How should Christians act, react, and think, while going through the current COVID-19 “social distancing” restrictions? There are some divisions being revealed and “sides” being taken among some, not all, of my fellow believers.
For what it’s worth, I’d like to offer my thoughts on this. I hope you will give them a hearing, if not complete acceptance. Unity is always difficult in the best of times, let alone when our feelings may be intensified during a stretch when we are kept from meeting together as the Body of Christ.
One of the divisions is over just how serious this pandemic really is, yet there are some things we know for sure: we are now well over 30,000 deaths in a little over a month, which is not the kind of rapid death rate one sees with a typical flu. Even if we don’t hit that original number of 100,000, it’s obvious that the number will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.
We also now know that even people who believe they are healthy may actually be infected. The highest point of possible contagion apparently is right before symptoms begin to occur. That means if I interact with someone, and we both seem to be healthy, if one of us has the virus, it can easily be passed to the other person. Until we have a massive testing ability (which we don’t currently have despite what you may hear) we will not know who is really healthy and who isn’t.
Well, what about faith? Won’t God protect us? He told us we should not neglect meeting together. Are we disobeying Him when we social distance? Yes, we have many scriptural assurances of God’s protection of His people, but does that mean that Christians won’t get sick and die from a pandemic? Don’t Christians get sick and die every day even when there is no pandemic? Is it faith to continue to meet together when we may pass on a lethal virus to one of our brothers or sisters? Or is it possibly arrogance at times?
When I was a young Christian, still in college, and learning about God’s healing power, I inadvertently put Him to the test. Now, keep in mind I had seen some examples of God healing individuals of cancer and other ailments. I therefore, in my newfound faith, decided to force God’s hand with a miracle I wanted to see. The details are unimportant; the presupposition is what I’m focusing on. When weeks passed and nothing happened, I was disturbed. Why hadn’t God done what I sought?
It was at that point that my pastor gave me the counsel I so desperately needed. What I had done wasn’t faith, he said—it was presumption. Had God told me to do this or was this something out of my own head? I had to admit to the latter. In effect, I tried to take the place of God and use Him like the genie in the bottle. Grant my wish, God! I had to humble myself and acknowledge His Lordship, not mine.
Incidentally, although I didn’t get what I wanted, the situation was eased considerably in another way—a way that I believe was God showing mercy to a young, immature believer. I learned a valuable lesson.
We can’t presume upon God and dare Him to keep us all safe. The true Christian response is to show love to my neighbor and take whatever precautions I can to protect everyone else. That’s not lack of faith; rather, it is faith in action, living out our Christian commitment to others. I don’t have the right to infect someone else.
Speaking of rights, what about the First Amendment?
Our churches are empty. Isn’t this a violation of freedom of religion? Isn’t the government’s restriction on groups meeting denying our liberty of conscience? Isn’t the Christian faith threatened by this?
First, my Christian faith is not threatened. Actually, my personal devotional time has been enhanced; the time I now have for long walks has helped me be more consistent in prayer. Neither do I fear a government authority bursting through my front door to find out if I’m worshiping illegally. There is no such restriction.
What about corporate worship? My church has online services almost daily. I participate in an online Bible study. In a few weeks, I’ll start teaching an adult Sunday school class through the technology now available to us. Yes, I would prefer to see people in person and be back in the atmosphere of the sanctuary that I love. But my Christianity doesn’t depend on that.
Neither is anyone clamping down on all of those online opportunities to express our faith. We haven’t been told we can’t do that. In fact, we’re encouraged to do so.
If these restrictions had been aimed solely at Christians I would think differently. Yet they apply to our entire society. There won’t be any baseball or football games very soon. Musical concerts, plays, and movies are nonexistent currently.
This is not an attack on religious liberty. I say that as someone who has taught the principles of limited government and freedom of religion all my adult life. Let’s save our concern for real attacks, not what we are experiencing now.
So am I someone cowering in fear of the nation eventually reopening? Not at all. I’m just being prudent and doing my best to care for others before myself. I don’t want to be the instrument through which another person contracts this virus. I want to be sure that the pandemic has passed its peak and is sufficiently downgraded before I return to whatever kind of normal we will face.
My plea today to my fellow Christian believers is to be very sure you don’t act from impatience, frustration, or a false concept of faith. Let’s take the words of Jesus seriously when He said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”
If we do that, we will be together again, and we will be able to meet without regret for having acted presumptuously. We will have instead acted out of true faith.