Since the first case of the COVID–19 (or novel coronavirus) was detected (November 17, 2019) in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) declaration of a global pandemic (March 11, 2020), there has been a range of responses.[1] In keeping with postmodernity, and with some exceptions, many of the specifically Christian responses to the pandemic have been wholly or primarily pragmatic, pastoral, and historical rather than theological and biblical.[2] While the church as an organization needs a pragmatic response, its people need a biblically based faith response.

In some sense, this pandemic is no different from any other incident of tragedy or suffering that occurs in this life. Consequently, the same biblical principles that apply to evil and suffering in general also apply to this situation. Perhaps some do not mention these principles because they believe them to be obvious, trivial, or even empty platitudes and others have actually said from the pulpit that they are not satisfying answers and that many desire a deeper philosophical explanation. However, writing to mature believers who were like Lot facing the trial (2 Pet 2:7–9) of enduring the evil of living among immoral people (2 Per 2:13–17), Peter wrote with the purpose of reminding them of what they already knew (2 Pet 1:12).[3] Likewise, in our situation of living in the midst of a potentially fatal disease, Peter sets the example that it is appropriate to remind believers of the important fundamental truths of the faith in the face of trials (2 Pet 1:12; 2:9).

Some are wondering why the COVID–19 pandemic has occurred. Transcending any human causes, believers may say with certainty that it is due to sin, not the personal sin of any one individual or group of individuals, but rather original sin. In Gen 3:13–19, the entire creation order became disordered as a direct result of original sin such that not only natural disasters, but fatal diseases are a reality.[4] Due to sin, the sad fact of life after the fall is that death is an inevitable fact of life (Eccl 3:1–2; Rom 6:23; Heb 9:27). However, the believer should take comfort because not only is God sovereign over his creation despite the effects of human sin (Job 42:2; Isa 46:10), but also God is sovereign over life and death itself (Deut 32:39; Job 1:21). Doctors may need to make the difficult decision of who to treat, but ultimately it is God who decides who lives and who dies.

Some may wonder or even accuse: if God is sovereign, then why has He allowed this evil and this suffering? Not only does every individual deserve to suffer far more than any of us will in this life due to sin (Psalm 103:10), but also God has many purposes in suffering, including but not limited to: (1) divine judgment for disobedience as a consequence of our sin (Deut 28:58–62; Mal 6:13; 1 Cor 11:30); (2) building the believer’s character (Job 23:10; Rom 5:3–4; Heb 12:11; Jas 1:2–4; 5:11); (3) to display His works in healing (John 9:1–3); (4) to get us to repent of our sin (Exod 20:20; Rev 3:19); (5) for us to have a witness (1 Pet 3:14–16); (6) for our faith to be proved (1 Pet 1:6–7); and (7) to get some saved (Acts 16:25–34).[5] In many circumstances, and likely in the present pandemic, several of these purposes are at work at the same time in various individual situations. Even though we may not understand God’s purposes in our suffering and loss, the believer’s responsibility is to strive to believe in God’s eternal goodness and sovereignty despite the contrary temporal appearances and pain (Job 42:3, 5; cp. 40:8–9).

Others feel that they have sinned because they feel fear and anxiety rather than faith, trust, peace, and joy (Phil 4:4–7; James 1:2). They have in mind the great many places in Scripture where believers are told to face danger with courage and not to be afraid (Deut 31:7–8, cp. 1 Cor 10:6, 11) and most famously not to worry (Matt 6:25–34) and that perfect love for God drives out fear (1 John 4:18). However, since in 1 Cor 13:8–12, love has not yet been perfected and, on one predominant interpretation, will not be until Jesus returns, then it is acceptable for believers to struggle with fear, doubt, and worry as they face trials as long as they strive to trust God (Prov 3:5–6) and ask him for wisdom to deal with the threatening circumstances and their feelings about them (James 1:5).[6] Although believers have a responsibility to strive for faith and trust, it is not fear to seek to preserve one’s life. Since life is sacred (Gen 1:27; 9:6; Exod 20:13; 21:12–14)[7] then Christians have a responsibility to make every holy effort to preserve their own (Psalm 143:11), their family’s (Heb 11:7), and their neighbor’s lives (Luke 10:29–37). Even though Christians have a responsibility to seek to preserve God’s gift of physical life, their hope is ultimately not in this life, but the next (Acts 24:15; Phil 1:21; 1 Pet 1:3).

