Looking for answers

Is the coronavirus a judgement from God on this world’s escalation of corruption?

It probably is a cringe-worthy question, people of faith and, basically, the general population tend to explore these queries when disaster strikes. So, with the global reach of the coronavirus, the question of whether the pandemic is God’s judgment begs our attention. Probably the best answer is nuanced, in other words, it’s both “Yes” and “No”. We live in a fallen world, but it important to remember that “the rain falls on both the just and the unjust.”

A few years back, we were invited by U2’s crew to attend one of their shows. Above the stage was a video that kept flashing current statistics such as people who were dying of hunger globally, the abortion statistics, etc. When you start comparing the numbers of the virus, it is not even close to these two statistics alone.

In the 16th century, German Christians asked theologian Martin Luther for a response to the epidemic at his time: In 1527, less than 200 years after the Black Death killed about half the population of Europe, the plague re-emerged in Luther’s own town of Wittenberg and neighboring cities. In his letter “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague,” the famous reformer weighs the responsibilities of ordinary citizens during contagion. His advice serves as a practical guide for us confronting infectious disease outbreaks today.

First, Luther argued that anyone who stands in a relationship of service to another has a vocational commitment not to flee. Those in ministry, he wrote, “must remain steadfast before the peril of death.” The sick and dying need a good shepherd who will strengthen and comfort them and administer the sacraments—lest they be denied the Eucharist before their passing. Public officials, including mayors and judges, are to stay and maintain civic order. Public servants, including city-sponsored physicians and police officers, must continue their professional duties. Even parents and guardians have vocational duties toward their children.

Luther did not limit tending the sick to health care professionals. Lay citizens, without any medical training, may find themselves in a position of providing care to the sick. Luther challenged Christians to see opportunities to tend to the sick as tending to Christ himself. Out of love for God emerges the practice of love for neighbor.

But Luther does not encourage his readers to expose themselves recklessly to danger. His letter constantly straddles two competing goods: honoring the sanctity of one’s own life, and honoring the sanctity of those in need. Luther makes it clear that God gives humans a tendency toward self-protection and trusts that they will take care of their bodies. “All of us,” he said, “we have the responsibility of warding off this poison to the best of our ability because God has commanded us to care for the body.” He defends public health measures such as quarantines and seeking medical attention when available. In fact, Luther proposes that not to do so is to act recklessly. Just as God has gifted humans with their bodies, so too he has gifted the medicines of the earth.

What if a Christian still desires to flee? Luther affirms that this may, in fact, be the believer’s faithful response, provided that their neighbor is not in immediate danger and that they arrange substitutes who will “take care of the sick in their stead and nurse them.” Notably, Luther also reminds readers that salvation is independent of these good works. He ultimately tasks “devout Christians … to come to their own decision and conclusion” whether to flee or to stay during plagues, trusting that they will arrive at a faithful decision through prayer and meditation on the Scriptures. Participation in aiding the sick arises out of grace, not obligation.

However, Luther himself was not afraid. Despite the exhortations of his university colleagues, he stayed behind to minister to the sick and dying. He urged his readers not to be afraid of “some small boil” in the service of neighbors.

Luther expressed the reality of suffering but recognized that death and suffering do not have the final word.

There are many opinions of whether we should continue lock-downs or open up the economy before we fall into a huge depression economically. That is the million -dollar question right now. Who ever thought that we would be asking that question less than a month ago.

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