bereans were searching the scriptures to see whether the things Paul said were so, were they being unsubmissive to Paul or submissive to God? Of course, you know the answer. Is there a reason why this same principle of highest obedience to the highest authority should not apply to the civil magistrate?
What strange argumentation is employed by those who call a man rebellious for disobeying politicians who themselves are disobeying the Constitution they promised to uphold.
If the constitution has no greater viability than that which temporary office holders grant to it, then it is nothing. It has no real legal authority if it can be quickly set aside by the whim of any Congress, judge, president or governor.
Lesson 8: Christians will be blamed for their scrupulous attention to the Bible
If a magazine prints pictures or articles critical of Mohammed, and angry Muslims blow up the building of that publication, those Muslims will be revered for their religious zeal and fidelity. But let a Christian go to church in the age of Covid19, in spite of government mandates against it, and he will be regarded as wicked, selfish, legalistic and callous. He will be lectured about “loving his neighbor” in spite of the fact that large groups of people can still gather at Walmart Mart without any opprobrium and in spite of the fact that rioters can crowd together in the streets and destroy public and private property without criticism. Christians will always be blamed when they don’t play ball.
In John 15:19-21, Jesus said, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me.”
In the early centuries of Church history, the Christians wouldn’t play ball. They wouldn’t sacrifice to Caesar or the Roman gods. Rome was very magnanimous. She said, “Christians, we are very tolerant. You can have your little Jesus god, that’s fine. We make no objections to that. We just ask that you also make sacrifice to the Roman gods. That’s all we ask.” But the Christians wouldn’t oblige. They wouldn’t play ball.
Consequently, they were accused of incest because they spoke of having love feasts and called each other “brother” and “sister.” They were also accused of cannibalism because they spoke of eating the body and blood of Jesus. And anytime there were calamities, they were blamed for having provoked the gods against the empire. Therefore, they were hated, slandered, jailed, tortured, thrown to the wild beasts and crucified.
We saw a glimmer of this during the Covid-19 phenomenon. The state magnanimously offered us Zoom and Facebook Live. Very gracious. And we were told that everything else was nonessential: in-person fellowship, singing to one another, corporate prayer, communion, the holy kiss (or a modern equivalent). We didn’t need any of those things, and if we insisted that we did, we were being very petty and unthankful. If any church was found to be meeting for worship, they were blamed for spreading the virus, no proof required.
Get used to this, brothers and sisters. This was but a foretaste of things to come.
Lesson 9: Christ is our husband, not Caesar
Colossians 1:16-18 says, “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” Christ is Head of the church, not Caesar. Caesar has a sphere of governance that God has given him. His job is to punish evildoers (Rom. 13). His job is not to regulate the church, teach the church proper Ecclesiology or advise the church on what she should consider as sufficient for Lord’s Day worship.
Church, you are married to Christ, not Caesar. Don’t get confused about who your husband is. If a wife wants to know whether it is OK to spend money on a certain home improvement project, whom should she ask for permission – her husband or someone else’s husband?
How do you think Christ takes it when another man presumes to boss Christ’s wife around and tell her what to do, especially in matters that contradict His direct orders for her? Would you husbands like it if you asked your wife to do certain things for you (in a gentle, considerate sort of way, of course), and then another man came to your house while you were at work and started ripping up your instructions and writing out his own list for her.
The year 2020 will be a memorable one. God has taught us many lessons by the pandemic, some of them quite painful. May God help us learn from this trial and be more prepared for the trials to come. Soli Deo Gloria.