March 11, 2020
Like many of us, I have been earnestly striving to understand the seriousness of the situation we find ourselves in as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread in the United States and across the globe. At times I have wrestled with whether or not the media is blowing the situation out of proportion. I have certainly seen many social media posts to this effect. On the other hand, I have also wondered if perhaps this is going to be far worse than we think. Mostly, I have been desperate for a clear explanation of why we should be paying attention to this and what it really means for us. Here’s where I’m at, although my own understanding of the situation is constantly evolving:
Most of us will not die from the coronavirus.
However, most of us will end up getting the coronavirus . . . eventually.
Just like most of us have been sick with the flu at some point in our lives, most of us will eventually catch this virus. It will make us sick, but will not be life-threatening—for most of us. Because this is a new virus, our immune systems are not used to fending off this disease.
The grave concern on the part of public health professionals is to spread out the timeline in which the virus spreads. If millions of people get this virus all at once, it will be debilitating to our public health infrastructure. Those who desperately need medical care may not be able to receive it. And then they will be more likely to die from the disease.
Let me see if I can put this succinctly: For most of us, this is not a personal health crisis. Rather, it is a public health crisis. It’s not about you or me. It’s about us as a whole. And more importantly, it is about protecting the most vulnerable members of society among us. We need to be especially cautious for the same reason we get vaccines for other diseases. Exercising caution “protects the herd.”
Where does this intersect with our faith?
Care for the most vulnerable among us lies at the heart of what it means to be Christian. This impulse has deep roots in Christian and Jewish Scriptures. Remember the common refrain from the Old Testament? “Care for the orphans and widows.” Why? Because they were among the most vulnerable members of society in antiquity.
Today, in light of this novel coronavirus? It is those who are elderly and who have underlying health conditions. Our faith demands that we look out for and offer care for those as best as we can, as individuals, as communities of faith, and as a society. That means following the recommendations being offered by the CDC and other medical authorities—wash your hands, practice social distancing, staying home if you are sick, and so forth. We must take these recommendations seriously.
Schools are closing or shifting to online coursework. Churches are doing the same. The stock market is plunging as businesses suffer. For the first time in my lifetime, the economy is no longer the sacred cow that it has been for far too long; instead, public health takes priority. The weeks and months ahead are going to be difficult, and all of this is going to adversely affect the most vulnerable among us. Herein lies our call as Christians and as churches to step up and offer care in creative ways.
Church: Be the presence of Christ in the world. In these times, that might mean not being physically present, but rather live-streaming worship, or directing your congregation to alternative ways of worship. If that is what it takes to care for the most vulnerable among us, so be it. It may mean picking up the phone and calling those who are home-bound to connect and remind them that they are not alone. It may mean dropping food and groceries on the doorstep for homebound members who are self-quarantining and cannot go to the store. It may mean finding ways to support members of your community who are suffering because they are hourly employees and cannot earn an income as the economy slows.
In some strange divine irony, we are in the Christian season of Lent. This is the season of waiting, of reflection, of slowing down, of repentance. Easter is coming, to be sure. But we are not there yet. In all likelihood, it is going to get worse before it gets better.
Let’s do our best to care for one another in this strange and scary season. Blessings to you all.
Note: Social media is filled with bad information on the coronavirus. As always, check your sources. For the coronavirus, it’s best to look for up-to-date information from trusted sources such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO).