Covid-19 Devotion 3 from Pastor Bill

Grace, mercy, and good health to us all! 

My thoughts are always with you as we face the realities of Covid-19. I trust you’re observing good health practices in diet, exercise, and anti-viral hygiene. I trust you’re all well and practicing good spiritual practices in prayer, studying the Scriptures, and serving God and neighbor in safe ways. 

As we enter the second week of the pandemic, we’re hearing news that shocks and disturbs. Confirmed cases and deaths are on the rise as expected as the virus runs its new course. Experience is always a better teacher. We’ve only to look at the virus’ spread pattern from Asia to Europe to North America and beyond to grasp the full scope. 

As news updates spread too, my thoughts turn to ways to uphold our trust in God and one another. My devotion today is on science and hope. 

After the March 4th Lenten Series service at First Baptist Church, I greeted worshipers on their way to fellowship. I was bumping elbows with people to be mutually safe. A person mildly chastised me when I offered my elbow. They said, “No need for that. This is what we have God for!” I smiled while nodding my head–and biting my tongue. 

Social distance, physical distance, shelter-in-place, and quarantine are terms bandied back and forth in the news every day now. Is their practice somehow an act of dishonoring God’s protecting love or a sign of our lacking trust in God’s protecting love? Let’s look at that. 

When we say, “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth” as an affirmation of our faith, we are asserting that God is the creator of life, health, and well-being, as well as science itself. God created everything and called it “good” and then created humanity and called us “very good.” Goodness is inherent in creation. And so is health. Health in the Scriptures touches on the whole person–body, mind, soul, and spirit, The Hebrew word shalom (shaw-lome) has the thrust of peace, health, soundness, and wholeness in a person, in the congregation, in the nation, and in creation, appearing 269 times in the Hebrew Bible. 

Health aspects in the Hebrew Bible are layered and complex: heath’s roots are in a complete wholeness of creation. Health is rooted in longevity, the environment, the land, Sabbath, diet, ethical behavior, worship, and forgiveness. God created all things with a preference for health. In contrast, the biblical view of disease is a layered and complex subject too. Primarily, disease (distinct from sickness) was viewed by our ancients as a matter of the community, and not merely a diseased person. Ancient Israel recognized disease resulting from environmental factors and poor personal and ethical habits. 

Would it surprise you to learn that one method to “mitigate” disease in Israel was to quarantine! The Torah instructs diseased people to separate from the community and for the community to care for those separated (Leviticus and Numbers). People with skin ailments, for example, were to separate for one-week intervals until a cure was certified. Enveloping all the rules was a desire for cleanliness. Wash your hands! 

Devotionally speaking, many biblical rules concerning health and disease arose from a sort of natural science. Clean food, clean bodies, and clean dwellings promoted health, shalom! Similarly, social or physical distancing, sheltering-in-place, and quarantining are consistent practices when compared to biblical traditions. Magical thinking among the faithful is not faith or trust, but expressions of denial and anxiety. Recall Job! Struck with open sores, he was disgusting to his family and friends. His friends pointed to Job’s sin as the cause. Then, Job gets well and finds shalom! The lesson: Good people and not good people suffer, get sick, get relief, get well, live, and die. 

Covid-19 is a severe illness striking people without regard to their religion, race, IQ, income, status, geography, language, or personality. Jesus never harmed. Christians do not harm (ideally!) Reluctance to observe community norms to mitigate this novel coronavirus is risking harm! Jesus said, “Render to Caesar!” Paul himself advises respecting governmental authority. Believe in God. Hope in God. Believe in science. Wash your hands! Stop touching your face! Stay connected! Be cheerful! Phone a friend! 

Stay well. Kathy and I are well. We miss you!
Pastor Bill.