Saturday, November 28, 2020

How Is Sin Like Coronavirus?


SARS-CoV--2 photo by NIAID 2020

In these days of the novel coronavirus pandemic, its unseen force dominates so many aspects of our lives. People get sick; some who “recover” are left with brain fog, shortness of breath, and debilitating fatigue; and some die. Some who are well have lost their livelihood; others have suffered the pain of seeing their loved one struggle for breath, battle for their life while isolated from others, and ultimately die.

Even if we feel fine ourselves, we are warned that we could be infected without symptoms and spread COVID-19 to others. As a result, we are advised to wear masks, distance ourselves from others, wash hands frequently and avoid high-risk places and gatherings.

It got me to thinking about how the effects of sin in our lives, and the remedies for these consequences, resemble those of the novel coronavirus, but with far greater intensity and severity.

Now about a year since the specter of COVID-19 first reared its ugly head, and about 8 months since widespread lockdowns began, we are all battle-weary from following what many consider to be needless precautions and even restriction of our liberties. We long to be free of masks and resume our lives, doing whatever we please with whomever we please, anywhere in the world. Yet our fatigue does not remove the consequences of our actions.

Whether or not we are born again (John 3:3-8) by trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), we are all tempted to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Hebrews 11:25). Sin often appears harmless and even attractive, for the devil can transform himself and his ministers into angels and ministers of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). We have the freedom to choose sin and its temporary pleasures, yet we must ultimately pay the penalty for wrong choices (Romans 6:23).

If we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) in our Lord Jesus Christ, we cannot lose our salvation even when we do sin, no matter how willfully we persist in a habitually sinful lifestyle (John 10:29; Romans 8:39). Yet we have so much else to lose. Those who choose to fling COVID restrictions to the wind may soon feel that wind blowing back on them, invading them with virus-laden particles that could compromise their health, their ability to live and function normally, and even their life.

By choosing sin, Christians can lose their testimony, their fellowship with God (1 John 1:6-7), their joy in the Lord (Psalm 51:12), their rewards for service in this life and the next (1 Corinthians 3:12-15), and ultimately their physical life (1 Corinthians 5:5). Christians who sin and fail to confess those sins and repent from them will suffer God’s chastening hand (Deuteronomy 8:5; Revelation 3:19), like that of a loving and just parent seeking the best welfare of their child through “tough love.”

God may first speak to His rebellious child in a still,small voice (1 Kings 19:12); then chasten by withholding blessings or privileges; then if necessary scourge with severe illness, loss of livelihood, or death of a loved one (Hebrews 12:6-11). Ultimately, if His child is still unrepentant, He will turn him over to Satan for destruction of the flesh, while sparing his soul to be with Him in Heaven where he can sin no more (1 Corinthians 5:5).

The COVID-19 precautions and interventions advised by scientific and professional societies, and now by many governments, are not new, and actually are an extension of Biblical truth and even of common sense. Mosaic Law called for separation of the sick person, such as the leper, from the healthy (Leviticus 13), and for preventive measures regarding handling and separation of unclean animals (Leviticus 11), corpses, and those who had been in contact with them (Numbers 19:11-16). Such principles have a spiritual as well as a physical application.

The novel coronavirus pandemic began in Wuhan, China, at a “wet” market where exotic animals were sold and slaughtered, and more recently, SARS-CoV-2 virus has been detected in animal reservoirs including farmed mink, cats, and rabbits, from which it can spread to humans. Once again, Scriptural wisdom, even from Levitical law, turns out to be relevant to the perils we face today.

What parallels could we draw from preventive measures to restrain the spread of coronavirus, and those that the Bible advises to resist the temptation to sin?

Masks help to prevent coronavirus transmission by lessening spread of infectious droplets from the wearer to others, and to a lesser degree, protect the wearer from breathing in such droplets from others. Mask wearing has been a widespread response to outbreaks including the 17th century plague and the 1918 influenza pandemic. The beak-shaped masks used in the former plague were stuffed with fragrant herbs and flowers to cut down on bad odors thought to carry the disease, reminiscent of Moses warding off the plague by using incense as God had commanded (Numbers 16:46-50), and foreshadowing modern-day use of aromatherapy.

Even when we wear a mask, risk of spreading the virus is much greater while speaking, especially speaking loudly, than in silence, as more infectious droplets escape because of greater breath velocity.

To avoid sinning, we need to guard our tongue! (James 3:5-6). Scripture often admonishes us to speak less and listen more (James 1:19); to avoid gossip and slander (Proverbs 11:13; 18:8; 20:19); and even to refrain from idle words, for which we will give account at the judgment (Matthew 12:36).

