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