It doesn’t matter which news site you turn to, COVID-19 is making the headlines. It is changing people’s lives. It is shaking up the global financial markets. It is hardly possible to have a conversation with someone before it becomes the subject matter. COVID-19 is here, and we are yet to know the full impact of this deadly virus. For many, it started as news from the distant land of Wuhan, China. Little did we know that in no time, this deadly virus would be rearing its ugly and scary head on our doorsteps. According to the latest Wordometer records, by the 27th of March, over half a million people had contracted the virus and over 25 000 deaths had been recorded – and the figures are increasing. How do we respond to such a deadly threat that has changed our lives so remarkably? There are two options: we can respond in fear or faith. The choice is yours. Which one will you choose?
This reflection seeks to take our eyes from the scary stories and figures of COVID-19 which are all over the media to the comforting and enduring word of God as we try to work out how to respond well. The reality is that many reading this will suffer loss. It may be the loss of your job, the loss of your savings, or even worse – the loss of someone close to you. Scary as that may sound, the word of God exhorts us to respond with faith, not fear. But how do we do that in the face of such calamity? A good place to start is by looking at the words of David, a man who had a fair share of trials and tribulations in his life. Hear his words in Psalm 23:4,
Even 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.
David’s rock-solid confidence in the LORD is not only evident, but striking. His faith in God is not based on an assumption that evil will not come. Many think their faith will cause God to prevent any evil or suffering to come near them and they put their confidence in that. Not long ago, I heard some believers giving assurance to each other by saying that they need not worry about COVID-19 for they are the untouchable ones of God, and so the virus will not even touch them. Such a perspective of faith can be misleading and dangerous. If you read the Psalms, you will quickly notice that even David, the man after God’s heart, the chosen King, did not live a trouble-free life. He faced external enemies through various forms of opposition to his leadership. His life was in danger many times. He faced evil from within as he suffered the consequences of his own sinfulness. The man knew what it felt like to walk through the valley of shadow of death. Yet, he remained confident. His faith in the LORD did not waver. How did he do that?
Well, David tells us the reason for his confidence. He is not afraid in the face of evil and calamity, not because God will cause him to avoid evil but because the LORD is with him throughout the suffering. But how does it help to know that God is present with us in the midst of COVID-19, you may ask? Well, growing up as a young Israelite boy, David would have heard stories of how God parted the waters and rescued his people from the Egyptian armies at the Red Sea (Exod 14), how the wall of Jericho came down as God’s people sang and walked around the city in obedience to his word (Josh 6), and many other stories of God’s powerful hand at work in the lives of his people. He himself had personal testimonies of the many times God had rescued him; maybe he would recall the time God gave him victory over the giant Goliath using a mere stone and sling shot (1 Sam 17). The bottom line is that David knew how powerful God is and knowing that the same God is with him would take away any fear no matter how dark the valley of death he may find himself in.
So, as we self-isolate and come to terms with the impact of COVID-19, we need to know that we are not facing this alone. God is with us. He has the power to stop the virus. He is the creator of the universe; no problem can be too hard for him. In fact, we know he has set a day when all disease and trouble and pain will be no more, as we read in Revelation 21:3-4,
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Ultimate defeat for all our enemies is certain. For now, there are moments when it will feel like we are in the valley of the shadow of death, and this may be such a moment for us as we face COVID-19. The impact may be close; the valley may be darker for some and we may even contract the virus and become part of the statistics. Still, faith is the right response, not fear. The worst the virus can do is kill us (though many are actually recovering from it). As believers in Christ, we know death is not the last word, for Christ conquered death. Though we die now, as Jesus was raised, we will be raised to new life, life eternal with God in the new heavens and new earth (1 Thess 4). So, no valley can take away our firm trust in God. Like our master on his cross, we may cry, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” for it does feel that way, but deep down we hear the comforting words of the Father in Isaiah 41:10,
fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Fear not. He is with us.