Brothers and sisters,
Our social media age has a way of making everything feel proximate. Events taking place on the other side of the world feel like they are happening in our own backyards. Our online feeds are filled with news, tragedies, and crises from the lives of people we have never met and places we will never visit.
Whether we realize it or not, this is taking a toll on each of us.
Most of us respond to this constant barrage of news in one of two ways: fear or apathy.
For some of us, the bad news of a sinful world causes rising panic. We live in a state of crippling, perpetual fear. Particularly, news of the spread of the coronavirus only confirms the ever-present dread of impending doom. If you know this to be the temptation in your heart, I commend to you the most repeated and consistent command throughout Scripture: “Fear not.” God knows the fragile state of your heart, and this is his comfort to you: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
While some of us give in to fear, others tend toward apathy. We deal with the fire hydrant of sorrow, panic, and loss by just feeling less, being less concerned, not caring. It may not even be a volitional choice. No one has the emotional capacity to feel equally sympathetic about all tragedies, and hardening our hearts can be a coping mechanism. In the face of legitimate concern for the coronavirus outbreak, this expresses itself in flippant disregard, lack of compassion, or outright contempt for those who are worried. This is contrary to the heart of Christ, who saw the plight of others and chose to care: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
Furthermore, I believe our social media age has made us feel powerless. We see so much news about which we have no control. We are constantly scrolling through feeds of evil, wickedness, and fallenness that we can do nothing about. And we become convinced that we can do nothing—about anything.
This is patently false. What we need is to reconnect ourselves with our own community, our own town, our own people. We cannot do anything about what is happening on the other side of the globe or what is taking place online, but we can do something here—in our town. This is precisely the Apostle Paul’s point in Galatians 5:14—“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Your neighbor. Love your *neighbor*.
Our neighbors live not on the other side of the world but here. And in the midst of this coronavirus outbreak, we must choose to cast aside fear and apathy and instead seek to love our neighbors.
What does that look like?
First of all, it means taking recommendations from the CDC and other helpful health organizations. Washing your hands is not merely a way of protecting yourself but it is a concrete way to love your neighbor, trying to limit the spread of disease in our community. Wash your hands while at church, wash them at home, wash them when you are out.
Do not visit the elderly if you or someone you know has been sick. However, thanks to technology, you can and should call the elderly members of your church to talk with them and pray with them over the phone. Comfort their hearts; read them Scriptures over the phone; let them know how much you miss them and love them.
Do not come to church sick! Do not bring your children to church sick. Fear might motivate your heart to bring a slightly feverous child to church because you don’t want people to think you are shirking your duty to attend worship gatherings. Apathy might make you shrug off a sniffle and come anyways. Love your brothers and sisters in this season of coronavirus by staying home. We will choose to think charitably of you in your absence and trust that you are doing it out of deep love and concern for the rest of the body.
Look for opportunities to serve. In the upcoming weeks, schools may close, businesses may suspend their operations, and other gatherings may be cancelled. Do not get so wrapped up in national media that you miss the situation in your own town. What unique needs will present themselves? Will a neighbor’s children home from school need babysitting while their single mom is at work? Will college students be stranded in town for a few days while they wait for flights home after the campus is closed? How might the Lord use the coronavirus to give you and your church opportunities to love their neighbors in the upcoming weeks?
Finally, pray. Paul instructs Timothy: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Pray for our nation’s leaders to be filled with wisdom. Pray that seasonal changes will slow the spread of the coronavirus. Pray particularly for the vulnerable—the elderly, those with lung conditions, and the sick. Pray for the hospitals, doctors, nurses, and health care professionals who will be serving on the front lines. Pray for the mercy of God.
This has turned into a longer note than I had originally intended, so I’ll finish:
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)
Grace and peace,