We live in strange times. The message to social distance and avoid the possible spread of a virus is strong and prevalent. So, the most loving thing to do is to avoid people and not be around anyone—so goes the assumption. This “gospel” is preached widely and consistently. The most faithful action, according to some pastors, is to pretend that having sinners present to hear God’s Word and receive the Lord’s Supper are not important, but in fact, actually bad and harmful. Groups of people are wrong, is the implication, no matter the purpose—unless it has to do with the practical necessities of this world, like food and groceries. The message of the world is: “do your duty and keep away from people.”
Digging deeper, there are some flaws with this ubiquitous assumption. One is responsibility and guilt. We don’t live in an age where true guilt is acceptable—sin against the holy God is not acknowledged or feared. But how are governments and medical leaders motivating people? Not by civil force—the power God actually gave them—in all cases, but by fear and forceful sermon-like announcements. They do not want a police state or martial law, so they are trading in fear, to get people to abstain from activities somewhat willingly.
This is one area where scientific knowledge has been a curse, despite all its good in our lives. Unwittingly transmitting a disease that could possibly hurt someone else (and not even the person you purposely deal with) is now the major social sin. But it is a sin before God? An infected person knowingly and intentionally transmitting a disease—or inventing and releasing it to cause havoc--would be hateful. But simply being a host, an actual living being, makes everyone potentially “guilty” of disease spread. Is someone more guilty if he was the first person with this new coronavirus, assuming it came from some animal, as he was going about his life unawares? What makes that person more guilty than the animal? If he had not gotten it, how many lives would have been possibly spared? We cannot shame a virus, though. Or is all disease simply the symptom of the divine curse of the fall that we cannot control?
We live in an age of social guilt, not individual guilt. Like in communism, the individual must serve the needs of the great community. And this is not necessarily the wrong precaution, but is it truly loving? Should we tell married couples to not be around each other—because they might get each other sick? Their lives are already intertwined. Should doctors and nurses stop serving their patients because they might get infected? No, that would be obviously unloving, since their job is to try to help, even though they are much more likely to be infected in the line of duty. Should grocery stores close, since they are major risks? That would be unloving, since not eating is a fairly certain path to death. Death is unavoidable for mortals.
Is the virus the cause of death, or just a highlighter of other significant health flaws? “While the outbreak is a serious public health concern, most people who contract the coronavirus do not become seriously ill, and only a small percentage require intensive care. Older people and those with existing health conditions, like heart or lung disease, are at higher risk” (nytimes.com, March 30th). Am I responsible or guilty for a potential neighbor’s heart disease or lung cancer? What is against public health is a nebulous “sin”--great for promoting fear, but it has little to do with biblical sin.
Love is to be a definite thing, not a matter of percentages or a delicate balancing of risks. Fear quakes and cowers—it is never certain. Perfect love drives out fear. So be sure what you are doing is God-pleasing and loving towards others. Will love for others, hospitality, and being a good neighbor put others at risk? Not knowingly and unwisely, of course, but being alive in this cursed world is the greatest risk. Every second we breath, we are mortal and subject to death in a hundred ways. But Christ has given us power over death, so do not fear—it must come, and then be defeated at the Resurrection.<\p> “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn. 12:24).
Can an act of love before God, in faith, possibly hurt a theoretical neighbor, medically speaking? Yes, but God call us to love our neighbor and fear Him. He does not promise that there is not risk to showing love. We live in age of risks—they are always with us, as mortal sinners. Just driving to church means there is a potential for a car accident. Walk outside and you may have a collision or fall. The virus everyone talks about not a massive killer yet—and we pray it will not be, death is never something good. It is always an enemy. But Christians are not slaves to death and to the fear of losing this life on earth. Our citizenship is above and we live with Christ right now—whom death has no hold on.
