Coronavirus and the Bible
The apostle John wrote these words to Gauis in 3 John 1:2:“Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”
And so, in this time of global crisis, more than ever before, I want to tell you—this is my prayer for you: that you may prosper and be in health.
According to the Bible, how can you have physical and spiritual health? Do we just pray, and trust God to bless us with good health? Or is there more to it than that?
Proverbs 3:5-8: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, And strength to your bones.”
Proverbs 12:18: “There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, But the tongue of the wise promotes health.”
Throughout the Old Testament, God taught His people that their well-being, individually and as a nation, depended on their honoring and obeying the One Who is the Giver of all good things.
Deuteronomy 30:15, 19 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, 16 in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. … I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.”
Exodus 15:26 “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you.”
This passage begs the question, I suppose. With a promise like this, why is it that people who follow God have often become sick, and even died? Job and his friends wrestled with this question. Job was a righteous man. It says in that Job “was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil.” (Job 1:1) Yet God permitted Satan to afflict him with the loss of everything he had, and then to cause painful boils to the point that Job wished he could die!
Job 1:6-12 describes this unseen battle that takes place between God and Satan. God is a God of love, but because of the sin of Adam and Eve, Satan has claimed dominion over this world. So much of the suffering we see results from the sinful world that we live in.
Jesus teaches this principle to his disciples in John 9:1-3:Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”
Sometimes, sickness comes upon people through no fault of their own. And, God in His love and grace, showers blessings upon both those who follow Him, and those who reject him, as Jesus says in Matthew 5:44-45:
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
So we see this issue of health in the Bible is more complicated than we may have thought. The promises of the Bible aren’t an unconditional promise of prosperity and health, but principles that guide us in a world at war. What have we learned so far?
- God wants us to be healthy (3 John 1:2)
- By following God, we place ourselves in a position to receive His blessings, including His blessing of health.
- By disobeying God, we violate the principles of our own health and bring disease upon ourselves.
- God sometimes allows trials and sickness to come upon righteous people, through no fault of their own, but because of the spiritual battle that is taking place over this world.
- God gives blessings to both the evil and the good, teaching us what it means to love our enemies.
- Therefore, the outcome of a person’s life, whether they are healthy or sick, doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with wither that person is following God.
I think this is one reason why Jesus said, in Matthew 7:1-2 “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”
Biblical Health Principles
If you study the Bible, you will find that the Bible is full of principles to guide our health choices. But usually when we approach it this way, as selfish human beings, we come to the Bible with the wrong question. Usually we ask, “how can I be healthy?” After all, that’s what we ask the doctor: “Doc, what do I have to do to get better? What pill do I need to take? What treatment do I need? What food or supplement will make me lose weight, look and feel younger?” And the Bible does have a lot of answers to these questions. After all, God loves us and he wants us to be healthy, as we’ve already learned.
But maybe we’re asking the wrong question. Let’s look at a couple other passages:
Philippians 2:3:Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
Matthew 22:36-40: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
If the principle of God’s character is love for others, rather than asking, “how can I be healthy,” shouldn’t we be asking “how can YOU be healthy?” “how can WE be healthy?” “How can everybody be healthy?” That’s really the principle of love—looking out for the other person before we think about ourselves.
As you know, my background is in computer technology, not ministry, and certainly not in healthcare. But before I came into full-time ministry, I worked as the IT Manager for the district health department. Before I worked there, I had no idea what public health even was. But in working with the nurses and other professionals, I came to have a great appreciation for this little-known wing of our governmental system.
When most of us think of health professionals, we think about the healthcare system. Typically, we think of health professionals like family doctors, hospitals, etc, who care for the individual patients. When we get sick, we go to the doctor, and the doctor prescribes something to make us better.
Public health, on the other hand, takes a different approach. Instead of focusing on curing individual patients, public health is focused on maintaining the health of our communities as a whole. As such, there is a strong emphasis on prevention of disease. You still have doctors and nurses, but those doctors and nurses aren’t generally treating acute illnesses in individuals. They are doing things like insuring children are properly immunized, and insuring that impoverished families have basic access to care and can get proper nutrition for children. Public Health agencies issue guidelines and regulations that touch many other professions such as sanitation, plumbing, building, food service, and anything else that impacts the health of our communities.
