As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
What has COVID-19 done to our world, our church, and our families? For some of us, it was nothing worse than a case of severe cold or fevered flu. Others’ lives were changed drastically. They lost loved ones to the insidious grip of the virus without opportunities to bid final farewells. Still others survived but are left with long-lasting debilitating effects. For some, the virus resulted in the inconvenience of virtual work or school or perhaps lost jobs or income. In addition, many of us became embroiled in family disputes related to COVID-19: Real or fake? Masks or no masks? Vaccinate or not? Who did this to us? And how do we end this?
COVID-19 is now the major disease plaguing the entire human race. Like other diseases including cancer, it is ultimately a consequence of sin. The fear of infection, death, and ventilators has gradually been replaced by a lesser fear of a smaller group holding out against vaccinations and masks. How do we respond now? Do we have to live with COVID-19? How many more will suffer excruciatingly and die? How many more families will witness the horrible death of a dear family member this way?
Do these fears and disputes please God? No. But they thrill Satan, God’s enemy, and endorse his strategy to divide and conquer. Sometimes, like a mother with three feisty scrapping kids, I want to stand up and shout, “Stop it! Enough!” But I can’t because at times I too get caught up in silly debates and arguments related to pandemic regulations. I get agitated by those who flagrantly disregard distance-keeping safety guidelines. I cringe when I hear stories by our first responders who are exhausted and still trying to treat and save friends and relatives who are on the borderline of life and death.
Now thousands in the U.S. and Canada are infected with COVID-19 (millions more in India and other countries throughout the world!) and hospitalized with the virus. Thousands more health care workers are working long hours at a desperate pace to try to save their lives. Medical professionals often wonder who will still be there when they return for their next shift. God's children—spouses, parents, grandparents, and even sons and daughters—are fighting death. With the more recent variants, a younger population is now also being infected.
Is this pandemic God’s plan for us? I hardly think so. Yes, God is in control but we know that Satan constantly wages war against him. When will we as pastors release the "mute" button on our trumpets and release blasts of warning (Ezekiel 33)? It is time to boldly declare that the game is up and to do spiritual battle against this power of darkness. It is time to pray to God but also to do battle with Satan. We must give Satan notice that he is trespassing on God’s property. We need strong support from the Holy Spirit through our communities of faith and have all hands on deck to move forward united as one mighty army.
How do we respond to this challenge? Here are some possible next steps:
- This is not new. The 16th century Reformer Martin Luther battled with Satan and in frustrated anger threw his inkwell at him. We are a few hundred years behind him, but the struggle is the same. It is time to teach a new generation to sing with renewed fervor Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” For Luther, the spiritual battle is ongoing. It rages as Satan keeps coming after God “with cruel hate.” He wrote, "… that though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed his truth to triumph through us. … The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him, his rage we can endure.” This would be an awesome contemporary hymn, our marching song for COVID-19 time. We need encouragement to walk biblically, strongly, and boldly in this spiritual battle.
- We need to acknowledge openly and publicly that we are in a vicious spiritual battle attacking our very lives and health. It is serious. Are you involved in this battle? Decide whose side you are on. God or Satan? God is eager to help us. Call on the Spirit for enlightenment. Seek God’s face and his power to make the right decisions. Read the spirit of the times, our culture, in the light of the Bible. Pastors play a huge role here. We need encouragement to pray, reflect, and preach some messages on passages like Ephesians 6:10-18. “Put on the full armor of God … against the powers of this dark world” and do battle “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Some messages need to address the fear of COVID-19, but we also need to encourage confidence that we will win this war. We have read the last chapter of the book and we already know how the story ends. In the meantime, while we wait we do well to heed Martin Luther’s words, written during the Bubonic plague of the 1500s: “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I will fumigate, purify the air, administer medicine, and take medicine. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order to not become contaminated, and thus perchance inflict and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me. But, I have done what he has expected of me, and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person, but will go freely. This is a God fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy, and does not tempt God.” Today, for us, that probably means wearing a mask where required and getting vaccinated as our gift of love to others besides ourselves.
- On a worldwide level, how do we view the horrors occurring in other countries, especially in India? What is God’s call to us, and what is our responsibility? How can we inspire and motivate each other to think big? Can we, for example, increase our already generous support for World Renew to a new level of sacrificial giving to provide the basics of oxygen, medicine, and more? Or should we intensify our drive to provide more missionaries with the necessary resources through Resonate Global Ministries? Or should we do both? These are new questions that we face for tough new challenges. We are generally wealthy, “blessed” even. Can we challenge every church member, out of gratitude to God, to provide desperately needed help for different parts of our world? I sense that we have many members who might well welcome such a challenge to a new level of discipleship. This could be a knock-out blow to the destructive spirit of COVID-19. Can we, as people who are not our own but belong to God confess afresh that all God has shared with us is now available to others? That may require God to do some serious “bondage breaking” in us.
- With the pandemic winding down, we need a few basic godly goals to help us serve as Christians. Two related words come to mind: simplify and prioritize. For that to happen meaningfully calls for prayerful reflection and vulnerability with family input, discussion, and prayer.Simplify. The COVID-19 journey slowed us down by forbidding many of the activities of “the hurried life.” We can make a start with fresh determination to keep “hurry” away. Our relationship times and tones need tuning to be more focussed and relaxed. That will provide new time and space to listen to God and to each other.Prioritize. This is the hard one, because there are so many important and good activities to do, explore, and develop. I suggest we adopt the Great Commandment—“Love God above all and your neighbor as yourself”—as a guiding principle over all of life, at all times, and in all situations.
Finally, Iet’s give God the last word: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).