The thought of a modern disease sweeping across the world and claiming large percentages of cities like historic plagues sometimes causes fear to swell in the hearts of people. As we’ve been hearing about a new virus since December of 2019, the spread has consistently moved from China throughout the world. This week President Donald Trump, while addressing the United States regarding the disease, instilled a firm travel ban that goes into effect tonight in order to prevent further outbreaks of the disease—COVID-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus.
We are currently at the pandemic stage of the disease as it has now transitioned into an international epidemic—crossing the ocean on planes and boats to various different nations around the world. As we watch the NBA suspend their season indefinitely as a result of a player on the Utah Jazz who has tested positive, major conferences and events cancelled, schools closing, and many businesses going to remote location operations—what should be the response of the church? Should we panic? Should we be overcome with fear?
In the 14th century, the Black Death was an epidemic of bubonic plague, a disease that spread through wild rodents and fleas where they lived in great numbers and density and in close proximity to humans. It spread far and wide resulting in the death of 50 million people in the 14th century, or 60 percent of Europe’s entire population.
When the Black Death raised its nasty head again in 1527 in Germany, many people began to panic. People were fleeing for their lives. Yet, Martin Luther and his wife Katharina, decided to stay in their home. It wasn’t a stubborn response to the need to evacuate, but a loving response fueled by love and sustained by faith in their sovereign God. Rather than running for the hills, they turned their home into a makeshift hospital. They took in the sick, cared for them, demonstrated genuine Christian hospitality, and risked their own lives in the process. During this crisis, their son almost died.
As Luther and Katie ministered to people, they watched some recover and they watched many cross over the precipice of life into eternity. Undoubtedly many of these people Luther had ministered to in the city during his lectures and sermons. The pain would be severe. The stench of the Black Death was all throughout Wittenberg and the German landscape. Luther was not only standing up to the powerful Roman Catholic Church as he exposed their false doctrine, but he likewise stood strong in the midst of a horrible disease.
It was with this backdrop that Luther penned the words to “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” which is one of the most famous hymns in the history of the church. As he faced the plague, looked at the black death surrounding him, and contemplated the frailty of his own life (and the lives of his family)—he thought about the walls of the castle and how he once found refuge. Then he considered the words of Psalm 46 and applied the grand truths of God’s sovereignty to his dark situation.
A mighty Fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing
No matter what you face today as you journey through this world with devils filled who threaten to undo you—you can walk with confidence that your God is big. “Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). No matter what trial you face or what challenge is presented before you as the news media continues to talk about the present day pandemic of the COVID-19, remember to lean on the theology of the Bible and find comfort and peace that passes all understanding in the God who is big, strong, and serves as our Rock and our Refuge! If God is for us, who can be against us (Rom. 8:31)?
Remember that as you face news reports and hear about the spread of a new virus into your nation, state, and even close to your neighborhood—the proper posture of a Christian is resolve and confidence in God rather than fear and panic. That doesn’t mean that as a Christian you should not take precautions or use common sense, but it does mean that we should have confidence in our God in the face of trials. Our God is our fortress.
Remember that when watching reports and listening to the media, it’s important to not be manipulated by overreactions and political tactics. When comparing the COVID-19 to the flu, the numbers are nowhere close to the same. The 2017-2018 flu resulted in 959,000 hospitalizations and 61,099 deaths in the United States alone. Current numbers for the COVID-19 virus are at 5,000+ worldwide with the most susceptible are those with underlying conditions, weak immune systems, and the elderly.
As we navigate this present day pandemic, let the Church of Jesus Christ shine in the midst of this crisis. Dear fellow Christian, may your theology be put on display in a world gripped by fear. Common sense and great resolve in a sovereign God is what the watching world should see from the Church of Jesus. The watching world should see the Church elevate our trust in our sovereign God in the midst of a world gripped by fear and given to panic. We can pray for the medical community as they research and seek ways to address this virus from a scientific and medical perspective. We can use logical tactics that will help avoid the spread of germs such as washing hands and limiting personal contact. Ultimately, Luther’s bulwark must be ours too.
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
Psalm 46:1–3; 6-7 – God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah…The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah