We are not the first to deal with a global pandemic and if God wills, we will not be the last. The only real question is: will we face it with faith in God and sacrificial love for our fellow man, or pull a Y2K kind of American Christian panic and hunker down in fear of the world outside?
Down the centuries, Christians were known to put aside personal safety in service to others during epidemics and other kinds of disasters. Are we ready to do the same today? If so, it will look a little different than it did in the past. Today it means putting aside our preference to meet together for worship, prayer, and preaching, and practicing social distancing.
Wikipedia reports that the 1918 influenza pandemic (January 1918 – December 1920; also known as the Spanish flu) … infected 500 million people around the world, or about 27% of the world population of between 1.8 and 1.9 billion. The death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history.
The Black Plague or Bubonic Plague of Medieval times was worse. Wikipedia reports that it was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351. …The plague created a number of religious, social and economic upheavals, with profound effects on the course of European history.
The plague was still a threat 200 years later during the Reformation, which gave Martin Luther and John Calvin, two of the greatest theological minds in history, the opportunity to comment. Both advised prudence in the face of such disasters.
John Calvin (1509 – 1564): ““For he who has set the limits to our life has at the same time entrusted to us its care; He has provided means and helps to preserve it, he has also made us able to foresee dangers; that they may not overwhelm us unaware, he has offered precautions and remedies. Now it is very clear what our debt is: Thus if the Lord had committed to us the protection of our life, our duty is to protect it; if he offers helps, to use them; if he forewarns us of dangers, not to plunge headlong; if he makes remedies available, not to neglect them…Thus “folly & prudence are instruments of the divine dispensation.” Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Ch. 17.
Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to 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 and 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 as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
Luther’s Works Volume 43 pg 132 the letter “Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague” written to Rev. Dr. John Hess.
Churches in Washington D.C., responding to the 1918 flu pandemic, closed from October 5 through the 31st. The most Christian thing to do in the current crisis is follow their example.