Like everybody else, my little corner of the world has been affected by the coronavirus even though no cases have been reported yet here in Mitchell county, NC. Our governor, Roy Cooper, has cancelled all public schools for at least two weeks, with the suspicion being that the cancellation will be longer, perhaps even until the end of the school year. That means that my wife Tonya and my son Ryan, who are both employed as middle-school teachers, are now having to scramble to prepare online classes for their students. Likewise, my son Royce is evidently going to be learning online as well due to the fact that Mayland Community College, the local college he attends, has also cancelled classes for the foreseeable future.
I myself am dealing with church issues. The original suggestion from Governor Cooper was that citizens should avoid gathering in groups of 100 or more for the next two weeks. Using that number as a guideline, we went ahead and had regular church services at Roan Mountain Baptist Church this past Sunday and had an attendance of 50 in Sunday School and 92 for worship service. That at least kept us “legal” (for lack of a better word). We did have some our regulars stay home, but we also picked up a few visitors whose churches had cancelled services. So, basically, everything evened out to keep us at our average numbers attendance wise.
The next day, however, the Center for Disease Control handed down the recommendation that gatherings of 50 or more people should be avoided, and President Trump followed that up by suggesting that gatherings be limited to 10 or more. Then I read last night that McDonald’s franchises nationwide are closing their dine-in option, and Governor Cooper held a press conference this morning to issue an Executive Order stating that all restaurants and bars in our state must remain closed to dine-in customers until further notice. There goes the option of dining out to enjoy a bit of escapism from all this chaos.
I’ve talked with a lot of people the past few days, read several articles on the internet, and (I’ll admit) camped out on Facebook for awhile in my attempt to figure out which way the wind is blowing concerning public opinion about the Coronavirus. Don’t worry, I won’t report all the different opinions I’ve run across, but what I would like to do is mention at least five of the verses (all from the N.K.J.V.) that are being bantered about in relation to the pandemic and offer my take on how they apply to the issues we are facing.
First, there is 2 Timothy 1:7, which says: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Malcolm Woody and I chose this as the text verse for our podcast this past Friday due to the fact that so many people, including many Christians, were freaking out over the threat of the Coronavirus. I have to admit, though, that while the verse does provide a general word of encouragement to the Christian in regards to any potentially dangerous situation, I haven’t found much practical help in it as to whether or not to cancel church services. Putting it simply, I don’t have a fear about having church or cancelling it. I just wish that God would send me a text message or an email either way.
Second, there is Acts 5:29, where Peter and the other apostles say, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” This is the line that typically gets used when anyone starts talking about the government telling preachers what they can and can’t preach. This makes perfect sense in light of the fact that Peter and the other apostles spoke the words in response to the Jewish religious leaders attempting to forbid them from preaching about Jesus. Here again, though, the verse hasn’t helped me concerning cancelling church services. You see, it’s not like Governor Cooper or President Trump is telling us we can’t preach for Jesus or against any particular sin. This isn’t that. All they are doing is attempting to curtail the spread of a pandemic. Actually, they are trying to act in our best interest.
Third, there is Romans 13:1, which says, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” The meaning of this verse isn’t hard to grasp: God wants Christians to submit to their governing authorities. Furthermore, I would remind us all that the apostle Paul wrote these words to Christians who were living under the Roman government, a government that was morally and spiritually worse than our United States government. And I would also add that this certainly isn’t the only passage in which God comes off as being very much pro-government and instructs Christians to submit to their governments. Other such passages are: 1 Peter 2:13-15; Matthew 22:21; Jeremiah 27:5; and Daniel 2:21. Needless to say, these passages make a strong case for minding your Governor and your President, especially if those politicians aren’t mandating something blatantly against scripture.
Fourth, there is Psalm 91:10, which says of the person who has made the Lord his refuge and dwelling place, “No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling.” Admittedly, this verse does sound like a promise that God won’t allow anything bad happen to the devout Christian. However, the best commentary on the Bible is always the Bible itself, and holy scripture is filled with stories that prove that Christians, even devout ones, shouldn’t run off too far with the words of Psalm 91:10. Abel was right with God but still got killed by Cain. Job was right with God but still buried ten children. Uriah was right with God but still got killed after David had impregnated his wife. Stephen was right with God but still got stoned to death by the Sanhedrin council. Paul was right with God but still got whipped, stoned, and shipwrecked. John was right with God but still got exiled to the penal colony on the island of Patmos.
Fifth, there is Matthew 4:7, where Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 in saying, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” Interestingly, Jesus offers this answer in reply to Satan quoting Psalm 91:11-12 (the verses that follow Psalm 91:10, which I just covered). Satan quotes this portion of the Psalm in an effort to get Jesus to act presumptuously, not to mention recklessly, by casting Himself down from the pinnacle of the Jewish temple and expecting God the Father to send angels to keep Him from harm. This means that the teaching of the verse is that whatever scripture might say about God’s protection and refusing to live in fear, it isn’t God’s will for any Christian to needlessly place himself or herself in harm’s way. And that stands as doubly true if the Christian sets himself or herself to a course of action that requires God to send angels or perform a miracle to keep that Christian safe.
So, as you can see, the Bible can be used to back up just about any opinion that a Christian has about how to respond to the threat of the Coronavirus. Speaking as a pastor, what I have found particularly frustrating about the church dilemma created by the virus is that it places the church in a no-win situation. On the one hand, if we go along with the recommendations from the CDC, the Governor, and the President and cancel all services for at least the next couple of weeks, we run the risk of being classified as a bunch of gutless wonders who don’t have enough faith that God will protect us. But on the other hand, by continuing to meet for services we become (at best) civil rebels and (at worst) grim reapers if even one person actually gets sick and dies because of our meetings. See what I mean about it being a no-win situation?
In the end, I guess the best thing that any of us can do is fall back upon yet another verse of scripture, James 1:5. This is a verse that I not only quote often but employ frequently in my walk with the Lord. The verse says: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Frankly, in all my years as a pastor I have never encountered any situation in which I have lacked wisdom any more than I do regarding all the variables involved with the Coronavirus threat. Therefore, what I’ve been doing and what I’m going to continue doing is asking God for wisdom about the decisions that need to be made. Right now, this is the best advice that I can give to any Christian in regards to this whole mess, and I assure you that it’s advice that I will be using myself.