Third, submit to the kind of certainty and control God has sovereignly given, and do not seek more.
Anytime we pursue something that God is withholding from us, we have made an idol. One of those things during this time is the idol of certainty, or even near-certainty. The pursuit of absolute certainty that you will not be infected is out of reach for every human being. To pursue certainty – a 0% chance of getting Covid – is an idol. You might flatter yourself and give such idolatry nicer, softer descriptors (“just being sensible, a few precautions here and there”), but it remains an idol. God gives no one that kind of certainty. The curse of idolatry is that we become like what we worship (Ps. 115:8). When you worship an absurd idol, you become absurd in the way you worship. When you worship the harsh god of absolute certainty, you become like your god – with a kind of rigid, unyielding, almost viciously defensive posture.
But these are the realities, for those who have ears to ear. Covid-19, whatever its origin, is an airborne virus. It is spread primarily by the airborne particles of infected people, whose viral load is highest when they are symptomatic. Masks do not prevent exhalation of Covid’s aerosol particles into the shared space of others or the inhalation of most of these viral particles. Social distancing will not affect what is in the air, if an infected person exhales near you, particularly in an indoor space.
There is no 100% control that will be given to us through masks, vaccines, or social distancing. You need to accept the level of protection that exists, decide which of those measures you want to use, while accepting that not everyone must or needs to adopt the same measures. We should be sceptical of measures that do very little to curb the spread, like universal masking, and social distancing between healthy, asymptomatic people. We must believe that God is in control, and we need to simply do what has always been done: use safe medicines to reduce hospitalisations, quarantine the sick, and pray for either an increase in natural immunity or a finalised Covid-19 treatment that will put this into the past.
Submitting to God’s sovereignty means we do not allow safety precautions to become obsessions. Covid is unpredictable. It doesn’t behave in ways we expect. If you are trying to manage the unpredictability of this disease with a compensating hyper-carefulness, then you will be in bondage to potential, hypothetical situations. The possibilities of catching the virus in some place or another means every possible transmission location must be either avoided or sanitised. That will lead you not to taking precautions, but to having an obsession.
The difference between a precaution and an obsession is that a precaution still accepts its vulnerability. An obsession believes it can win against uncertainty, and does what most people regard as extreme. Obsessive people have a borderline insane belief that they will be able to control what others can’t control. It is a God-complex; trying to manage the unmanageable.
Think about it: if God wanted a scenario that would utterly humble proud people’s desire to control life, what would be the ultimate test? Probably to make proud people try to control the invisible air particles they breathe in. Now no one would try that, would they? No one would hope to be able to control what is invisible, and possibly everywhere, right? Surely you would get the joke, understand, and throw up the white flag and surrender to God’s sovereignty, right? Sadly, look around you for the answer. People are in the grip of an obsession with controlling the air they breathe, and the punishment for their pride is contained in their own actions. They are preserving life, but not actually living. Obsessions are tyrannical masters, destroying you and everyone around you.
No one in the grip of an obsession ever thinks it is irrational. I’ve counseled OCD people, and none of them ever admit that their obsessive hand-washing or checking of locks or dripping taps is insane. That’s why the only time their obsessions end is when other people tell the obsessive to stop , accept limits, and trust God.
Fourth, live with hopeful joy, not fearful retreat.
Christianity is not a faith in which its commands change with circumstances. We are commanded to rejoice always (1 Thessalonians 5:16). “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). This is not a season where Christians should be subject to the same fears that dominate unbelievers. The fear of death is exactly the chain that Satan uses to bind people to worldliness. Hebrews 2:14–15 tells us that Jesus died to destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. As Christians, we “have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again” (Romans 8:15). “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Sadly, the current secular world has made perpetual fear of Covid normal, even noble. Supposedly, if you are not fearful, then you are irresponsible and careless. Apparently, the only thing that matters anymore is avoiding risk. But not only is that kind of fear deadly to worship and fellowship, but it is lethal to the church’s future. If young people are taught that the preservation of their own lives is more important than corporate worship and evangelism, who will go to the mission field? Who will do ministry in hard places? When the church cowers in fear, it proclaims to the world that we have no solutions they do not have, no answers they do not have, and no hope they do not have. Christians can and should enjoy liberty from the fear of death, joy and hopefulness about life.
Covid actually presents an exciting opportunity to show the world that while we take the disease seriously, and while we reject conspiracy theories, we can still live our lives with joy. In the face of a disease that has claimed the lives of several of our people, our grief is filled with hope.
One of the applications of this is that Christians should be fellowshipping with each other and worshipping with each other. If your interpretation of the Covid pandemic is to avoid people, then you have adopted an unbiblical interpretation. In God’s world there are moments of extreme danger and necessity when people must avoid each other. War, anarchy on the streets, revolution, natural disasters, and pandemics like Ebola with 50% mortality rates qualify as these moments. But in God’s governance of the world, there is no such thing as an emergency situation that lasts two, three or ten years. If life goes on in terms of trading, recreation, entertainment, travel, then you are no longer in an emergency. There might be a dangerous disease abroad, but it is not on the order of a crippling, stay-at-home, emergency. And since we know that this is the case, it is absurd to treat one area of your life as if we are in an emergency and yet treat other areas as if it is not. We are either in a life-threatening, calamitous situation or we are not. The reality is, we are in the presence of a disease that is deadly, but not in a way that obstructs most of life. Christians should be together, in church and outside of it. That’s what hopeful joy looks like.
We can live our lives with hopeful joy, not with fearful retreat.