In the light of the current viral pandemic, Brian Tabb remarks that disease is iconoclastic: it challenges and destroys our most treasured cultural idols.
What follows is based on (and quotes from) Brian Tabb’s article.
First, ‘disease smashes the idol of security’. People long for security: physical security, economic security, emotional security, online security. But the most determined government, the most formidable military force, the most sophisticated surveillance system, cannot protect us against the invisible threat of the Covid-19 virus.
Second, ‘disease smashes the idol of prosperity’. Many societies – both ancient and modern – have promoted happiness and success as the highest of ideals. This vision of the ‘good life’ is well expressed in 1 Kings 4:25. Yet the outbreak of Covid-19 in early 2020 has led to massive disruption of economies across the globe, with the shutting of offices and retailers, and prospect of widespread financial hardship. Biblical warnings about the idolatry of money and possession come from Jesus (Mt 6:24) as well as his apostles (Col 3:5). This is all a solemn reminder ‘that Mammon cannot save or satisfy us, nor can it offer the true security for the future that only God supplies.’
Third, ‘disease smashes the idol of wellness’. Globally, the pursuit of wellness is a multi-trillion pound industry, taking into account spending on beauty products, nutrition and diet, fitness, and so on. Wellness evangelists promise long and happy lives. But disease catches up with us all, sooner or later, and we receive all-too-frequent reminders of our frailty and mortality. The years that we have been given bring their share of toil and trouble (Psa 90:10), and we should ‘number our days’ (Psa 90:12) with respect of our given-ordained limits and limitations.
How then should we respond to the current public health crisis?
First, by facing our fears. Some have responded to the Covid-19 outbreak with acts of kindness and generosity, but others with selfishness, defiance, and even violence. For followers of Jesus Christ, ‘For Christians, fear can prompt us to “return to obedience and charity,” loosening our grip on the world’s toys and reminding us that our “true good is in another world” and our “only real treasure is Christ.”’ When we remember that God is ‘our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble’ (Psa 46:1), ‘we can overcome debilitating fears and respond to crises with courage and compassion for our neighbors in need.’
Second, by seeking the Lord. Contrast the response of Asa (2 Chron 16:12) with that of Hezekiah (2 Chron 32:24). For all the value of physicians, our fundamental need is to seek the Lord in sickness. Note also Jehoshaphat’s attitude of trust in the face of grave danger (2 Chron 20:3-4, 9, 12). In times of trouble and danger, let us, as a matter of utmost priority, cry out to the Lord, who alone can deliver us.
Third, by allowing our faith to be tested and our hope to be revealed. This is precisely the message of 1 Pet 1:6f. We are to recognise that our present difficulties, whatever they may be, are ‘not random blows of Fate but a divinely designed test to prove their faith and prepare them for glory’. We have Christ’s peace, but that peace does not remove us from disaster or death, but rather to overcome in the face of them. ‘Our present peace and future hope should move us to respond to crises like the coronavirus outbreak with Christ-exalting good works.’