“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
Many people are now confined to spending time at home and working from there. There is more time available to read and relate with loved ones. Instead of just passing the time trying to amuse ourselves, let us use the time we have to read, pray and minister in whatever way the Lord shows us.
In my younger years, I read Albert Camus’ The Plague. Camus was an existentialist thinker and an atheist, and wrote his novel in 1947, just after World War II. The story is about a plague in the Algerian city of Oran; it had to close its borders and fight the plague as best as it could.
The story shows the kinds of human behaviour and motivation in a crisis like this. For Camus, the meaninglessness of a godless existence forces people to find some kind of meaning—and for him, it was in human solidarity.
His hero was a medical doctor who rolled up his sleeves to save as many lives as possible, even though he knew that the situation was quite grim. The priest is described as quite useless, only good to voice words that were not able to heal nor help people in the plague.
Camus was an atheist and may not have known that during the bubonic plague in Europe in the 14th century, the death rate among the priests of the church was 20% higher than it was for the general population—as much as a third of Europe’s population was wiped out.
This was not because of some extra punishment on the priesthood, but because priests were ministering to the infected and dying. The priest is not as useless as secular society may reckon. In fact, the Christian message offers the greatest hope to humankind in an apocalyptic situation, as C. S. Lewis reminds us.
In his article, On Living in an Atomic Age, at a time when there was great fear of the danger that escalation of nuclear weapons brought to humankind, Lewis wrote these words. We can simply change “bomb” to “coronavirus” and the truths and principles still remain true.
“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”
For Camus, the virus also represents human evil—such as was exposed in a big way during the world war. It lingers in human hearts and society and emerges every now and then like an endemic infection. He did not have any real solution or hope.
It is different for Christians—we look forward to the day when Christ shall return to wipe every tear and put an end to evil and suffering (Revelation 21:4).
It is the Lord Jesus Christ who is our real hope. He is the one who has conquered the problems of sin and death that plague humankind—by defeating them at the cross and at His resurrection. Let us look to Him and be encouraged even as the storm gathers. He has overcome the world (John 16:33).
The word “Quarantine” was first used in 14th century Venice, linking for us its relevance in the current horrific circumstances in Italy. At that time, Venice was a trade hub with a busy port. In order to prevent the plague from obliterating the city, the authorities ruled that ships had to be out in the sea for 40 days before being allowed into the port.
The original word was Quaranta giorni, which meant a period of 40 days. This word then became the word “quarantine” in French and English and was also associated with the 40 days of the testing of Christ in the wilderness (Mark 12-13) and the 40 days of Lent.
It is thus significant that we are in a most unusual period of Lent where daily we hear about quarantines and lockdowns. Our thoughts are naturally on the Covid-19 situation which is exploding in many countries. But it is important to also turn our thoughts to the Lord Jesus Christ, for Lent is a season that particularly remembers His sufferings, death and resurrection.
Yet, many Christians have forgotten that we are in the season of Lent! How a virus can alter our attention, like the way Peter took off his eyes from Jesus to the frightening waves—and began to sink (Matthew 14:29-30).
So, let us honour our Lord by fixing our thoughts on Him, trusting Him, obeying Him and serving in His name. We must not lose our holy habits of worshipping Him individually and corporately, even as we face our current challenges.
Let us be “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). As we face quarantines in different ways, let us observe Lent by remembering what we usually do at Lent (pray, fast, turn to the Lord, consecrate ourselves fully to the Lord and do good).
Let us use the solitude and stillness to be with the Lord. Even as we hear the buzzwords “social distancing” and feel isolated and lonely, may we be challenged to find spiritual intimacy with God and in the abiding life of the body of Christ.
What Scripture says is true: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3, KJV).
How will you spend your time during this period of stillness and solitude?