Many who dislike wearing masks (most of us, I imagine!) complain that it is difficult or uncomfortable to speak when wearing them. Might that be a blessing in disguise, by constraining us to choose our words more carefully and avoid sinning in our speech?

The discomfort and inconvenience of wearing masks is a small price to pay if it protects others from sickness and death. It is a reminder that as Christians, we are to put the needs of others before our own preferences (Philippians 2:3-4). Those who choose not to wear them, and to ignore other coronavirus restrictions, may feel that they are willing to risk their own health to enjoy life to its fullest. Yet they may not realize, or worse yet, not care, that they are endangering others.

Similarly, we cannot sin in isolation, for every sin we commit has the potential to directly harm not only ourselves but others, and indirectly harm them by being a stumbling block to their faith (Romans 14:13). No man is an island, as John Donne wrote in the same poem in which he warned, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls – it tolls for thee.”

Sadly, one of the greatest risks for transmitting COVID-19 is within families. Similarly, the contagion of sin easily spreads through a household, with children emulating the sinful habits of their parents. Even adults living together are not immune from the effects of sin in their home. It is far more likely that one who is saved will be brought down to the level of an unsaved companion than vice versa, which is why the Bible warns us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). The parallel to COVID-19 is that an infected person will not be cured by the company of a well person, but is instead likely to transmit the disease.

Social distancing and avoiding crowds, particularly in high-risk places such as bars, is another recommended strategy to reduce the risk of contracting or spreading coronavirus. The same applies to reducing the temptation to sin. God’s people are called to be the salt and light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16), in part by maintaining a holy lifestyle (1 Peter 1:15-16) and separating ourselves from the unsaved world (2 Corinthians 6:17). It is painful during the holidays not to show hospitality to our friends and family (1 Peter 4:9), but if we can prevent illness or save lives, we should be willing to do that, motivated by Christian love (John 13:34-35).

Like social distancing, washing hands and cleaning surfaces dates back to Mosaic Law (Leviticus 15:13, 56; Mark 1:44; 7:4-8). Not only was this commanded for physical cleansing, but for spiritual purification, yet it was only a temporary measure for sin, to cover its effects without removing the penalty, similar to animal sacrifices and sprinkling blood on the altar. Not until Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), shed His precious, sinless blood to save us, could those who trust Him be removed from the penalty of sin, which is death (Hebrews 9:11-14).

Ultimately, the above strategies will prayerfully reduce, but not eliminate, the threat of novel coronavirus, and allow us to resist temptation but not to lead a perfect, sinless, life, for only Jesus Christ could do that (Romans 3:23).

But thankfully, the victory is the Lord’s, against illness and against sin! Not only did He heal many and even raise them from the dead (John 11:1-44), but He is risen with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2), and by His stripes we are healed! (Isaiah 53:5). Because we live in a sin-cursed world, not all Christians will be healed in their physical body, but all can look forward in joyous anticipation to our glorified resurrection body (1 Corinthians 15:35-58), free of illness, pain, aging, death, and even sin!

Thanks to Christ’s perfect sacrifice and resurrection, He has saved us from the power of sin over our lives, the penalty of sin, and one day in Heaven, from even the presence of sin! May we hold fast to our profession of faith, trusting in His perfect healing and redemption!

© 2020 Laurie Collett



SARS-CoV-2 Photo by NIAID 2020

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Thankful in All Things?


Thanksgiving is a time when we count our blessings and thank and praise the Lord for them. But it is just one day in the year, and should we not thank our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave us life, breath, and salvation, every day? (John 10:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; 2 Timothy 3:15)
Of course we should, but if we are honest with ourselves, we admit it is easier to give thanks on some days than on others. This year, it may be more difficult for many to appreciate God's hand at work in every detail of our lives, working all things together for good for those that love Him, who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

The COVID-19 pandemic, loss of loved ones, illness, political unrest, unemployment, struggling economy, isolation, loss of opportunities we normally take for granted, difficulty celebrating with large gatherings of family and friends -- these have all taken their toll in many households and lives.
Songs of praise and thanksgiving easily arise in our hearts and even flow from our lips (Psalm 69:30; 147:7; Ephesians 5:19) when we see our loving family seated around the holiday table to enjoy a bountiful feast, in our beautiful home, perhaps with presents already wrapped and under the shining Christmas tree.

But what if our life is not so idyllic at the moment? What happens if there is an empty chair at the table, filled just last year by a loved one who since stepped out into eternity? What if family members are separated by distance, time constraints, demands of the world, or even lack of caring for one another? What if financial hardship means there are no presents under the tree, or even food on the table?

The writings of the apostle Paul are sometimes difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16) and even harder to live by, for he said to “Rejoice always, and again I say, rejoice!” He warned against vengeance when confronted by evil in others, instead focusing on what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:15-16, 21-22).

