Greetings, people of LUMC,
I have a desire to keep connected to you pastorally. I’ve decided to write some Covid-19 devotions. Here’s the first one.
To keep up my spirits, I often write. I write prayers. I write sermons. I write an occasional poem. I don’t journal or diary though; I’m not that interesting. Sometimes, I pick a subject I don’t know much about, that I’m curious about, I research it, then, I write an essay or short paper. Weird, I know. When I was in high school, my junior class took an aptitude test. My results suggested careers in sales, car mechanics, microbiology, and…wait for it…epidemiology! Though I pursued none of those career options, I suppose a remnant of aptitude is still in me. So, I thought I’d explore the biblical words for Pestilence given that I, apparently, have an aptitude for epidemiology, and, we all have “virus” on our minds.
Our ancients knew nothing about viruses or how viruses led to diseases. When a massive spread of disease appeared in ancient times, it was always, always thought to have been brought on by divine visitation. Not surprising at all is the use of pestilence prominently in prophetic writings, especially by the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel (25 times!). It’s accurate to assert that the use of the word pestilence has a judicial character in the Old Testament. Judgment by plague!
There are 51 uses of the Hebrew and Greek words for pestilence. The Hebrew word is deber (deh-ber), which is used 49 times. The Greek word is loimos (loy-mos), which is used twice. The thrust of the Hebrew deber is a pestilence as a visitation of punishment, usually accompanied by famine, war, or “sword.” Ancient people were not ignorant; they were clever. They used their senses and ritual to understand natural phenomena. With an inherent natural religion, the ancients ascribed cosmological, meteorological, and epidemiological disasters as the work of angry deities. The same was true of our Hebrew ancestors. Diseases afflicted upon individuals were ascribed to punishment for sin. Wholesale mass pestilence was ascribed as a punishment upon Israel itself. The thrust of the Greek word loimos is more apocalyptical, as in watching for events that signal the Second Coming of Christ.
Did and does God employ disease and pestilence to punish God people, God’s Church, and God’s creation? To answer that question, we have only to look to Jesus. To see and know God’s true character is to look to Jesus. Throughout his ministry, Jesus displayed compassion, understanding, and caring for sick and injured people. Jesus never once condemned the sick. For Jesus, G-o-d was not a three-letter word for a-n-g-r-y! His occasional pronouncements of forgiveness in some healing stories pointed to easing people’s pains in their minds, spirits, as well as their bodies, about a perceived sin. Overall, Jesus revealed and displayed with consistency God’s divine love for God’s beloved people.
Hear a word from the Book of Psalms:
You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
For God will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence. (91:1-3a)
Every word of those three verses floods my mind with memories of holding congregants’ hands when I prayed with them in their hospital rooms before tests and surgeries. Those words are a vaccine against fear and dread. They are a treatment for uneasy souls. They are words of hope. Read and reread them as we face Covid-19 as a church community, as fellow citizens of our nation and the world, and as those who look to God almighty for refuge and strength.