In the UK, we are now many weeks into the lockdown and we get the sense that the gradual easing of the restrictions is not too far away. With the benefit of time, we are now far enough into the pandemic to begin to tentatively answer some questions we have heard in Christian circles – questions like is Covid-19 is an act of God? So, let’s cautiously unpack the answers to some of the questions that are common within the church landscape.
Is Covid-19 an Act of God?
The answer to this is ‘yes’ and ‘no’ but mostly ‘no’ given the way the question is usually framed. In a very broad sense, Covid-19 is a symptom of a fallen world, a world that does not function as God designed it. This is a situation that was caused by the rebellion of mankind in the garden of Eden that caused a terrible fracture in a perfect creation. This has remained the case ever since. This dysfunctional world manifests itself in many different ways, but one of the most noticeable is through illness, disease, and ultimately death. We all live our lives with a constant threat of contracting an infection or disease that will affect our lives to some degree or another – whether with the mild symptoms of the common cold to other horrific diseases like cancer. This pandemic is just one of many examples of the precarious existence we all experience on earth. In this sense, Covid-19 is an act of God, but we doubt there is anything more targeted to it than that.
Therefore, we do not believe Covid-19 has been specifically unleashed as a judgment from God for a particular reason. The illness does not appear to infect a specific population group in isolation and does not appear to be focussed against a particular form of sin/behaviour. It certainly affects certain demographics more than others (ie. the older age-groups and those with underlying health conditions) but this would be the case with any illness. If God were to bring about a disease or illness as a specific punishment for a specific reason, we would expect it would be very difficult to miss the connection. Consider the plagues in Egypt (see Exodus 7-12) which occurred as an immediate response to the direct rebellion of Pharaoh against God and were undeniably supernatural in origin. That is clearly not the case with Covid-19.
Furthermore, this particular virus is not nearly as potent as many horrific pandemics that ravaged populations throughout history and it is a little absurd to hear some people comparing this to Spanish flu or other plagues. Covid-19 appears to be a little more deadly than the seasonal flu and (thankfully) the number of casualties remains very low worldwide when compared to other historic plagues. Despite the sensationalist approach of our media and the often hysterical response of our culture, Covid-19 is a mild virus. If it were a direct judgment in response to a specific sin or an act of God, we feel this the connection would be fairly obvious which is not the case.
Is Covid-19 being used as an excuse to persecute the church?
The answer to this is obviously no (certainly in the UK). We have heard some suggestions (mainly in the US) that the church should defy the lockdown and arrange meetings anyway, but this would be a gross violation of a Biblical command to submit to the authorities. Everyone is equally being asked to comply with the lockdown and no case could be made that the church is being singled out for more harsh restrictions than anyone else. In these circumstances, there is no justification at all for protesting or defying the lockdown. We are to comply with government restrictions along with everyone else.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1 NIV)
Why has the western world appeared to have suffered so much more than other regions?
At the start of the pandemic, there were predictions that Covid-19 could potentially decimate the populations of the poorer regions of the world, and (so far) this has not been the case – in fact, the epicentre of this pandemic appears to have been in the wealthy and comfortable western nations. This is even more unexpected given that the transmission appears to primarily occur through close physical proximity, something that is unavoidable in many poorer regions of the planet. Although we are not experts on this issue, we suggest this could be explained by a number of factors including the following:
- one of the groups most likely to succumb to Covid-19 is the older demographic, particularly those aged over 70 years old. Western nations have a much higher percentage of the population that fits this demographic whereas many of the poorer regions have a much younger demographic – in fact, many of the poorer countries simply do not have a significant demographic aged 70 or above. As a result, these countries are far less likely to be seriously affected.
- we suspect that the immune systems of those in western nations are less able to cope with this particular strain of the virus due to some differences in living conditions. There are many advantages to the clean and pristine environments we all enjoy in the west when compared to the more polluted and less sanitised environments of other regions of the world. However, maybe this particular virus is unable to gain a foothold in poorer regions of the world where the populations have a more formidable and resilient immune system that been toughened up by the exposure to very different day-to-day conditions. Maybe the comparatively hygienic environment of Europe and North America has left its populations with a less effective immunity for this particular virus (much in the same way that so-called ‘super-bugs’ thrive in the hospital environment’??
- the general physical health of the western population is another possible factor. Western nations with their sedentary lifestyles are generally less physically fit, more over-weight, and have all kinds of underlying health conditions – a perfect cocktail for a more severe experience of this virus. There are some advantages to the more labour intensive lifestyles of those in non-western cultures and this could be another factor.
- finally, we suspect that this virus does not fare so well in warmer climates and therefore is less able to penetrate in hotter areas of the world where communities spend more time outdoors. It is possible that the transmission of this particular virus is more likely in indoor conditions – something far more common in western nations.
We are sure there are other factors, but we suspect the differences in cultural lifestyle play a major part.
How will the lockdown change how we do ‘church’?
While we are very conscious that Covid-19 has brought pain and misery to many who have suffered its effects, we believe this lockdown imposed has a number of positive outcomes for the way we ‘do’ church. Most notably, churches have traditionally operated within buildings and generally use a model where people travel to them, hence the church usually preaches to the converted. As a result of the lockdown, churches have been forced online which has opened up the message to an infinite number of people and has taken the church outside the boundaries of its buildings. This pandemic has brought about a radical change to traditional models and churches are now embracing all kinds of technologies to take ‘church’ direct to people’s houses.
We noticed a perfect example of this in our own church where the attendance for Zoom prayer meetings has more than doubled during the lockdown when compared to normal numbers. We do not know whether this is because people are yearning more for social interaction, whether people are taking prayer more seriously or whether people prefer ‘meeting’ with the convenience of not leaving home – however, our prayer meetings have never been better attended!
Although the lockdown has led to new doors being opened, it will be interesting to see whether this will lead to permanent changes in operation. For example, will online prayer meetings continue? Will there be a continued demand for some form of remote worship? In a way, we hope not, as we believe that the physical gathering of believers is a model that cannot be truly replaced and our spiritual lives would suffer without this.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV)
What are the lessons?
The primary lesson is very simple – life is incredibly fragile and we have no way of knowing when our time on earth is up. This latest outbreak of disease should remind us of the vulnerability of our earthly existence. We all amble through life in a state of continual uncertainty and danger no matter how much we try to avoid it. The reality is that our existence on earth is a small part of an eternal journey that we are all on and this latest threat to our sense of security should cause us to confront life’s tougher questions:
- Why is the world such a mess?
- What happens when we die?
- What is the meaning of life?
- How can I be prepared?
- Are we living in the end times?
Until we find salvation through Jesus Christ, we all live a life completely estranged from a living relationship with our Creator God until the moment we come to faith. Jesus Christ is the only real answer to life and we hope it won’t be too long before the coming King makes his triumphant return!
Please contact us if you have any other questions about this pandemic from a Biblical perspective!
Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. (Isaiah 55:6 NIV)