Christian Immunity in a Covid-19 World
One of the more bizarre trends that has emerged in the Christian world because of the Coronavirus pandemic, and which like everything now, is spreading like viral wildfire, is the belief that Christians can claim total healing and immunity from a virus like Covid-19!
This perspective has always been there in the broad stream of Christian reflection but it’s roaring now. A video doing the internet rounds, has a preacher encouraging Christians to live in victory (Amen to that!). But it does so, by promoting the idea that the interpretation of Psalm 91 vs 10 “no plague will come near your tent”, gives the believer a free pass from the experience others are going through right now.
Not only is that not true, Christians are dying in the world today and some of them are infected by the Coronavirus and will be lost to death because of it; but it is also the wrong approach to understanding and applying biblical truth.
Here is a framework into which we can place all careful reflection on the problem of pain, disease and suffering. It is based upon the following assumption, that if someone says that they have an answer, then they haven’t been asking the right questions!
The Problem of Evil.
The subject of evil and how it relates to an all loving and all powerful God has exercised the best minds for a very long time. It is a vast and complex matter.
So we need to avoid glib answers that avoid the difficult questions.
Basically there are three approaches to the big picture. Dualism. This is the concept that there is no one all powerful God, who is the sole sovereign creator of all reality, natural and spiritual.
World views such as Hinduism pivot around the idea that the spiritual world is governed by many gods emanating from a couple of “big gods”. But essentially each of the myriad of gods has a bit of private territory within creation which they “boss”.
That is pretty much the way that Greek and Roman culture viewed the world. Zeus rules it, but sub- lets parts to a bunch of Olympian gods who are really, not much more than blown up versions of humanity, the best and worst examples of us at that.
This creates a framework not only of rival gods but a world in which good and evil are two equal powers, locked together in an eternal wrestling match, with the outcome uncertain.
In some versions of this view reality is governed by one power but with two forces or faces, the good and the bad. George Lucas creator of the Star Wars movies is pushing this world view. The Force carries the positive and negative we have to be careful into which we tap.
Pantheism. Basically this view sees everything as divine or transcendent. All reality, nature, time, space and matter are part of a circle of life breathed into existence. There is no distinction between creation and a personal creator.
In fact, there is no need for any divine being in such a universe. And if any such being exists, then he/ she / it , is no more significant than any other part of reality.
Pantheism is very much the driving world view behind the New Age movement with its emphasis on the “ god within us ”. We are all gods, everything is God.
Wordsworth the great Romantic English was a pantheist. His reflections on nature come from someone, not only inspired by the beauty of the world around, but by a belief, that the spirit of the transcendent was in nature and could not be distinguished in any personal sense from it.
It can be argued that some forms of evolutionary thinking share a quasi -religious understanding of reality. David Attenborough’s and Brian Cox’s commentary on the natural and cosmological world communicate a sense of awe, mystery and wonder at what they are describing which borders at times on the spiritual! But I don’t think they believe in the God of Christian thinking.
However, the pure evolutionism of the Richard Dawkins variety, is entirely naturalistic. Matter is all there is and all there ever will be. Yet this pure, scientific perspective, also needs the explanation provided by dualism. But now in a non -religious sense.
They construct a view which says that evolutionary change is a product within nature and is blind to its purpose. It contains therefore ,inevitably, both good and evil as a consequences.
Although such categories have no moral significance. They are just the way nature is- pitiless and indifferent.
The third broad category is Theism. This is the view that one God does exist, though in a vague way, certainly not as a personal, moral being in any sense of those words.
What is clear is that this God relates to creation in one of two ways. Either as entirely detached from it. So that God is the mechanical toy maker who having made the world and wound it up, just leaves it to wind down and doesn’t get involved in its maintenance or ultimate rescue. That’s classic theism
The other God relates to the world is the view described by Open Theism. A view which has become increasingly popular among liberal Christian theologians and others.
At its best, proponents of this view want to defend God from the accusation that He doesn’t care about the pain of humanity or the vulnerability of the planet.
But like all heresy, a half-truth can become a dangerous whole truth. For then their argument goes, God is placed in a sort of box. He is so totally involved in the world and its processes, that he loses all capacity to be sovereign over it. He doesn’t know the future and can’t control it. God has to live powerlessly and hover, weightlessly tossed by the waves of natural causes and human decision making. He is within the world, subject to its limitation, but never above, beyond and outside it.
If that is the broad sweep of the big picture, what is a measured, biblical, Christian response
The Biblical World View
- God is light and in Him is no darkness at all
From Genesis to Revelation the Bible describes a God who is not compromised by or conflicted with having to manage a dark side. He is Holy, utterly, unchangeably and universally holy. He is not having to battle with demi urges in his own character or with demi gods who ae making rival claims to the throne of the universe.
In other words, there is no dualism, there are no shifting shadows in God. He is good all the time.
- God is the Sovereign Creator over all he has made
God has no rivals and no equals. He is the sole architect, source and sustainer of everything. All things were made by Him and for Him. The cosmos, the processes of nature, the sub atomic world of quarks and leptons and particle physics. The galaxies and the Galapagos islands. Mountains, volcanoes, viruses and velocity!
There is nothing that has been made that he is not the original author of and there is nothing that will happen without his foreseeing it, controlling it and using it for His ultimate glory.