Sanitary responsibility and cleanliness are never perfect or certain. So, by all means, don’t thumb your nose at science and germs, but don’t trust in them for certainty either. You need something more positive and definite. Germophobes—of which we are all supposed to be, right now, means living in fear. Can anything that we actually use and share with another person ever be 100% neat, clean, and sanitary in this life? No. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be cautious, but our confidence must rest on something more solid.
The world is filthy and sickness is unavoidable for the living. So be clean on the inside, above all. “For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Mt. 23:25). This is a bigger problem than any bacteria, germ, or virus. Do not obsess and be consumed about the false, worldly guilt of possibly contaminating someone else. Trust the One who delivers from eternal death by the cleansing of the forgiveness of sins. God’s law gives certain guilt and His Gospel gives definite forgiveness—in heaven. No sanitizer gives a 100% guarantee—because it is not the true God.
Public safety is good—but we cannot control every disease in the community or germ we carry. But we pray to our God who can. He has promised to swallow up death forever. Do not live by percentages and possibilities, or you will deny Christ. He is not a possible Savior, He is the certain Redeemer of the whole world. Fear God’s Law and being an unloving sinner, not just what is unpopular for moment. The Wrath of God is still more deadly. Hell is a 100% certainty for those who die in unbelief.
Government recommendations can be respected, but they are not to dominate our thinking and unsettle our hearts. There is no hope in civil laws and guidelines. They can never be perfect, rightly timed, and absolutely correct for everyone. Yet however much their actions can be debated, the authorities are God’s instruments. But we have Christ’s direct Word, as Christians. So do not let the world destroy your confidence or wreck your certainty. Governments direct the body, they do not steady the mind or cleanse of guilt in the heart. Christians are called to be steadfast on Christ.
Don’t fail to do what is loving before God because you worry about a possible risk. This is a definite sin. Fear the true God more than a virus. Would you neglect and fail to touch your own child if they were infected and quite ill? Would that not be more unloving–to keep your distance and fail to comfort your own flesh and blood? Would you push away any young child who wanted a hug, because it endangers the public health? Death is not preventable. But abortion, suicide, and euthanasia are, and so remain sinful and godless. Do not these endanger the public health more? You do not, however, have control over your own germs, unless you cease to live or love. Scientific knowledge does not give us control over these things we cannot see.
We live in the midst of many real dangers, of which the greatest is sin. There is no possibility of real living, controlled by sin and ruled by fear. Our actions can be safe and sanitary, but our motivation is the main issue. We are to fear and love, not a temporal thing, but the true God, loving our neighbors who are near.
“Liz Archuleta, chair of the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, said the decision needed to be made [to close the Grand Canyon to visitors] for the health of the park’s visitors, residents and the rest of the county. ‘It only takes one person to be a carrier of the virus to then infect others,’ Archuleta said” (March 28, 2020, azdailysun.com). What is our role, as hosts, in transmitting disease? Am I guilty before God of giving the stomach flu to my family, unknowingly? Science might say possibly “yes,” but God does not deal in percentages. Why not go one step further and be a full enthusiast: is it the person’s fault if their immune system does not fight off the virus and the result is death? No, but death, in general, is because of sin. Sin is always the bigger issue.
The truth is that we are helpless and not in control our our lives. The greatest evil is not passively spreading a cause of death that will highlight underlying medical conditions. Science and medicine do not deal with blame and forgiveness, but God’s Word does. Who is to blame? The original propagator of death, Adam. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (Rom. 5:12-14).
Death is the caused by sin. It is our fault that we are mortal and unloving and must die. Our guilt is original. Adam, our forefather, is the reason for all death. We share and participate in Adam’s death. No amount of hand-washing will wash that guilt away. But Christ, our life, is greater than death. So live forgiven and in Him, looking forward to His return and the destruction of death forever.
Death, including all its earthly causes, cannot win. It only took one man to give righteousness and win our freedom from guilt. Rom. 5 continues: “For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.” Amen.
Pastor Philip Hale