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Comment on the Coronavirus by Mission Director Steven Bowers

16/3/2020

An article by Mission Director, Steven Bowers, commenting on the Coronavirus problem at the present time and encouraging us to renew our trust and commitment to the Gospel, our trust in the God of that Gospel and our efforts to give that Gospel to Europe.

Many of you will have seen a whole variety of comment, responses and reflections on the Coronavirus problem at the present time. I have seen quite a few good articles, tweets etc. We have so much to draw from in Scripture and Church history that is so bitingly relevant to the current situation. How often we have spoken and written in recent days of empty religion and rampant secularism in Europe. Right now, the sovereignty of our God, the sinfulness and weakness of man, the need of the gospel of hope have come sharply and rightly into focus. As governments call upon people to wash their hands, we are reminded that God has been calling us to cleanse our hearts by faith in the shed blood of His Son Jesus. I have seen three things that are particularly helpful and profitable to consider, and I copy them here for your consideration and encouragement. Many of our EMF family are over 70 and quite a number have health problems. Quite a number are working in badly affected areas – none of them are outside the care and grace of our God. Let’s renew our trust in and commitment to the Gospel, our trust in the God of that Gospel and our efforts to give that Gospel to Europe.

Two items from The Gospel Coalition from great servants of God in the past and a third item from a blog by Gary Brady a pastor and board member of the London Seminary.

C.H. Spurgeon (something not often appreciated by people who are familiar with much about him) and C. S. Lewis regarding the “atomic age”.

“By the 1850's, London was the most powerful and wealthiest city in the world, with a population of more than 2 million. A cholera outbreak in 1854 struck fear into the hearts of Londoners. Charles Spurgeon, only 20 years old at the time, came to the capital to pastor New Park Street Chapel. He would look back to this plague as a key time of learning both for himself and also for the city.  ‘If there ever be a time when the mind is sensitive, it is when death is abroad. I recollect, when first I came to London, how anxiously people listened to the gospel, for the cholera was raging terribly. There was little scoffing then.  He tells the story of visiting a dying man who had previously opposed him: That man, in his lifetime, had been prone to jeer at me. In strong language, he had often denounced me as a hypocrite. Yet he was no sooner smitten by the darts of death than he sought my presence and counsel, no doubt feeling in his heart that I was a servant of God, though he did not care to own it with his lips. The sinking sand of this world is a constant reality—but it often takes the storms of this life to reveal it. Spurgeon saw the plagues of his day as a storm that led many to seek refuge in Christ the Rock.’ ” C.H. Spurgeon.

For Lewis replace 'atomic' with 'coronavirus': “In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty. This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds. — “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

(It is worth remembering that C.S Lewis had experienced the trenches in the first world war.)

Gary Brady writes: Here are 10 Scriptures to help us in light of the Coronavirus crisis. Each of them has a valuable lesson. 

1. This crisis has something to say to us 

In Job 33:14 Elihu suggests that God speaks to us in different ways. He mentions dreams and suffering. More generally God does speak to us in his providences and so I think we should be seeking to learn from it. Of course, when seeking to read providence we need to be careful we do not misread it. We need to be guided by the sure word of Scripture. 

2. This crisis is not something new 

In Ecclesiastes 1:9 we are reminded that 'What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun'. Yes, this virus is new in that it is a new strain of coronavirus, but crises are, even global crises are not new. Things like this have happened before. Think of the “Spanish flu” of 1918-1919 that killed more people than World War I or one of the most extreme pandemics ever recorded, the Black Death (1347-51). 

3. This crisis reminds us of our ignorance 

Then do not forget Proverbs 27:1, 'Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring'. This verse is always true, but this current crisis is a strong reminder of the fact. I am hoping to go to a conference soon but if the government bans such gatherings or if the organisers decide to call it off, I won't be going. We were pleased to hear a while back that our son had won tickets to a film festival in New York in April but now the festival has been postponed and he won't be going. It is good for us to remember that we are in God's hands. 

4. This crisis reminds us that God is in control 

As another biblical proverb puts it (19:21), 'Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails'. Why he has allowed this virus to arise we do not know. But we do know he has his own purposes in it. 

5. This crisis reminds us of the pestilences and economic trouble that marks the last days 

Then more acutely in Revelation 6 we read about the famous horsemen of the Apocalypse. Revelation can be a controversial book but the way to understand it is as a book describing how it is in the last days, the period John was in and that we are still in, between the first and second comings of Jesus. Revelation 6 describes four horses - one white, one red, one black, one pale. Forget about the first two for a moment and concentrate on the other two taking them in reverse order. 

The pale horse and rider are in 6:7,8, 'When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth'. 

This is a reminder of how things like famine and plague will stalk the earth during this period. Famine and plague don't always lead to death, but death and decay stalk this earth nevertheless and it comes in by many routes. Coronavirus is one of them. Our society has insulated itself as best it can from death and often refuses to discuss the subject, but it continues to be a fact of life. Death and decay are everywhere as this present crisis reminds us. Like a rider on a pale horse death stalks us at every point of our lives and when it comes close, we can be devastated. 

Then further back in 6:5,6 we read, 'When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, "Two pounds of wheat for a day's wages, and six pounds of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!"'

The scales remind us of how food was eked out in times of siege and famine. The prices quoted for wheat and barley have been estimated at something like eight or 16 times what they would normally have been. The reference to oil and wine has been paraphrased as “don't cheat on the oil and wine” or “don't overcharge” for it. Famine and drought and other factors can easily have economic repercussions and it is the poor who suffer, often Christians who can be pushed to the bottom of the heap in an unsympathetic world that has quite a different agenda. It is another reminder of the troubles that plague this world and that are nevertheless not out of control but all part of the sovereign purposes of Christ. 

Jesus himself also tells us in Luke 21:11, 12, speaking again I think of this period, 'Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. There will be ... pestilences in various places he says. This virus should not surprise us. 

6. This crisis reminds us to love our neighbour 

Other Scriptures worth mentioning are those that call on us to love our neighbour as ourselves. It is surely our duty at this time to do all we can to make sure we do not pass on germs. Obviously, we ought to be looking out for the elderly in particular at this time. 

7. This crisis reminds us of the importance of praying for those in power 

In 1 Timothy 2:1,2 Paul says, 'I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness'. It is especially difficult for those in power at times like this. Do pray for them as they make their decisions and act and react. 

8. This crisis is a time for faith and prayer not fear and worry 

Also, those Scriptures that warn against worrying. It would be so easy to become fearful and to start worrying at such a time at this. Jesus says (Matthew 6:34), 'Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Paul says (Philippians 4:6), 'Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God'. 

9. This crisis reminds us that creation is groaning, and we groan too longing for redemption 

In Romans 8:22,23 Paul writes, 'We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies'. When Paul writes of creation groaning, he includes many things but among the groanings would be things like this virus. We too groan inwardly in the face of it for it makes us long for a day when this will all be over and God sons will be redeemed. 

10. This crisis reminds us that this present world is passing away 

Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 7:26-31 Paul says, 'Because of the present crisis, (I'm not sure if he means something specific to that time or to this whole period but he says) I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.