Christianity and the COVID-19 Pandemic


Christianity and the Covid-19 Pandemic

2023 update

The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly been an unprecedented time of trial for most of the post-war generation. Its impact has not only prematurely caused the death of millions of people but impacted far more through the economic and social fallout as lock-downs forced businesses to close, many millions into unemployment, and governments struggling with massive budget blow-outs. Life changed radically being unable to do many of the things we took for granted such as meeting in a church, going out for a meal and going on a vacation. Fear  gripped many.

But Christians should not fear in such times. While we ought to sensibly take due precautions to avoid infection, we cannot totally. Jesus warned us 2000 years ago that one of the signs of the end time would be pestilences (Luke 21:11). Death is always a reality in this world.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also shown us how governments, given a justifiable reason, can impose seemingly draconian measures which would not be tolerated in other circumstances. Of course we ought to obey our government leaders – as far as it depends on us. Clearly we ought to obey the health directives, not for our own sake but especially for the most vulnerable. But it has set a precedent – that great restrictions can be imposed on the population at large, or certain parts, if they are deemed to be in the interests of the nation as a whole.

We have since learnt that the covid-19 vaccines were not the silver bullet that was anticipated when they first became available. The vaccines didn’t prevent transmission nor contracting the virus. We have learnt also that some people were adversely effected, some dying but these were rare. One of the most serious effects of the lock-downs and social distancing was depression especially amongst young people.

Some – including Christians – took exception, in the name of ‘freedom’, to the restrictions imposed on populations by government authorities because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, as Christians, we need to see true freedom is something only God can give. We tend to place physical freedom as a priority whereas it is spiritual freedom which is the real need – given as a gift through salvation in Christ. Many in this world are physically bound but spiritually free while those without Christ maybe physically free but spiritually bound. So we ought to keep a spiritual perspective in these times and not become preoccupied with gaining ‘freedom’ as we’ve been accustomed to.

There were a number of prominent Christian leaders who encouraged their followers to ignore the restrictions on church meetings since we ‘ought to obey God rather than men’. While I would in principle always agree that where a government directive contradicts a clear command of God as found in Scripture we should obey God rather than man. But we need to ask ourselves: is it our tradition that has been restricted rather than a clear command of Scripture? Yes, we are told not to forsake gathering together (Hebrews 10:25). Yet what constitutes a church meeting? Jesus said ‘where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst‘ (Matthew 18:20). So we don’t have to meet in the hundreds or thousands but in home or small group settings (as the early church did and as Christians in restricted countries do today). We need to think ‘outside the box’ when our routine is upset.

Tragically there were a number of Christian leaders who opposed covid-19 vaccinations and subsequently died after contracting the virus.

One criticism levelled against pro-vaccine Christians was that they were succumbing to fear. As Christians we ought not to fear death yet, as far as it depends on us, we are to preserve life and cherish it as God’s gift while we are in this world. We are charged to keep our bodies healthy, as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

If there’s one thing we need in these times when we hear numerous voices, all claiming to be true yet contradicting each other, is godly wisdom.

One placard at an anti-covid-19 vaccination/mandate rally read “Jesus is my vaccine”. The truth is Jesus saves us from sin – not necessarily covid-19 (or any other illness). We need to be careful in making such statements as it can effectively be putting God to the test – which we are commanded never to do. We need to be careful we are not inadvertently succumbing to a spirit of rebellion in the name of ‘standing up for our God-given rights’.

We all take measures to ensure our health: eating good food, exercise and other prophylactic measures. When sick we seek medical treatment and take medication, we wear seatbelts and drive vehicles with a host of safety features, obey road safety rules – all common sense stuff. It is not driven by fear.

A widely spread idea is that the covid-19 vaccines were or are harmful. Yet there is no legitimate evidence this is the case for the vast majority. True there were a few known adverse reactions which have resulted in deaths but these are insignificant compared to the number of people who died from the virus (see below for more information).

Please note: I’m not saying we should accept unconditionally whatever laws governments impose. We should pray for and while we have opportunity strive to ensure our governments act justly and in the best interests of all people. And remember there is no law which can prevent us doing God’s will – bearing the fruit of His Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Christians and conspiracy theories

Many considered the restrictions imposed on populations and the role out of the Covid-19 vaccines as a sinister conspiracy designed to control the population. Some went as far as saying the statistics of infections and deaths were fictitious.

It is deeply troubling that many Christians believed these conspiracy theories and disinformation about the vaccines. In my observation it wasn’t until governments began lockdowns and compulsory measures to reduce transmission of the virus that these theories began to emerge. Accusations of ‘world control’ and ‘plandemic’ spread on the Internet along with false information that the vaccines were poisonous or even ‘the mark of the beast’. It seems such ideas were based on a distrust of secular authorities and a particular interpretation of end-time prophecies.

Yet it is not as if what we experienced was something totally new. The experience of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic mirrored in many ways what we experienced: compulsory quarantine and wearing of masks, lock-downs, social distancing and closed state borders. A documentary about the impact of the Spanish flu in Australia reveals many similarities to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Recent research has shown evangelical Christians in the USA are more likely to subscribe to conspiracy theories than the general public.

