The coronavirus outbreak is stirring up anxiety, confusion, and major inconveniences. It is a situ- ation in which we can easily overreact or underreact. How can our faith tradition guide and comfort us through this troubling time?
A good starting point is to remember that the most re- peated phrase in the Bible is “Do not be afraid!” or “Have no fear!” God probably sends us this message so fre- quently because fear is such a big part of human nature. Fear can alert us to dangers in our lives to keep us safe, but fear can also lead us astray, toward selfish responses.
ENOUGH FOR EVERYONE
Of course, we see these same dynamics play out in Scripture, where fear leads to hoarding. The most famous story is when the Israelites are in the desert without food (Exodus 16). God rains down manna from heaven but also cautions them to take only what they need for now. They disobey but find that the food they attempt to store away goes bad immediately.
The consistent message we hear in the Bible is that we need to trust in God, who will provide enough for everyone. The problems come when people begin to take more than they need.
Fear of the coronavirus has caused some to stockpile and hoard unreasonable amounts of hand sanitizer, face masks, and other supplies against the recommendations of leaders. The problem is that this wipes out supplies for those who truly need them the most—health care work- ers and those most vulnerable to the disease—without really making the buyers safer.
PROTECT THE VULNERABLE
Scripture and the social teachings of the church re- mind us again and again that we—as individuals and a society—must protect and give priority to those who are most vulnerable and at risk. We see this from the laws in the Old Testament that looked out for the poor and the widows, to Jesus’ embrace of people on the margins of society, to the early church’s adamant support of those who had less. The Bible urges us to put those who are most at risk first.
In the midst of the coronavirus, the vulnerable take many forms. Most obvious are those who are elderly or have other health conditions that make them most sus- ceptible to illness. Those who are younger may not be concerned about our own health risks, but if we help pass on the virus, it can be a life-or-death situation for others.
Others are financially vulnerable and do not have the flexibility to take sick leave that many of us take for granted. That puts them in a difficult situation when they become ill and may have to choose between putting their job at risk and staying home to protect others. Likewise, many parents do not have the flexibility to stay home when school is canceled for their children.
The situation is impacting many others, such as small business owners who may already be on shaky financial ground.
A SPIRIT OF SACRIFICE
This health crisis is challenging many of us to make sacrifices in our lives. Some are huge, such as those made by exhausted health care workers around the world, des- perately trying to keep patients alive (while avoiding the illness themselves).
Other sacrifices fall more in the category of incon- veniences. It is inconvenient when events are canceled, schools close, and travel is limited. It is inconvenient to wash our hands intentionally and regularly.
But this kind of sacrifice is at the very center of our faith. Every time we gather around the Lord’s Table, we celebrate the powerful way Christ showed us how to love others. He sacrificed everything in self-giving love for us, and he invited us to do the same. In turn, we die to our- selves—through inconveniences and more—in order to love those around us. Truly loving others will always cost us something.
Actions that may not entirely make sense to us can have huge effects. Scientists point to the 1918 flu when St. Louis proactively and aggressively closed
its schools to prevent infections.
Death rates in the city were about one third those in Pittsburgh, which was much slower to close its schools. Thousands of lives were saved.
We may grumble about or resist changing our habits, especially if it’s unclear what’s in it for us. But we need to remember that many of these actions are more about protecting others. Perhaps the invitation amidst this crisis is to embrace the inconveniences fully, and then move beyond them to seek out the best ways to serve those who are most in need.
LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR
Community is essential to us as Christians. We are the Body of Christ, and we know that when two or more gather in Jesus’ name, he is present with us. So it may be a bit harder for us to handle the “social distanc- ing” happening in many communities.
Our call to community is not only in the context of our church but also in our neighborhood community. How do we literally love our neighbor? How can we be witnesses on our streets?
One way is to regularly check in on your neighbors who may be vulnerable and isolated. Offer to deliver groceries or other items for them or to run other er- rands so they won’t have to risk infection by leaving their home.
Be a positive, calming influence in any online neigh- borhood communities. Don’t spread rumors or hyste- ria, but find ways to support each other through the crisis.
Living the Virtues
Ultimately, as with life in general, we are called to live out the four cardinal virtues:
• PRUDENCE - Carefully discern the best course of action, not just for ourselves, but for the good of all. Ask: What action does God want me to take?
• JUSTICE - Seek fairness for everyone, especially those who need it most. Ask: Who is not getting the help that they need?
• TEMPERANCE - Find a healthy balance between self care and care for others. Ask: Do I err toward selfish- ness or an unhealthy co-dependence?
• FORTITUDE - Persevere in times of trial and difficulty. Ask: Do I have the courage to do the right thing even when the going gets tough?
Copyright ©2020 Paul Canavese. Published by The Pastoral Center / PastoralCenter.com. Permission is granted to repro- duce this resource freely.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
• Stop the spread. Even if you are not particularly concerned about the risk to yourself or your own family, these tactics will protect others who may be more vulnerable. Many of us will carry the virus before having any symptoms (and may never develop any).
• Wash your hands well for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Sing the refrain to Michael Joncas’ song “On Eagle’s Wings” (“And he will raise you up...”) while you wash.
• Avoid touching your face.
• Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue.
• Follow the guidance of local officials.
• Stay home if you become ill.
• Don’t take what you don’t need. Hoarding wors- ens the situation, and can lead to more infections and more impacts for the most vulnerable.
• Leave the masks to others. Masks only make sense for health care workers and those who are infected. They are not guaranteed to prevent transmission anyway.
• Do not overbuy supplies. Retailers are being wiped out of disinfectants and other supplies, leaving some who most need them without. Be prepared, but be thoughtful and reasonable.
• Advocate for the vulnerable and targeted.
• Have compassion for those most at risk. Stand up for those who need the most help and make sure they are being cared for, without judgment.
• Fight racism. Discrimination against those with Asian background only hurts the situation.
• Proactively love your neighbor!
• Check in on isolated or vulnerable neighbors and offer to help with specific tasks such as shopping, child or pet care, cleaning, etc.
• If you are in a position of power, use that pow- er for the good of all. Allow workers to work from home or take time off, limit large gather- ings, follow government guidance, etc.
• Thank those on the front lines who are pro- tecting us, such as health care workers, police, firefighters. Be gentle and kind with them.
• Pray for all those affected by the crisis.