“Be careful, keep calm, and don’t be afraid.” (Isa 7:4)
All the press conferences, all the official statements, all the medical advice on how to prepare for the covid 19 pandemic can be summed up in these words God gave to Isaiah.
The situation then was an impending invasion by powerful enemies of Judah. For us, it’s the impending invasion of a virus with the potential to hobble our economy, overwhelm our healthcare resources, and take a serious toll on our most vulnerable.
In essence, the scenarios are not that dissimilar, nor is the wisdom of the advice. It’s the source of the advice, and the power of that source, that is as different as day from night. The source of the official statements is medical experience and research on effective infection prevention and mitigation. These are both useful and effective.
The source of Isaiah’s advice is God, and the words apply to every situation we face, both as individuals and communities. I would argue that as believers, we face a pandemic every day of our lives.
There is a worldwide virus that infects everything it touches, but it’s not new. It’s as old as humanity, and has never lost it’s ability to affect every living person the world over. The most vulnerable are the most seriously afflicted; untreated, the virus leads to spiritual death.
Every one of us is infected with this virus, to a greater or lesser degree. Unlike the covid 19 threat, the world welcomes and promotes the virus of self. It urges us to focus on meeting our goals, on self-actualization, on believing in ourselves. The result is that, faced with a reality that pits me against potential disaster, fear inevitably flourishes. When push comes to shove, if I’m all I have, I soon realize I haven’t got much. If I have God, I don’t need anyone else. Trusting in God and HIs perfect will for me gets my fear in the right place.
This is what the Lord says to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people: “Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.” (Isa 7:12-13)
Fearing God means seeing Him with reverential awe for all that He is. It means treating Him with the utmost respect, and never taking Him for granted. It means knowing His love and His goodness in the face of my sin, and what it cost Him to save me. It means putting Him first. The fear of the Lord keeps my perspective real, my choices better, my confidence firm because I know Who is in control. I fear God, but I never need to dread Him; that’s reserved for those who reject Him, ignore HIm, or continue to spit in His face.
What measures should we take, then, to mitigate the infection of worldliness constantly swirling around us? James gives us this admonition in 4:8:
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
We’re called to be in the world but not of the world. That means we reach out to others, but are careful not to take hold of what is unhealthy. To mitigate the danger is to realize the danger. I’m no less susceptible to putting my wants first than anyone else — especially if the temptation is subtle and couched in the language of being “the best I can be.” So I need to remember to wash my hands of the culture of self-indulgence, self-preservation, and self-interest that contaminate what I set out to do for God. It will require my mind to be fully focused — not pulled in different directions — to keep close to God and desiring to be the best God can enable me to be.
My hands aren’t the only thing I need to keep clean. My home and workplace need regular disinfection to achieve airwaves not polluted by inappropriate entertainment, an explosion of unnecessary possessions, calendars that leave little or no space for God.
Self-monitoring is also vital. It’s so easy to go blithely on our usual way and not know we’re infected. When symptoms like envy, gossip, judgment, cynicism, indifference and helplessness appear (to name just a few), take action. Look for the source of infection, and then go to The Source for the remedy. If we don’t, our infection will get more serious, and we’ll spread it to others.
Self-isolate when you’re sick, and follow instructions. If I know that my “job” is to profess the love of God and Christ’s saving work on the cross, I can’t do it if I’ve become infected by worldliness. If I try, I’m far more likely to cause harm than to help. What I need is to get alone with God, and spend some serious time thrashing things out with Him. The instructions I need to follow will come from Him. Only when I’ve recovered should I try to resume my calling.
Love your neighbor as yourself. If they’re infected, provide them with nourishment. In this case, you don’t have to avoid contact; in fact, under God’s leading, initiate it. Help them heal as the Spirit leads, and if they’ll let you. Don’t be afraid to speak about your God when His Spirit prompts.
Covid 19 has come, and it will eventually go. The world is here and its infection is continuous. Be careful; Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Be calm; God is love, and God is sovereign. Don’t be afraid; our God will meet all our needs in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And let’s do one more thing: Rejoice! For
He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. (Isa 40:11)