Coronavirus, fear, and theology


Coronavirus continues to spread, causing fear and uncertainty with global markets. There have been people who have blamed the media for sensationalizing the virus and who point to the hundreds of thousands of people who die from the flu every year. There are people who blame China. People who blame President Trump for how he’s handling coronavirus in America. People stealing surgical masks from hospitals. You’ve had major events such as SXSW cancelled. We’ve seen universities close classrooms and shifted lectures to online formats. We’ve seen totalitarian steps taken within China to try to contain the virus (which some experts believe may have been successful). You have Italy quarantine its whole country.

It’s a mess.

It’s interesting as I think of the confluence of domains within our lives which are impacted by this virus.

Our health, our money, and our future.

Our health
Most obviously, there are the health impacts and loss of life. Life is precious but ultimately finite and fragile. It’s potentially 10-20 times more lethal than the flu.

Sadly, thousands of people have died, and more will die from this virus. And the fact that it is disproportionately older people makes that fact no less unfortunate.

Our money
But what’s also very significant is that there are economic impacts.

In my hometown, Columbus, Ohio, the Arnold Sports Classic is the biggest annual event in the city. It brings in over $50 million. They disallowed spectators for the competition. And there will be more of these decisions. This virus could potentially temporarily cripple the travel industry as people don’t want to take cruises and are less likely to fly. Plane ticket prices are falling because people don’t want to fly. Either by edict or by individual choice, attendance at large events like concerts and sporting events may be impacted. Global markets are taking huge losses.

With a major conference like SXSW being cancelled, that impacts all of the supporting industries who profit such as restaurants, hotels, uber drivers, etc. With uncertainty about how communities will need to respond to mitigating this virus, people may also be included to put off major purchases. And that just scratches the surface on the economic impact.

Our future
We have to deal with the unknown and an uncertain future. We don’t know when a vaccine will be developed and in the market, we don’t know what other measures will need to be taken, and we don’t know when things will return to normal.

This won’t last forever. But it also seems like it’s not going to blow over in a week or two.

I’ve heard people talk about how the media built this up too much. I think that’s true to a certain point. But I think the mistake is to go too far to the other extreme and act like if it’s not the bubonic plague, then it’s not that big of a deal.

It is a big deal.

Hopefully we will not have a significantly higher loss of life than what we would have during a bad flu season, but that won’t change the hit our economy is going to take. And that is not entirely the fault of the media. Part of it is the fact that it’s a disease about which so little is known. Unfortunately, that can lend itself to speculation, but the unknown is always unsettling.

I think of these areas from a spiritual perspective. Our health, our money, our future. Three of the most important things that we care about, worry about, and pay attention to, and this virus injects uncertainty into all of them. We like to be in control. We like to have enough. We like predictability. And those things are all important. However none of those things are all-important.

Everyone has one thing that is more important than everything else. For many of us, it’s one of those three things: health, money, our future.

But what is ultimately most important?

As a Christian, I believe God is the most important thing. You can heave health, money, and be in a position where you have a lot of influence over your future, but none of those things will give you eternal meaning. And in the same way, you can not have good health, not have much money, and face a very uncertain future, but have joy and purpose in having a relationship with God. Because God is infinite, and the relationship we’re invited into through the gospel of Jesus Christ is eternal.

For the most up to date information, I would encourage anyone who wants to know what’s happening with coronavirus to follow the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

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Josh Benner is the pastor of Christian Bible Church in Cissna Park, Illinois. He has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He has an awesome wife named Kari.