It’s a well-known fact that during the 19th century, Americans saw an increase in longevity and health across America, as well as throughout the developed world. Some people credit this to advances in medical technology, but (to quote a resource I recently found on the EGW Estate Website) “a growing number of historians have gathered a persuasive body of evidence to support their belief that changes in personal hygiene, including diet, cleanliness, and dress, and the development of a public health movement contributed significantly to Americans’ improved health and increased longevity.” Rennie B. Schoepflin, The World of Ellen G. White, p. 153 (https://m.egwwritings.org/en/book/664.836)
During the later half of 19th century, public health in America focused on sanitation; cleaning up the cities, especially the poor tenements where diseases spread. By the beginning of the 20th century, the focus of public health toward preventing the spread of infectious disease. The pandemic of Avian Influenza in 1918-1919, which killed 40-50 million people, emphasized the importance of a concerted effort to maintain the public health and address the spread of these types of diseases. More recently, public health has grappled with complex issues such as the spread of HIV/AIDS, increasing obesity, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and even drug addiction. It is a critically important yet often poorly understood aspect of our society.
Public Health in the Bible
The Bible is full of references to public health practices, if you know where to look. Ever since mankind was barred from the tree of life, our race has come under the power of death. But God has provided the means to sustain our lives on this earth, and as we’ve already read in 3 John 1:2, He wants us to be healthy. He provided the best diet–fruits, vegetables, seeds, grains, and nuts (Genesis 1:29). Noah understood the distinction between clean and unclean animals (Genesis 7:2), and when God allowed the eating of flesh food after the flood (Genesis 9:2-3) he placed restrictions against practices that would harm the human race.
When Abraham’s wife Sarah died, he sought a place to bury his dead–a practice that not only ensures the dignity of the deceased, but protects the community from disease (Genesis 23:4).
Speaking of spreading disease–nothing spreads disease like human waste when you have a large number of people living together! But God had a plan for that, too, for the children of Israel:
Deuteronomy 23:12-14: “Also you shall have a place outside the camp, where you may go out; and you shall have an implement among your equipment, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and turn and cover your refuse. For the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and give your enemies over to you; therefore your camp shall be holy, that He may see no unclean thing among you, and turn away from you.”
In Leviticus 11, we find the dietary laws that make a distinction between clean and unclean animals. It’s interesting that the “clean” animals are known, today, to be healthier meats, and the “unclean” animals are associated with increased risks of disease. Most of the clean animals are vegetarians, while many of the unclean animals are carnivores, scavengers, or (in the case of sea creatures) filter feeders. Is it any coincidence that the animals from which we got this dangerous COVID-19 disease (bats, snakes, turtles and/or pangolins) are all on the “unclean” list?
The Old Testament has a lot of references to this concept of being “clean” and “unclean.” Many things could be defiling, including touching a corpse, handling something or someone that is unclean. Women would be considered unclean during their period and after childbirth. Even many common events could cause uncleanness.
God taught the Children of Israel to regard his presence as holy, and not to lightly regard coming to worship while in an unclean state. Leviticus 7:21: “Moreover the person who touches any unclean thing, such as human uncleanness, an unclean animal, or any abominable unclean thing, and who eats the flesh of the sacrifice of the peace offering that belongs to the LORD, that person shall be cut off from his people.’ ””
The word of the day in this COVID-19 outbreak is “Social Distancing.” But I hear a lot of Christians saying “this is unBiblical!” “We need to exercise faith and be unafraid of this disease!”
But what does the Bible say? One of the most dreaded diseases of the day was the disease of Leprosy. People believed that leprosy was extremely contagious, and no doubt it was incurable. What directions did God give for dealing with Leprosy? Social Distancing! You can read the details in Leviticus 13.
But didn’t Jesus touch the lepers, and also the unclean woman with an issue of blood? Certainly He did–and He did so to provide healing, and to demonstrate His healing power over the plague of sin. But we have to remember that it was Jesus (John 1:1) who also gave these practical laws to Moses in the Old Testament!
What About the Coronavirus?
Many people are asking the question, “Is this the end of the world?” As Seventh-day Adventists, we have been teaching for many years that the end is near. Jesus is coming again! So it’s easy to see how we would jump at this event and be ready to declare, “This is the end!” But what did Jesus say?
Matthew 24:7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.
What are “pestilences”? (Some translations omit “pestilences” in Matthew, but the word is there in Luke 21:11 as well). These “pestilences” are plagues–diseases or pandemics that break out and sweep through the population.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first time that a great plague has swept around the world, leaving destruction and death in its wake. The Black Death, or Bubonic Plague, struck 200 million people in the middle 1300’s. Smallpox killed 56 million in 1520. The Spanish flu killed 40-50 million people between 1918-1919. HIV and AIDS has claimed the lives of tens of millions ever since the 1980’s. Not to mention cardiovascular disease and cancer, with claim untold lives every year.
