Filipinos wearing facemasks touch a statue of Jesus Christ while attending Sunday mass in metro Manila (Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)
A friend of mine who is Orthodox mentioned to an Evangelical friend of his that he (Orthodox guy) is scaling back his participation in group activities out of concern for coronavirus spread.
“Well, I don’t want to be judgmental,” said the Evangelical, “but I guess that’s fine if you want to live in fear rather than trusting in the Lord.”
Boy, that chaps me — but I bet it’s common in some circles now, Christians shaming other Christians for coronavirus caution. As if being concerned, and taking serious steps to prepare, and to live out public health guidelines, is somehow evidence of a weak commitment to God.
If a Christian chooses not to swim in shark-infested waters, or pick up a poisonous snake, does that show weakness in faith? Of course not; it shows that you have a brain in your head. God’s promise to us is that He will always be with us, not that He will protect us from getting sick from viruses, or otherwise harmed in our bodies. A Christian doctor serves sick patients not because he expects God to place a magic force field around him to keep him from catching their disease, but because he knows that even if he gets sick, that God will be with him through his own suffering, and reward him for his loving self-sacrifice.
It angers me to think that there might be pastors or other church leaders out there now teaching their congregations not to pay attention to what the CDC and others are saying, because the Lord is going to take care of us all. I think of little old church ladies, especially. I think about the old joke about the Christian who refuses several offers to be rescued from a flood, telling his rescuers that God is going to save him. When the water overtakes him, he drowns, and gets to heaven, he says, “Lord, I trusted that you were going to take care of me. And you let me die!” God says, “But I sent my servants to help you three times, and you sent them away.”
I wonder, though, where we religious believers — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and otherwise — should draw lines in thinking about our physical safety, and our religious faith. In the film Of Gods And Men, about the real-life story of the Catholic monks who died in Algeria, they all chose to stay in the country and serve despite the threat that they would be killed by Islamic terrorists. They did not believe that God would keep them from being kidnapped or killed; rather, they trusted that whatever happened, God would be there with them. That’s a different thing, isn’t it?
Abandonment to divine providence surely does not mean being heedless about one’s personal safety at all times. All of us lock our doors at night, do we not? Does that reflect a lack of faith in God, or does it reflect the use of the common sense God gave us?
I would like to know what you readers who are religious believers think about this topic. Let’s be respectful of those who disagree. What got my nose out of joint when my friend told me this story is the judgment that prudence in response to coronavirus is a vice.
UPDATE: A reader posted this from Sunday. The man in the video is the pastor of an Evangelical megachurch in Cincinnati. His message is: “Chill out about the virus. American middle-class life will not be affected. Let’s make fun of this thing.”
— Crossroads (@crdschurch) March 9, 2020