Everywhere the Coronavirus is lurking—at least the fear of it. Some are afraid to shake hands or go out in public. Is society is doomed to destruction? Does your imagination conjure up certain death and the image of mass graves? This is all due to something we cannot see, nor do we seem to be able to stop its spread.
The virus called Covid-19 is worse than the flu, but not a certain death sentence. But we should grieve all death and sickness, even if it has the lowest mortality rate.
Where fear of communicative disease, worldly thinking, and God’s Word intersects is church. Real people come together to hear the living God and have their sins forgiven in Christian assemblies. In some locations, church services are even being canceled.
What is the Christian to think of such things—are church services optional like business conferences, music concerts, basketball games, or film festivals, and to be canceled out safety and fear? This depends much on what one thinks of God’s Word and its proclamation.
Christians are called by the living God to fear, not temporary death, but eternal death. Sin is an invisible disease we all have. Every person is infected from conception, so that sin is passed down to every child, even the most young and precious. Sin has a 100% mortality rate. Avoid every virus and seclude yourself for the rest of your years, and death will still execute its judgment—this is what your sins have merited, because you have not loved your Maker or kept His holy law. Unholy sinners deserve nothing better—whether it comes by virus, cancer, or heart disease. But we are not only material beings—to fear just earthly agents of death. We do not cease at temporal death. We must either pay for sin in hell or be relieved of guilt before death, which tells us of a certain divine judgment. God, who made us, executes all justice. He is to be feared—along with the consequences for our wayward hearts--far more than any particular mode of death.
Take wise precautions, sanitize, and wash your hands, sure, but do not forget to cleanse your conscience and address your guilt before the Lord. This is what the Word of God does. And it is applied directly in faithful preaching by a called servant of Christ. The forgiveness of the Gospel releases you from eternal death. It makes you free and clear from your sins—it’s better than living to 200 years-old, since it gives eternal life with your loving Father. The power and protection of the living Christ is greater than all the sanitizing wipes in the world. He has already overcome eternal death. Victory is assured in the Word. But our Father has not promised to spare us from pestilence or disease.
Why can’t I just read my Bible at home, avoiding all possible infections and sinners? You can, but you will not be a good pastor for yourself. And Christians, incorporated into the body of Christ are not lone rangers, isolated and divided. Christ calls us to be more than ourselves, by loving our neighbors.
Alone, you will not convict or comfort yourself fully, in the name of Christ, as you most need. Christians are called by Christ to gather around the Word and sacraments of Christ. Our Lord has called shepherds to lead us—so allow the Chief Shepherd to lead you through His flesh and blood servants. Communion, Christ body and blood for forgiveness, is not an individualistic gift. It speaks of community—actually being together. Those apart from God’s Word and Supper put themselves in grave danger. Satan, and the doubt and despair he works on believers, is a far great danger than any disease upon creation.
The downside to denying God’s Word is bigger than dying any earthly death. The fear of hell should be stronger than the fear of all earthly sickness. Church is for the dying, since the wages of our sin must bring death, yet the gift of Christ is greater. So go, if possible in a loving way towards others, to hear this preached message. It delivers from all death, through the power of Christ’s resurrection. It releases from the slavery of death (Heb. 2:15), giving a hope bigger than all earthly fears. If you think you should not go out in public, take confidence that Christ is with you and has forgiven you of all your guilt.
If you must, avoid handshakes and hugs, but do not avoid the saving Word. Christians are not to live in fear of creaturely things. Out of love for others, we may sacrifice and quarantine ourselves, for a time, but not willingly or gladly from the proclaimed Gospel! Christians are not to quake at disease or death—because the cause of death, sin, we have already died to in our baptism, because of Christ’s actual death. You could get sick from a fellow parishioner or from sharing a common cup—but what is earthly death when Christ Himself has already delivered you from eternal death. The Word puts all things in things in right order—showing us Who, not what, to fear most. Jesus frees us to no longer be slaves to anything earthly and temporal. We always live in the midst of dangers in our mortal bodies. We should be prepared at all times by repenting of our sins and holding onto Christ’s promises, not just during a pandemic. “If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts” (Ps. 7).
There is no reason to lose perspective over the news, and its viral stories, which has no good news to offer you. Rest secure in Christ. Do not live in fear, ruled by fragile emotions, or by the thought of what may happen to your body. To fear something above all other things is to make that your god. That is more dangerous than hanging out in a biocontainment ward of Coronavirus sufferers.
Our God—our Father in heaven—is stronger than a virus, all disease, and all death. So fear of earthly death, for those who have already been delivered from eternal death, is not to paralyze us. Nothing is better than hearing God’s word—having the keys of Christ open heaven for us. The Word of Christ delivers from death, not the effects of it on earth, but its eternal consequences. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). So if you are determined of what is right before Jesus and loving towards your neighbor, do not let fear of temporal death stop you. It must come, but you are delivered and cannot truly die in Christ, who is alive over your sins.
The hidden infection of sin is to be addressed more than any other earthly ailment. So, if wise and loving for others, proudly go to the place where God has ordained for salvation to be proclaimed. Long for the heavenly abode, where disease and death and infection will be forever exterminated. Death is already conquered, long live Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Pastor Philip Hale