How are we supposed to react under the rapidly spreading shadow of a deadly virus epidemic?
It's a timely question when most, if not all of us, are finding our plans in disarray, when we listen to the grim statistics with mounting unease and when there's that ominous sense that the Angel of Death is on overtime.
Industry talks about 'stress testing' a product: putting it under severe strain to see whether it works as it should. Suddenly, almost without warning, we are all facing a stress test. The unspoken question our friends, colleagues and family are asking is whether our faith makes us different. Do we walk our talk?
In an attempt to answer, let me offer you three things that I think should characterise our lives at the moment. I am addressing Christians here but let me say that if you are not one, what better time is there to put your faith in Jesus than now?
First, I suggest that we should be those who display sanity. As I alluded in a previous blog, in such situations fear causes many problems and one of them is a loss of the ability to make wise decisions. So let's avoid wacky websites, rumours from unreliable sources and any information that begins with 'They don't want you to know this, but . . .' Instead, we need to listen to sensible advice from people who know what they are talking about – preferably, here, qualified medical experts.
It's also a time for theological sanity; after all, the Bible is full of references of the need to seek wisdom. Let's resist those who, in the name of God, offer us guaranteed protection or online virus exorcisms, or those who will confidently explain where exactly these events are to be placed on God's End Time Calendar of history.
We need to remember that what we face at the moment is no worse – and probably a lot better – than what most previous generations took for granted in those epidemics of flu, cholera, plague and the like that have arisen in history. It's important to remember that ultimately, where it matters, Covid-19 has changed nothing. We have received our orders from Christ: we are to be his faithful followers, we are to love God and our neighbour and, in all we do, to show faith, hope and love. Let's show sanity!
Second, I suggest we should display stability. We should be those who continue to do our duty. Whatever you are called to do, whether it be at home, work or church, continue to do it. Much has been made in recent years of the wartime slogan 'Keep Calm and Carry On' and much is being made at the moment of how, with fear-driven thefts of hand disinfectant and the panicked hoarding of toilet rolls, that spirit has gone.
What few observers have had the courage or insight to say is that the attitude of keeping calm in a crisis grew out of a culture that had been shaped for nearly five hundred years by the truth of the Bible. There we read very little about staying calm but a lot about standing firm.
Saint Paul in particular constantly commands it (1 Corinthians 16:13, Ephesians 6:13, Philippians 4:1 and 2 Thessalonians 2:15 for example). It's a good command. We who have put our faith in Christ the rock have an important role to play in these dark and troubled days. We should be those who stand firm as fixed and unshakeable points amid a chaotic sea of fearfulness. Let's show stability!
Finally – and to be honest this is the big challenge – I would hope that we seek to display serenity. Serenity is the state of being calm and peaceful, especially in the face of problems and crises. It is the peace that is one of the great blessings frequently promised in the New Testament. Given by God the Father through the Spirit, it is offered freely to all who trust in Christ. In Philippians 4:7 Paul makes a wonderful promise: 'And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.' May we all claim that promise of serenity, live it and share it.
What are we supposed to do? The answer is that we need to continue to live as children of God, putting our trust and hope in Christ and, in the power of the Spirit, seeking to show sanity, stability and serenity in all that we live, say and do. And in doing so may we, in the very deepest shadows, shine brightly for Christ.
Rev Canon J John is an evangelist and the director of the Philo Trust. Find him online at www.canonjjohn.com