This does not mean that God is not involved in His world now or that the world of our experience is the world that God originally made or will eventually remake.
God is the sustainer and upholder of all that he has made. We live and move and have our being in Him and because of him. Every breath, heart -beat, pulse, we enjoy is because God goes on giving it to us. Every harvest, sun rise, season and year is maintained by the Lord of all.
God is in that sense involved in the world but he remains distinct from and outside it.
In the same way that, though it is right to say, we are made In the image of God and therefore divine; that does not mean that we are divine as God is in Himself. He is eternal we are mortal. He is uncaused, we are caused. He is independent , we are dependent. We image God in the sense that we are reasoning, self conscious beings. But in the sense that we are sinless or ageless like him.
Yes we are made in His image. But He is not made in ours! Although many of us try to do that. Idolatry is precisely that. The worship of created things as if they were the creator.
Nor does the Sovereignty of God mean that He is not impacted by the world or stoically detached from it. No, He has compassion on all He has made. The God of Biblical faith knows, feels, and responds to the world he has made. He interacts with its peoples and history.
But Christian faith adds this dimension to a biblical world view.
- God the Creator became our Saviour.
In some senses the open theists don’t appear to get the most extraordinary truth of all, that this sovereign, holy, self- sufficient , personal God did become involved in his world and vulnerable therefore to it. But in a way so extraordinary that he actually became one of us !
In Jesus, God, became man. The eternal God took on our flesh. And in that real body he experienced all the weaknesses of our humanity, except our sinfulness. He was tired, thirsty, sad and he died in agony.
The problem for some religious world views with this Christian perspective, is that this God is too human. He is too material, too invested in His world.
But it is the unique contribution of Christianity that it maintains that God did experience his world from the inside out.
And it is this view of God as both transcendent and immanent which baffles every religious and atheist perspective. This God is too weak to be God, this God is unnecessary to the natural phenomena of time plus chance.
Of course, the possibility that God can live in the world and vulnerable to its suffering and yet live “above” and beyond the world, sovereignly in control of it, requires an understanding of God as Trinity. The Three in One God is the basis on which Christians believe that God can be both Creator and Saviour.
The idea of plurality in God, is a massive subject which we can tackle in another one of these blogs! What is obvious is that the NT makes the case for this view of God on virtually every page. The person and claims of Jesus cries out for some such explanation. The orthodox position of the Christian church, from earliest days, recognised the nature of God in this way. That biblical tradition has continued to be the primary view of God. Mysterious though it is.
So to our leading question, can Christians be immune to diseases and suffering and covid – 19 and death?
Was God? No! Will we therefore be? No!
So how do we interpret Psalm 91? Well, in the following ways.
The Psalm is reflecting on the unique experience of Israel in the wilderness not on the general experience of humanity or of believers in particular.
We draw a straight line from the Old Testament to today, at our peril.
We can’t read the bible in mono but in stereo. The line we draw must run through the New Testament and it must be interpreted in the light of Jesus and the cross.
Jesus, the perfect sinless Son of God takes on our humanity and carries it’s brokenness to the cross. He redeems us by becoming infected by the sin virus. This evil virus he does not know by nature, but is transmitted to him at the cross. He dies for us and because of and on behalf of us. As a result of his substitutionary death, he generates for us, an immunity. An immunity to judgement and eternal death. Call it the herd immunity, which runs through the race of all those who trust the death of Jesus in their place.
We are given his righteousness. He transmits to us, passes on to us , a righteousness before God. A righteousness which is not our own but His.
Two more things and we are done.
Immunity and eternity
Though the believer in Jesus is not immune to suffering, disease or death, because of Jesus, we are immune to eternal death.
So yes there is healing in the cross. We are under the blood of Christ , even as the angel of death passes over us.
But that does not mean no Christian will die because of Covid -19 or cancer. What it does mean is that Christ has ultimately beaten death for them. It is in that sense that no harm will come near their tent, no terror of the night will trouble them.
Check your watch
We need to know what time zone we are in. The Christian, biblical world view divides history not into BC – AC ( before Coronavirus and after it ! ), but BC an AD.
We are living in the year of our Lord. That is a long year in fact. It covers the span of time before the first coming of Christ and His return.
That’s the time zone we are living in now. It’s a time when two things are true of the Christian. We are saved and we will be saved for ever one day. We do suffer now, but with the hope of the future, turning even our pain into joy.
We live in a world that is still under God’s control, though it has been in rebellion against since the beginning. So there will be indications of that broken world around us and in us, all the time. Creation does groan under the weight of sin. Bad stuff happens including the most appalling tragedies, alongside the most wonderful acts of human goodness.
But there is a new day coming. A new world is on the way. God the creator will be the Judge and will usher in his Kingdom. The Rescue is on the way. The Grabd designer will redeem his work of art in his repair shop
In one sense, because we are living in the time zone of our Lord, the Kingdom of God has come. But he has not yet come in all its eternal glory and perfection. That‘s why we are to pray “ Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.
That day will come. And on that day, God will make all things new and He will wipe away all tears from our eyes, all sorrow from our hearts, and all injustice from our world. No pandemic plagues then. No tsunami destructions in God’s Kingdom.
God’s people in God’s place under his loving rule and in His immediate presence.