These are unprecedented times. Two weeks ago, I received the news that a dear friend in her 60s almost positively had the virus according to her doctor. We waited with prayers hourly that she would make it until day 10 without hospitalization. Gratefully, she started feeling better around day 12. However, very soon after that, a classmate of my son’s mother was hospitalized with the covid-19 virus. Gratefully, she was released yesterday. The next day we heard from my sister-in-law who had been tested and was awaiting results due to horrible symptoms. As we were waiting for results, a high school friend posted she most likely had symptoms but couldn’t get tested and is navigating extreme pain – please pray. Luckily, results for my sister-in-law came back negative by late afternoon. All this, and I live outside of an epicenter thus far.
Then there is the news out of Florida and Georgia – and even in my city – of churches, in the name of Jesus continuing to congregate and praise God, together on Sunday mornings. As a fellow follower of Jesus, I struggle (and in the name of holding complexity I will use the word struggle rather than anything more divisive) to understand how it is faith rather than a shallow understanding of scripture that has anything to do with their actions of congregating during a pandemic.
We know that covid-19 can be deadly and have long term health consequences. We know that Thursday 1,000 people died in the U.S. What gets less press but has definitely been said, is the long journey of recovery for those who have been hospitalized, which in my area is a large number of the confirmed cases since only those whose medical treatment is dictated by the diagnosis as well as first responders or health care professionals are getting tested. See here – https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/04/03/coronavirus-survivors-recovery/?fbclid=IwAR25i20GzblA_0bvrfslI0O7X3BbvdZKefwwO-l74CtduxuNzvFX0KuXMwQ. We also know that large groups and congregating is an almost foolproof way of spreading the virus. It is spreading for days before people develop symptoms. Of the asymptomatic people who test positive 75% of them will develop symptoms within 2 weeks (WHO press brief 4/2/20). One cannot tell who has it and who doesn’t early on. The anecdotal research coming out of Seattle now believes the spread of their epicenter outbreak was largely by asymptomatic people. See here- https://www.medpagetoday.com/infectiousdisease/covid19/85657?fbclid=IwAR2d85IRaIW_szOk-AWQUWGJuGFJreGwvMI5qjDeud0rFUQ6XTnF1zZI4cg. This is not an older person disease in terms of lasting consequences – 40% of all hospitalized by Wednesday were under 55 and 20% were between 20 and 44. From the CDC, 1 in 5 deaths are middle-aged.
To be completely transparent, I hold an undergraduate minor in Biblical Studies and completed graduate courses in Biblical Studies as a part of my doctoral clinical psychology program at Biola University. I do not have a M.Div. or a Master’s degree in theology. However, I’ve been studying scripture since my teens. From the words of Jesus, the most important commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself. How is congregating to praise God showing love to your neighbor? This is the neighbor who you might kill because in a moment of helpfulness you unknowingly transmit the disease when you offer to get her groceries and she unknowingly forgets to wash them off before bringing them into her home. Especially, and I emphasize especially, if you don’t recognize your own humanity and see yourself as invulnerable to getting the virus.
The last time I checked, no Christian here on earth is God. No Christian is without a humanly body and therefore embodies the same vulnerabilities of every human being which includes sickness, mental fallibilities, and perceptual truths – not absolute truths which are for God alone. Even when I search the scripture for validations for this type of careless and reckless behavior I come up with none. Mary and Joseph chose not to return to Nazareth out of protection for Jesus. They GAVE UP EVERYTHING for awhile for Jesus’ protection and went to Egypt. His disciples all had very hard lives according to historical accounts -God didn’t spare them from injustice even though they were his friends. I look to the Old Testament and even there the best example I see is that even King David, the man declared after God’s own heart, hid in the hills when his sons were trying to kill and dethrone him. Did he lack faith to hide? Did he lack faith to not boldly taunt his sons by praising God outwardly in the open boasting, “Here I am sons come and get me.” He did no such thing. Instead, he lamented. He cried out the injustices to God. He cried out for relief. Ought not this be our “faith response” in a time such as this? Isn’t this how we show our faith while loving our neighbor?
I have a list I’ve started of people and communities I pray for each day – M. Chris’s Mom, Bri, New York City, New Jersey, Seattle, Chicago, Long Beach, LA County, Robin, K – my list keeps getting longer as more people reach out for support after discovering sickness has entered their lungs. I cry out to God for mercy and help. I lament – all the athletes who have been training for years whose season has been wiped out, performers who can’t perform, unemployed – all those now wondering where their food, car expenses, etc. will come from. Shouldn’t we be raising our voices in solidarity that we will sacrifice gathering in groups for the betterment of our neighbor because we serve a God who has created all creatures in His image -whatever their beliefs (or not), whatever their sexual attraction, whatever their socioeconomic status? All around the world His generosity is made known by His people. To have the belief that congregating is standing in the face of Satan, is to have an extremely small view of God. Please – you’re only human. Isn’t it about time that all the congregations of the world sacrifice for our neighbor so that we might show love. Staying home, knowing you are vulnerable to the virus and could be an asymptomatic carrier is living a life right-sided – acknowledging you are only human and God -master of the universe isn’t some narcissistic being who needs masses gathered in his name. After all, he came, incarnate to this earth as an infant born in a manager to a family with humble means. Stay home, Christian, and let your faith shine through actions which protect those who are vulnerable, which is all of us.
May you join me in the practice of prayer, lament and praise (online) for His Kingdom to come and His will be done. May we be right-sized as humble servants rather than boldly proclaiming praise by congregating together in person to a God who hasn’t taken away sickness nor death from this world.