This is despite the scriptural warning ‘to test all things‘ and to confirm evidence on the basis of 2 or more reliable witnesses. As children of light it becomes us to ensure what we believe is true lest we end up being propagators of error and lies. When we gullibly swallow conspiracy theories without checking their truth we destroy our witness as children of light and at best end up appearing stupid.

Here is a quote from: ‘Too many evangelical Christians fall for conspiracy theories online, and gullibility is not a virtue’ – Dallas Morning News, May 17 2020:

‘At the core of the issue is the need for Christians to recognize how conspiracy theories actively hurt our Christian witness. When evangelical Christians indulge conspiracy theories, we damage our credibility. While some might see this as unimportant, our credibility to know and profess the truth lies at the core of our witness, whether we are effective evangelists for what we believe is the truth. Central to our faith is our profession that Jesus dwelt among us as fully God and fully man, died on the cross that we might be forgiven, and was raised and now reigns. We believe these things in truth, not as a moralistic story.

Thus, when Scripture calls us to be wise in resisting the temptation to foolishness and warns against those who “turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:4), its point is not only in how this hurts us, but rather how it reflects the Gospel we profess. Christians have a responsibility to not be fooled. As we’ve argued before,
gullibility is not a Christian virtue. Believing and sharing conspiracies does not honour the Lord. It may make you feel better, like you are in the know, but it can end up harming others and it can hurt your witness.’

Therefore Christians ought to be purveyors of truth and hope, not conspiracies based on fear, half-truths and anecdotal evidence. There is a real danger those who fail to discern truth from error in these conspiracy theories will become dull of hearing the Holy Spirit and even end up immune to the real truth. As the writer to the Hebrews encourages us:

But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).

We therefore need to train ourselves to be discerning through a thorough knowledge of God’s word and carefully examine the evidence lest we end up deceived.

A Lesson To Be Learned

So there is a lesson we ought to learn in such times: how do we determine what is the truth? Who should we trust? Do we just trust those who affirm our suspicions? Clearly this isn’t wise – we need objectivity. So we ought to seek the truth from a number of independent and credible sources not just one or two. As the Proverb says: in a multitude of counsellors there is safety (11:14, 15:22, 24:6).

The important thing: as Christians how should we respond to this crisis and others?

First we need to know all things are ultimately in God’s control. While life changed greatly for a time, and for many for the worse, we need to keep the promises of God’s word always in our minds. As Habakkuk says:

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places (Habakkuk 3:17-19 ESV).

Habakkuk, though, was anticipating an invasion by the Babylonians and the appalling destruction that would result. The Babylonians were notoriously known for their indiscriminate destruction – respecting neither age or gender. Today we face an invasion of an invisible enemy, one which also does not discriminate by age, gender or social status. All ages (though the elderly more so) have succumbed to this virus, the rich and the poor, the famous and the obscure.

Many have found the prevalence of suffering and injustice in this world incompatible with the existence of an all powerful and loving God. We may think ‘if God is all powerful and loving, why do the innocent suffer’ and ‘why doesn’t He stop this terrible plague?’

We are not given a reason for every specific evil that we see in this world. Some are clearly the result of man’s actions. Others are seemingly what we would call ‘natural disasters’. The reality is we live in a fallen world, in which the devil still has influence and control (though limited) and in which decay, disease and death are daily occurrences. Yet we also know one day all these will end and there be final justice. That is our hope which God has promised.

Jeremiah, like Habakkuk, found himself in a time of great trial and personal suffering. After pouring out his grief to God he went on to say:

My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I will call to mind, and therefore have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, therefore I will hope in him (Lamentations 3:20-24).

Notice Jeremiah does not deny the reality of his circumstances, but calls to his mind the hope he has in God – His steadfast love never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is His faithfulness. He meets my deepest needs. My hope is in Him.

Therefore if we remind ourselves, daily, of these things, even speaking aloud to ourselves the great hope and steadfast love we have in God, fear, grief and depression will not overwhelm us. In such times we should reflect on what really counts and give thanks to God for His goodness (a command!) when so much of what we consider necessary in modern society are in reality trivial and fleeting.

So with Habakkuk we can also say: “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength“.

Links for further information:

1. This article by Robert Carter of Creation Ministries International gives factual and timely information regarding the new vaccines for Covid-19.

2. Christians and the Vaccine: a Christian website with sound information and how to discern truth from error.

3. This article by Baptist News Global gives some sound advice regarding how we should view conspiracy theories.

4. And this one from ‘The Conversation’:

God, plagues and pestilence – what history can teach us about living through a pandemic

With the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccines there have been legitimate ethical concerns regarding their manufacture. In particular some vaccines are produced using cells derived from an aborted foetus. For many Christians this poses an issue of conscience. Three Christian leaders in Australia outlined their concerns in a letter to Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.

This article is informative regarding the manufacture and testing of a number of vaccines by which you can make an informed decision.

Any comments please contact me.

Photo Credit: Martin Roberts