Historical Reflections on the Pandemic

Few things in life get your attention like the subject of infectious disease. And this is especially true of pandemics (“all people” threatened by illness). It is, of course, natural to experience fear and concern during extraordinary times like this. There is great alarm about the illness and death caused by the coronavirus both in our country and worldwide. And there is also genuine anxiety about how society’s response to this health crisis (sheltering in or lockdown) will affect the world’s economy.

In light of this serious challenge that the world is now facing I offer two reflections that I hope will inspire and encourage you. Both of them are important lessons drawn from history.

  1. Many Christians in church history faced similar health crises with courage and acts of selfless service.

Plagues in ancient Rome, the Middles Ages and Reformation, and in the modern world have caused similar health calamities. Yet often without the advantages of modern science and medicine many Christians acted bravely by loving their neighbor. They cared for the sick and dying even while jeopardizing their own health. Christians established makeshift hospitals, provided hospice care, and set up almshouses to help the sick and suffering. These selfless humanitarian efforts testified to the Christian faith’s deep ethical commitment to valuing human lives. At times it also led to the expansion of Christianity because people took notice of how these believers loved others unconditionally.

May these examples from church history motivate us today to acts of service for others. For example, without endangering anyone’s health we could consider donating blood, checking in (by calling) on the welfare of seniors, and volunteering to go shopping for people who need assistance. We can also seek to help those who are working on the frontlines of healthcare. This crisis can be an opportunity for us to serve others.

2. Good things can come out of times of sheltering in or being locked down because of disease.

The famous scientist Isaac Newton (1643-1727) faced the ominous “Black Death” during his lifetime. This forced him into strict quarantine. Yet he used his downtime prudently in his pursuit of scientific studies. Consider this quote about Newton from History.com:

“In 1665, following an outbreak of the bubonic plague in England, Cambridge University closed its doors, forcing Newton to return home to Woolsthorpe Manor. While sitting in the garden there one day, he saw an apple fall from a tree, providing him with the inspiration to eventually formulate his law of universal gravitation. Newton later relayed the apple story to William Stukeley, who included it in a book, ‘Memoir of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life,’ published in 1752.”

Sheltering in can be challenging and it is made more difficult with the uncertainties surrounding the dreaded coronavirus. But we can follow Newton’s example and seek to use our time prudently and keep our minds focused on things we can control. We can spend more time with family and trust that God will bring good things out of extremely trying times (Romans 8:28).

According to the Christian worldview, God is in sovereign control of what ultimately happens in the world. May this confidence in the Lord’s majesty motivate us in the pursuit of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.

May God grant you rest and peace in the midst of this pandemic storm.

Reflections: Your Turn What are your thoughts during this challenging time?

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