We could argue that we can be excused from rejoicing if we are suffering from chronic illness, disability, relentless pain, mental anguish, poverty, danger, or loss of a loved one. But if anyone should know about suffering, it was Paul, who wrote this verse from a cold, dank prison cell, separated from loved ones except by pen, paper and prayer.

Paul had to endure shipwreck, beating, stoning, near drowning, imprisonment, persecution (2 Corinthians 11:23-26), snake bite, and a physical ailment that he had begged God to remove. Three times Paul prayed for God to heal him, only to hear God say three times that he would not, for His grace is sufficient, and His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Through the instruction of the indwelling Holy Spirit,
Paul learned to be content, or thankful, through bad times as well as good (Philippians 4:12).

In all circumstances, Paul encouraged us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and we can see throughout his epistles that he followed his own (Spirit-inspired) advice. Then he went on to make the most shocking command of all: “In every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Notice that Paul did not say to give thanks for all things, but in all things. We do not have to give thanks for our house burning down in a fire, but in this situation, we can thank God that no one was at home, and praise Him for sparing our life and the lives of our family.  We do not have to give thanks for having cancer, but we can thank Him that it was diagnosed early and that there are excellent doctors and effective treatments.

Perhaps the situation is even more dire, as it was with Job, who lost his sons, his wealth, his possessions in a few moments (Job 1), and his health shortly thereafter (Job 2). Our limited human vision may not see any silver lining in the cloud, for we naturally focus on the obstacles that block our view from the blessings God has in store. Yet Job was able to say, “The LORD gave; the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the LORD.”

We may fail to understand how God could possibly deliver us from our insurmountable problems, but His arm is not too short to save us (Isaiah 59:1). Nothing is impossible with God (Matthew 19:26), and He will make a way when there is no way! (2 Samuel 22:33; 1 Corinthians 10:13). God is love (1 John 4:8) and has infinite love for us, desiring to shower us with blessings (Ezekiel 34:26). Yet so often we see the menacing clouds and feel the downpour, but we forget that these will bring flowers and bountiful harvest!

Paul writes that we should thank God in all things, for this is His will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:18). In other words, God desires that we thank and praise Him in all situations. Furthermore, whatever befalls His children is His will for us, because He allowed it, working all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). Praise God that His thoughts and ways are higher than ours! (Isaiah 55:9)

Giving thanks in all things reminds us of God’s mercy, which spares us from punishment we justly deserve for our sins. David, whose fellowship with God was disrupted by the snowballing effect of sin, gave thanks to God for His mercy and deliverance from his enemies. He even wrote that we can no longer give thanks from the grave, which should encourage us to obey and honor God in this way while we still have the breath to do so! (1 Chronicles 16:29-36; Psalm 6; 18:46-50; 30; 136).

Counting our blessings, and naming them one by one, as the hymn writer encourages us to do, is a wonderful way to be thankful in all things. As the Internet meme asks, what if today you had only those things for which you thanked God yesterday? Do we daily thank God for the breath of life, a steady pulse, food to eat, clothes on our back, a roof over our head, friends and family?
No matter how severe the trial you may be going through right now, here are a few more blessings that come to mind. If you are reading this, you are alive; you have the precious gift of sight; you are literate; and you have access to the Internet, which places a world of information, Bible resources, and contact with fellow believers at your fingertips.

If you are born again (John 3:3-8) by placing your faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), you have the greatest reason of all to thank God! You have the gift of abundant and eternal life, forever with Jesus Christ and your loved ones in Him, ultimately in a glorified body (1 Corinthians 15:35-54) that will never age, die, sin, or feel pain, sickness, or sorrow!

Giving thanks and praise to God in all things acknowledges Who He is – our Creator (Genesis 1:1), Sustainer (Colossians 1:17), and Redeemer (Job 19:25; Psalm 19:14; Isaiah 41:14). He is perfect Love, Light (John 1:9), and Truth (Titus 1:2), completely just, righteous, and holy (Isaiah 5:16). Although we deserve eternal punishment in hell, He showers us with mercy, love, and grace in our life here on earth, and everlasting rewards in Heaven (Romans 6:23). In all things, we can thank Him for the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), joy in His salvation (Psalm 51:12; Isaiah 61:10), and wisdom to follow His lead (James 1:5).  

Even as Jesus drew near to the agony of His crucifixion, He gave thanks as He contemplated the imminent sacrifice of His shed blood and broken body, given to pay our sin debt in full. (Mark 14:23; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24). We have reason to give thanks even when facing the sting of death, sin and the grave, for He triumphed over these enemies by rising from the dead (1 Corinthians 15: 55-57).

No matter our grave our circumstances, He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and He gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord! Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15).

© 2017 Laurie Collett
Edited and reposted from the archives