But there is something particularly frightening, at least to us in this generation, about the current pandemic of COVID-19. It’s certainly not the first time a pandemic has swept around the world, nor will it likely be the last. But there is a great urgency at the present time, because it is certainly the most dangerous virus we have seen in our lifetimes. Given its deadly potential, and the speed at which it spreads, experts are telling us it could have a death toll in the millions. And in order to stop its spread, life as we know it has come to a standstill.
Mrs. Ellen G. White, one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, wrote a lot about the cause and prevention of disease, such as this chapter in “Christian Temperance and Bible Hygene.” She was not opposed to the work of public health in vaccinating the public against disease. When there was an epidemic of smallpox, she herself was vaccinated, and urged her helpers to be vaccinated as well.
People today are responding to this crisis in a variety of ways. Some tell me that staying away from church is a lack of faith. “Let’s defy the governor’s orders and trust God to protect us.” Some people are still saying the virus is all a hoax, or a wild conspiracy–that’s it’s nothing more than the flu, but governments are using it to grab power. “Maybe the world governments made this up.” “Maybe everyone is over-reacting.” I don’t believe that’s the case. I am not an expert, but I know enough to believe that this situation is as real and as dire as it is being portrayed to be.
Other people are effectively frozen in fear and terror. They feel that there is nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide.
Some say, “I’m not worried about the virus. I’ll take all my herbs and supplements, and I’ll be just fine. It might get other people. It can’t hurt me.”
For others, and especially for us as Seventh-day Adventists, who have long studied and taught about apocalyptic events soon to come upon this world, it may seem that the apocalypse has already begun. It must be time to abandon our posts of duty and run for the hills to save our lives!
Yes—I can understand that all of these are natural reactions. But I don’t believe any of these is a truly Biblical response. Let’s take a quick review of what we’ve learned:
- God gives us principles of health, but the Bible teaches that our health or sickness is not always a direct result of our choices. Sometime bad things happen to good people.
- Jesus foretold that plagues would happen before he returned again. Many have already happened, and we’re experiencing another one right now.
- It’s not a lack of faith to follow precautions to prevent disease. God commanded social distancing, for example, in case of leprosy.
Speaking of faith—what does it mean to have faith in the midst of a crisis? What is the difference between faith and presumption? I’ve heard people argue that we need to ignore the government’s warnings and meet together, trusting God to protect us.
But faith doesn’t necessarily mean we do reckless things. Faith means we act in view of God’s word—as Paul says, seeing the invisible (Hebrews 11:1). Faith caused Elisha to be unafraid when the city was surrounded by enemy armies. But that same faith led Noah to build an ark to save his family from the coming flood—while all around laughed and scoffed at his “fear.” Faith caused Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt at the angel’s word, saving the life of the baby Jesus.
True faith—like true love—casts fear from our hearts, because it teaches us that God is in control. And I want to assure you, my friends—no matter what may happen in the coming days and weeks: God has got this. He is in control!
As Christians, our response to this pandemic must be guided and informed by our faith. We must lose sight of ourselves in our love and care for others. If that means enduring the inconvenience of “staying at home,” rather than complaining about losing our freedoms, perhaps we should cheerfully comply and think of those whose lives we may save by not spreading the disease.
No doubt, we are facing hard times. The economic disaster this has caused is already taking its toll on families. Millions have lost their jobs. Millions have lost savings, retirements, businesses. Already, thousands have fallen sick, and many have died. As this pandemic progresses, if the expert’s predictions are correct, no family will be untouched. We will have to endure difficult times of pain, loneliness, isolation, poverty and disease. The only thing that will get us through is a strong and unshakable faith in God.
Is this the end of the world? Not quite yet–I don’t believe. There are a few more prophecies that need to be fulfilled. A lot of people are referring to the last verses of Revelation 13, and how the current social restrictions are fulfilling these verses. But the current restrictions aren’t religious. All the churches are under the same restrictions. This is an application of Leveticus 13, and a time for us to follow the counsel of Romans 13 (“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.“)
Could it be the beginning of the end? It could be. No doubt it has the potential to bring on the chaotic end-events describes in prophecy. At the very least, the rapid restrictions of our freedoms is concerning. It shows us just how quickly Revelation 13 could be fulfilled. It could happen in the blink of an eye! The same restrictions that we have today, to protect our health, could be used tomorrow to force us to worship contrary to God’s word. It should be a wake-up call for every one of us. But rather than preaching apocalyptic doom, or hiding our proverbial heads in the sand, let’s dig deep into God’s promises, and get down on our knees in prayer. Ask God for strength, and then throw your energy into encouraging your fellow believers as we enter what may be the greatest crisis of our lives!
1 The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the [still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord