By John Young

Over the past two thousand years, three massive viral pandemics have changed the landscape of our global population.

The Antonine Smallpox Epidemic (166-186 AD) claimed the lives of 10 million people in the Roman Empire. The fledgling Christian church became the scapegoat for the mysterious virus, partially due to their radical behavior, which included refusing to worship Roman gods and idols.

The Black Death (Bubonic) plague of the 14th century (1346-53) killed some 130 million worldwide; and about half of Europe’s population. Ignorance about the nature of bacteria led many to blame the Jews, whose communal cleanliness in line with ritual purity and insular communities largely kept the virus out. Many Jewish communities were annihilated and anti-Jewish sentiment continued up to the Holocaust.

The Spanish Flu global pandemic of 1918-19 killed 50 million people and was remarkable in that it also affected the young and healthy (15-34 years old).

For those of us under the age of 102, this is our first global pandemic. The natural human response is anxiety, fear of sickness and death, and seeking comfort in lesser gods. The natural human response is pretty much what you see going on around us now.

But as a follower of Jesus Christ, redeemed and with Him for eternity, how am I to live?

In a pandemic, quarantine measures create a conundrum for Christians. If this airborne virus spreads by close proximity, how do we love others properly? Ours is a faith that follows a rabbi who touched lepers, healed them and even ate at their homes – violating several Jewish laws of the day. A good part of loving others involves touch, closeness, and doing life together. Corporate worship is at the heart of our faith tradition. While we discover how to “Be the Church” in 2020, let us also work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

I have been challenged to see this crisis as an opportunity: an opportunity to slow down and get close to God. In April, when work was slow, I was able to go fishing more than anytime since 1985 when I started raising a family and running a business. If you don’t know already, fishing is God’s way of getting your attention because 99% of the time you are not catching anything!

First of all, let us thank God that the current pandemic has largely spared the very young. Previous epidemics have not been so merciful.

Secondly, let us recognize that we are living in the wealthiest time and place in the history of the earth. Medical, transportation, and housing advances have eliminated many of the historical diseases to the point we may be tempted to believe that we will never suffer any discomfort. Historically, comfortable conditions like this lead people to minimize, even forget, God. As Christians, we must be vigilant to not allow our material wealth to overshadow our spiritual poverty, leading us to forget our desperate need for what only God can provide.

Thirdly, let us recognize that God is, and has always been, sovereign over the Earth. Sure, Satan is trying his best to create chaos, and we are promised trials and tribulation, but Jesus has overcome the world. God knows the details of my life and cares for even the individual hairs on my head. He frees me from worrying about myself so I can serve Him by loving others.

And fourthly, the crux of our faith is that we serve a risen Savior, one who has defeated death and promises the same for us, to the point we can agree with Paul: “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

A good part of loving others is to treat others as we want to be treated, to consider their needs above our own, and to bear (be patient) with them. This last one has been the main challenge for me since the March orders to shelter in place. I have definitely been more anxious, short-fused, and ready to argue my pet point of the day. As we learn in Re:Gen, this only reveals what I am truly trusting in: it is revealing my sin, my idols of comfort, 401ks, and wanting to be right.

Jesus Christ is the answer, and is the blueprint for how I am to live, now, and in the future. 

 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment..” Matthew 22:36-38 

“Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 1 Peter 3:8 

“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Romans 15:1

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Romans 12:10 

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15

“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” Romans 12:17 

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13 

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Remember the Antonine Smallpox Epidemic of 166 AD? How the Christians of the day were blamed and persecuted for the prolific pestilence that no one could explain? In God’s sovereign wisdom, what came out of this disaster was mass conversions to the Christian faith. People witnessed Christians tending to the ill, abandoned, and impoverished without regard to their own comfort or fear of death, knowing that their place in the idyllic afterlife was assured. 

Heavenly Father, hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done. I want to join You in what You are accomplishing in the world today. Give the daily bread of food to those starving in Peru and other countries, the daily bread of eternal life to the spiritually famished in the U.S., and the daily bread of honor to the ill, abandoned, and impoverished among us. Forgive my sins, as I forgive and bear with those who have harmed me. Deliver both me and my neighbor from evil, which includes sickness and strife. And use even me and my church to accomplish that.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

(John Young, married to Janet, is a local farmer and entrepreneur marked by skill and frugality. Meek as a meerkat and strong as an ox, John is an elder at SBC, gifted in service, hospitality, pursuing the outcast and overlooked, and reconciliation. John sets the record for most footnotes in an SBC blog to date.)

2 Responses

  1. Thanks John for your blog. I just read it for a second time this morning. It tracks so well with the message of Ephesians which is where I have been hanging out this morning. You ask the question: how am I to live?

    So did Paul. He answered this question by saying, “live a life of love, live a life worthy of your calling,” etc. (chapters 4-6).

    But you also, like Paul, point us to the starting point. We can’t live life correctly without first being in a growing relationship with the Author of life. You challenge us “to slow down and get close to God.” Paul calls us to meditate on the many, many facets of His greatness (chapters 1-3).

    Perhaps before all of this will happen we need to follow the counsel of the previous SBC blogger and ask ourselves, “Are we into seeking comfort or seeking the Comforter?” Before coming to the Author of life we need to realize honestly and deep in our soul that the comfort the world offers is not working and that it will continue to betray and destroy us. Only then will we seek the Comforter, or sadly, something else. And only then will we live the life our Comforter offers.
    The counsel of both of these blogs, as the previous ones, need to be meditated on, and then acted upon if we are to be the good soil of Matthew 13:23!

  2. Thanks, John for your blog. I just read it for a second time this morning. It tracks so well with the message of Ephesians which is where I have been hanging out this morning.

    You ask the question: how am I to live?

    Paul also asks this. He answers this question by encouraging his readers to “live a life of love, a life worthy of their calling,” etc.

    Paul, tell us we can’t live life correctly without first being in a growing relationship with the Author of life and meditate on the many, many facets of His greatness that are found in chapters 1-3. Along this same line, you challenge us “to slow down and get close to God.”

    Perhaps before these things happen we need to follow the counsel of Ali (the previous SBC blogger) and ask ourselves another vital question, “Are we into seeking comfort or seeking the Comforter? When we realize how deceiving comfort-seeking is we will then seek the Comforter and live the life our Comforter offers.

    The counsel offered in both of these blogs, as the previous ones, need to be meditated on, and acted on if we are to be the good soil of Matthew 13:23!

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