Tribulations come to each era in a variety of shapes and forms, generating their own corresponding cultural anxiety and distress. The outbreak and reach of the Coronavirus has indeed become a source of severe global worry, to the point where its perceived threats to bodily health are now becoming matched, if not surpassed, by its threats to global economics. The various responses to its outbreak by nations around the world has led to situations of serious social strain on local populations who deal with the isolation and fear associated with quarantines and the severe disruption of daily routines. At present, these realities do not appear to be dissipating.
What is the Christian perspective on our current social tribulation, and the threats to health, life, and routine that we are now enduring? Multiple points can be brought to bear for our reflection, from varying angles.
The Christian Answer to Suffering and Death In General
At the outset it should be said that sound Christian theology does not claim that mass outbreaks of dangerous diseases and health scares are some form of divine punishment on the human race. God did not send the Coronavirus because he is mad at the world, even if it might be true that the world can be a very dysfunctional and sinful place.
That said, sound Christian theology has always made the careful distinction and claim that while God does not cause these types of things, he does in fact allow them to occur as an element of a natural, free world containing its own forces and threats. It is a world that, while still good, has been distorted since the dawn of time by the Fall of Man. God permits outbreaks of diseases, even if he does not necessarily cause them.
This explanatory truth of what God permits in our dangerous world also has a Christian response that is broad, deep, and multifaceted. For one, we know that the Gospels are full of examples of Christ intervening in the fallen world to bring healing. We know of miraculous cures through the prayers of the Saints, in the Sacraments, and at holy sites. God does maintain power over sickness, and even to today we can hope in his power of deliverance from our ills.
While we are told by the Lord that we should ask for cures, and that we should pray for deliverance, we also know that those prayers are not always answered. God understands better than we do that sometimes our salvation requires us to undergo suffering. We know that suffering teaches lessons and has the potential to deepen faith.
We know that the proper response in the face of suffering is to tend to the sick, to take care of each other, and to utilize medical knowledge appropriately to bring assistance. We know that all of these responses, especially medicine, are necessarily limited by the unavoidable reality of death that must come for all of us.
We know that the core of the Gospel and of the Christian life is the promise that we will escape permanent death if we hold tightly to the outstretched hand of the Lord Jesus. Which means that while we work diligently in this life to preserve health and human flourishing in ways that are in accord with human dignity, we ultimately do not fear earthly death because Christ has risen. His sacraments offer mercy and authentic power to bring us through the necessary pathway of earthly death, leading us ultimately into eternal life.
We know that as suffering and death approach us, in any way shape or form, including economic loss, that a gaze upon the crucifix reminds us that we do not suffer alone. God has entered into the suffering of his people and of his world so that our sufferings, and our death, is not empty of meaning. In those realities, we may find and know the Lord, and in that knowledge, we are offered deeper eternal life that is not destroyed in earthly death.
The Christian Perspective On the Current Coronavirus Threat
With all that in mind, what are some practical, contemporary Christian responses to the Coronavirus fallout?
This Suffering Will be Instructive
As time passes, there will be much prayerful unpacking about why God has allowed this particular cycle of events associated with this outbreak to occur. Buried in this experience is a wealth of realities to ponder about how much we seek to control, about all the confidence we have placed in all of our economic and scientific systems that have proven to be so vulnerable, and about our highly interconnected society. We have also become very confident in our ability to cheat and escape death, which, for all of its obvious benefits, has the unfortunate side effect of weakening faith and our awareness of our need for God.
A clear lesson from all this needs to be the reminder that humans are not invincible, nor can we outmaneuver nature for long. The fallen forces of nature in which we live, for all of their beauty, remain a threat that is only adequately addressed by the Christian doctrine of redemption. Man cannot save himself.
We Should Pray Publicly and Privately For Help
To that end, when serious social threats of any variety have emerged in prior eras, Christians have quickly resorted to prayer. Turning to prayer is not done in place of needed medical, economic, and scientific interventions that human talents can offer. Rather, it is done because in all humility we recognize the limits of our powers, and because God has instructed us to call upon him when we are afraid or are in trouble.
It would be very refreshing to hear the leaders of nations around the world, and the established authorities in our medical and economic sectors, inviting everyone to call upon the power of God to calm our anxieties and to bring us the healing that we reasonably seek.
As private citizens, we are free to pray whenever we like. We have a great tradition, especially in the face of health dangers, of invoking the intercession of the Saints to come to our aid. We should do that now as much as possible, publicly, privately, as families, and as communities.
The Wisdom of Taking One Day at a Time and Remaining Calm
The Scriptures and the writings of the Saints repeatedly assert that the most appropriate outlook for a believer who trusts in God’s providence is to live as much as possible in the present moment, rather than worrying about tomorrow. This is especially important in times of anxiety. Granted, prudent planning in the face of challenges has its necessary place. However, we do not know what tomorrow will bring, and we must take life day-by-day. We are wise to accept this fact with peaceful trust in our Father who loves us and promised to provide for our needs.
Living day to day, on whatever economic or health blessings we happen to have only that day, is how humans have lived for most of our history. It has only been the modern world that has brought us both the luxury, and the curse, of such apparent control over “tomorrow.” Such control, while indeed helping to save lives, also breeds deep anxiety that rapidly spirals out of control when we sense that we have lost control. A Christian trusts in God’s power, and remains calm.
We Hang Crucifixes and Wear Saint Medals for Good Reasons
A Christian also has great faith in the nearness of Christ in times of suffering. It is good to keep crucifixes around and visible, it is good to keep images or medals of Saints visible. Such things remind us of God’s promise to deliver us from all suffering either in this life, temporarily, but most definitively once we have died and pass as a result of his mercy into the next life.
We Can Practice Spiritual Communion
In places where it has already become the case that people are not allowed to gather in churches or in crowds to pray, such that access to sacraments is not possible for a brief or extended time, then we know that we can make a sincere Act of Contrition for our sins. We know that we can find other ways to prayerfully assist each other across time and space in the Communion we enjoy in Christ. We can pray with the Scriptures and the readings for Mass even when we are alone. We can look forward to the day when we can again gather properly at our altars to thank God for his blessings, and emerge from these times of deprivation with renewed gratitude for the gift of the sacraments that we take for granted in times of comfort.
The Command to Take Care of Those In Need Remains Unchanged
If we are aware of others around us who are sick, we are still commanded by the Lord to care for them and to love them so that they do not feel that they are alone, or are an outcast. If we find ourselves hurting financially or going without because of any type of economic strain, we have a long history of sharing our resources with each other, and we are still commanded to take care of anyone who is going without, knowing that God rewards us for doing so.
The Lord Tells Us We Have No Reason to Fear
If we find ourselves experiencing rising anxiety or fear, then we have only to remember what is said frequently in the Scriptures: Be not afraid. May we hear the Lord say to us again: “Take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
This current threat is an important opportunity for us all to make the prayer of the Mass our own personal daily prayer: “may we be safe from all distress.” The Lord is near us in life and in death, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad times. He is the great and master teacher who allows challenges so that we can deepen our faith both as persons and even as an entire people under his care.
Our Lady Is Always Near
May we run always and often to the Blessed Mother, who through the ages has shown such tender care for the sick and the distressed, and ask her to keep us firmly under her protection and mantle. Through her prayers and power we may we all know firmly, that the greatest good that we have, even more than the goods of health and material blessing, is the grace of eternal salvation. That is the ultimate lesson to be learned as we pass through this whole experience: that God alone suffices.