March 30, 2020

Coronavirus and the Poor: A Gospel-Shaped Response

The world—especially for the majority of low-income earners in third world countries—is already a hard enough place to try and survive. With lean budgets that can barely sustain decent accommodation, a balanced diet, or an adequate education for one’s children, life is a daily struggle for many in the world’s poorest communities.

In these all-too-common circumstances, an outbreak like Coronavirus that further complicates life is more than an unwelcome thing. But this is where we currently are.

Anxiety, Fear, Panic

The whole world is in a hostage-like situation, with new countries, States, and regions announcing lockdowns every day. With tension high, anxiety higher still, the global panic is obvious. And in a world of instant news and constant social media use, the voices addressing this pandemic are only increasing by the minute. We are endlessly exposed to both helpful and downright misleading information.

Medical experts and concerned government agencies around the world are working round the clock to limit the spread of this virus. Health officials are scrambling to bring it under control. And their efforts are being relayed to the world in real-time. With much of the world’s population either on lock down under self-quarantine, the access to abundant information feeds fear like oxygen to a forest fire.

Don’t get me wrong, a steady flow of information is not all bad. We need information to make wise decisions. And Christians ought to pray for their respective countries’ leaders to make decisions that will protect people (1 Tim. 2:1–4). But at the end of the day, people are still scared. Terrified. In cases like this, more information doesn’t tend to quell people’s fears. It has the opposite effect. The question, then, is this: What, or whom, can still our fears? Is it even possible? And even more importantly: What does the gospel have to offer a scared world?

The Root of Our Fears

One of the ways the gospel of Christ addresses a global outbreak is by confronting the root of our fears. How is it that a virus can have such power over the entire world? The simple answer is that death scares us. Great and small alike, human beings have, over the generations, proved to be utterly powerless before the giant of death.

That’s why people are scared—they are being confronted with their own mortality. It’s not that COVID-19 has somehow made us more susceptible to death. It has simply brought death’s painful reality to our doorstep. In the face of a global pandemic, death refuses to be ignored.

But what does this fear of death have to do with the gospel? I’m glad you asked. It’s into this David-and-Goliath-like situation that the power of the gospel shines. This is what the Scriptures say concerning Christ Jesus’ mission in His life, death, and resurrection:

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

(Heb. 2:14–15)

Did you see it? The devil holds people in a vice grip, keeping them in bondage through fear of death. Having tempted humanity to sin, the devil acts as an accuser (Rev. 12:10), demanding that a just punishment be exacted.

But praise God that the devil does not have the last word. The gospel breaks the chains of this controlling and tormenting fear of death. How? By giving us a second Adam to lead us into life and freedom. Jesus Christ has shared in our humanity and, having taken on death, He gloriously overcame it. The one man that death did not—could not—beat, was Jesus. And through His substitutionary death, Jesus subdued the devil’s power to torment God’s people through the fear of death.

Redefining Life and Death

Through the gospel, God redefines the meaning and experience of both life and death. Whether we eat or drink, the gospel gives us the power and joy of doing all things for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). We therefore seek to honor Christ with our body, whether by life or by death—even in the face of a deadly virus. To live becomes Christ, and to die, gain! (Phil. 1:20–21).

Now, when we apply these great truths to the present outbreak, it does not mean that we ought to be careless. We should take all the necessary precautions not to contract the virus. But the motivation is radically altered. Rather than being motivated by fear, we are empowered by hunger for the glory of God. We long for His fame to be spread in and through our lives, especially in these troubling times. And we do this with a joyful tension, for in our hearts we look forward to the day when we will finally be with Christ forever.

Sovereign God, Sin, and a Suffering Savior

Lastly, the gospel calms our hearts by revealing to us the Sovereign God who runs the universe. Our God is in heaven and He does whatever He pleases (Ps. 115:3). The LORD reigns—not a virus and not the devil—and the nations ought to be glad that He does (Ps. 97:1). This sovereign God holds all things together by His powerful word (Heb. 1:3). And He decrees all things that come to pass, for the sole purpose of displaying the fact that He is God.

One of the ways He does this is by humbling us, revealing our weakness, frailty, and utter inability to control our lives. Hasn’t this virus done just that? Even the world’s super-powers have acknowledged their limits. So now is a good time to acknowledge our own helplessness. We ought humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. And we ought to pray, with desperation and also confidence, that only God would stop this virus in its tracks. For only He can do so.

But we may also wonder: if God is sovereign, why does He allow such pandemics to devastate the world? We may never know the exact answer, but the gospel gives us all the information we need by highlighting what kind of world we live in—namely, a broken one. When all is fine in the world, we can ignore this reality. But a global outbreak brings home, with terrifying force, the painful reality of life in a fallen world. Our world lies under the power of sin and Satan (1 Jn. 5:19) with human beings willingly siding with God’s enemy to defame His glory (2 Cor. 4:4).

And if we doubt this fact, the gospel reminds what we did to the holy Son of God when He was on earth. We rejected, denied, betrayed, tortured, crucified, and killed him! And if we say we were not there to do it, the gospel points to our sins and confirms we were.

But it does not stop there. It reminds us what God, in His mercy, has done to save us and forgive us: “But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). And this is the message we give ourselves to share with everyone we can, especially those whose hope is in this life.

Have No Fear

Armed with this massive truth, how can we be afraid? Our Father runs the universe, do we really think He will forget our state? He works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). Is this virus not a part of that?

  • Ronald Kogo

    Ronald Kogo is pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in Nakuru, Kenya. He is also a Church in Hard Places cohort leader in East Africa. He's married to Jackline and is blessed with four children.

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