Many others are concerned about what pragmatic steps the church corporately or they as individual believers should take during the pandemic. The church’s mission never changes no matter what the circumstances (Mat 28:18–20). Believers are commanded to “be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Eph 5:15–17, NIV1984). In Matt 24:42, 45–46, the Lord has revealed his will that believers are never to wait to die, but rather for Jesus’ return by going about the master’s business while they wait. If one has cultivated the attitude of doing the master’s will while waiting for his return or seeks to cultivate that attitude now, then they will have the wisdom to discern the wise way to make the most of whatever opportunities present themselves.

Whatever may come, let us fight the good fight, finish the race, and above all keep our faith (2 Tim 4:7).

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID–19): Situation Summary,”  (13 Mar 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/13/first-COVID-19-case-happened-in-november-china-government-records-show-report); Helen Davidson, “First COVID–19 Case Happened in November, China Government Records Show,”  (13 Mar 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/13/first-COVID-19-case-happened-in-november-china-government-records-show-report).

[2] Philip Bethancourt and others, “How the Church Can Respond to the Coronavirus,” (12 March 2020. https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/how-the-church-can-respond-to-the-coronavirus); Michael Brown, “The Coronavirus: From Prophecy to Conspiracy Theory to Pragmatism,” (12 March 2020. https://www.christianpost.com/voices/the-coronavirus-from-prophecy-to-conspiracy-theory-to-pragmatism.html); Moses Y. Lee, “What the Early Church Can Teach Us About the Coronavirus,” (12 March 2020. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-early-church-teach-coronavirus/);  James Martin, “Faith in the Time of Coronavirus,”  (13 March 2020. https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/03/13/faith-time-coronavirus); Esau McCaulley, “The Christian Response to the Coronavirus: Stay Home,” (14 March 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/opinion/coronavirus-church-close.html); Lyman Stone, “Christianity Has Been Handling Epidemics for 2000 Years,” (13 March 2020. https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/13/christianity-epidemics-2000-years-should-i-still-go-to-church-coronavirus/). One of the most popular responses, that has even made its way into some sermons, is an excerpt from an essay by C. S. Lewis“On Living in an Atomic Age,” which contemporary authors have used to parallel the atomic threat to the current pandemic. While Lewis’ essay makes some good points, overall, it is an inadequate response to the present situation for a number of reasons which there is no space to mention here. C. S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age,” in Present Concerns: A Compelling Collection of Timely Journalistic Essays, ed. Walter Hooper (New York: Harcourt, 2002), 73–74. Two current articles that seem to have popularized this historic essay by Lewis are: Matt Smeithurst, “C. S. Lewis on the Coronavirus,”  (12, March, 2020. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/cs-lewis-coronavirus/); John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera, “C.S. Lewis and the Coronavirus,”  (13, March, 2020. https://www.christianpost.com/voices/cs-lewis-and-the-coronavirus.html). Some exceptions: Matt Erickson, “The Ministry of Preaching in the Time of Covid-19,” (2020. https://www.preachingtoday.com/skills/2020/march/ministry-of-preaching-in-time-of-covid-19.html); Richard Land, “How Should Christians Respond to the Coronavirus Pandemic?,” (14 March 2020. https://www.christianpost.com/news/how-should-christians-respond-to-the-coronavirus-pandemic.html).

[3] Peter H. Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude, PNTC (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2006), 192–93, 230–31.

[4] John D. Harvey, “Nature, Natural,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 552.

[5] Many people focus on the first purpose of judgment to the exclusion of the others, but in the case of believers’ suffering, they may be disciplined (Prov 3:11–12; Heb 12:5) often with the goal of many of the other purposes or for the other purposes alone.

[6] Roy E. Ciampa, and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, PNTC (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2010), 656–57; Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1988), 646 and note #30; Mark Kline Taylor, 1 Corinthians, NAC, vol. 28 (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2014), 316.

[7] Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics: Contemporary Issues and Options, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), Kindle ed., ch. 10, 11; James E. Smith, The Pentateuch, 2nd ed., Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1993), 515; Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nelson’s Quick Reference Topical Bible Index, Nelson’s Quick Reference (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1996).