By: Simon Gillham, Head of Mission
Over the last six weeks global attention has been increasingly drawn to the outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus in Hubei Province, China. As the situation has evolved the number of infections and casualties associated with the virus has grown, it has moved quickly to become a global concern and to be declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organisation. Australia’s warm and close ties with China means that many of us have family or dear friends living in or regularly visiting China, and so we rightly feel the gravity of the situation. There have now been more than 37,000 confirmed cases and more than 800 deaths. News of the outbreak continues to evoke a range of reactions, which at the ugly extreme has included fear-mongering xenophobia.
How should Christian people understand and respond to a time like this? There are at least two things which ought to mark us out from our friends and neighbours who do not follow the Lord Jesus.
Firstly, we know that God is in control. Yes, this is a global health emergency, and yes, every case of infection is traumatic and every single death tragic – but unfortunately this is simply what it is like to live in a fallen and rebellious world. Sickness and death are not signs that God has lost control, but solemn reminders for us to long for the return of the Lord Jesus and the coming of the New Heavens and the New Earth. Just as with any sickness, fear or grief, the outbreak of this disease should lead those of us who know the God who is in control of all things, to respond in humble prayer.
We are not left to the panic of those trying to convince one another that we can predict and control everything. We can soberly realise that despite our best efforts, the seasonal flu still causes more than 400,000 deaths around the world every year, and we learn to live wisely with that risk.
The second thing that should mark out a Christian response to this situation is love. Love is the exact opposite of xenophobia – the fear or hatred of ‘the other’. Love will stir us to reach out to, support and pray for those who are affected. Certainly, for those in China as we are able, those who have travelled and are now quarantined, and even more broadly for those who may be worried about loved ones, anxious for their own health, or feeling the burden of the fear of others because of their Chinese appearance. During the black plagues of Europe, the Christian communities survived and thrived precisely because Christian people loved and cared for others. Love is not careless, but we must not allow the wisdom of being careful to slide into an excuse for being unduly fearful.
Love for others will also be expressed by those who have travelled, or who may be infected voluntarily acting in the best interests of others and staying home rather than passing on the virus. If they are part of a Christian community, I hope they will be inundated with offers to buy them groceries and maybe hooking them in to church or home groups by Skype or some other means. We can express love in all kinds of creative ways.
The Coronavirus is novel in one way, but, it is just the latest example of what is normal life this side of glory. As Christians we meet the dangers, fears and tragedies of life with confident, hopeful prayer and with a commitment to follow the example of Jesus, in loving others.