(This article is written in the knowledge that there is a broad range of opinion amongst Christians on the coronavirus and on how society should react to it. It is therefore offered for consideration in a humble and deferential manner, and in a spirit of brotherly love).
Britain is in desperate need of spiritual direction. Liberal secularism has fashioned the national mindset in such a way that responses to national crises are now totally different in character to, say, those which prevailed during World War Two.
Let us examine the current response to the coronavirus in the light of how the nation once dealt with the affliction of war. Covid-19 has in fact exposed the deep spiritual void in our contemporary national life, whereas during the Second World War, although the nation’s spiritual condition was far from thriving, there was still a general acceptance of the concept of God’s providence overruling in the affairs of men.
So, faced with a powerful enemy in the form of Nazi Germany, society understood that military might and strategy were not the only answers, but that there was also a need to seek the aid of the Almighty, He who determined the outcome of wars. Even the politicians publicly acknowledged this. As a result, the war witnessed no less than 12 national days of prayer, all widely supported throughout the land, and this revealed that society still broadly appreciated the words of Psalm 20:7 – “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God”.
Britain today is doing the equivalent of trusting in horses and chariots in respect of dealing with Covid-19. We do not deny the seriousness of the coronavirus, nor of the need for sensible and at times difficult measures to combat it. What we must challenge, however, as Bible-believing Christians, is the general refusal throughout the nation to consider the providence of God in any appraisal of the situation.
Yes, we need some practical precautions in respect of virus containment, but not as the nation’s total and absolute trust. It is indicative of the spiritual malaise in the nation that the majority of the population appears to regard scientific research and vaccinations as the only possible means of national deliverance.
As Christians we do not deny the importance of scientific research, but what is so disturbing is the refusal to acknowledge that it is God who is calling out to the nation through this pandemic. He is seeking that a rebellious people humble themselves before Him, but who is asking the question, Why is God chastising us in this manner? What we are observing instead is a complete absence of any humility before God, and in its place we find an idolising of science and a trust in ever more severe precautions to solve all problems.
The virus is witnessing our God-ignoring nation resort to a seriously unwholesome trust in the State and its institutions. The rainbow in particular has been used as a powerful symbol to facilitate this. In Christian teaching, however, the rainbow has the specific purpose of representing God’s covenant promise to be merciful to undeserving men in the context of the post-Flood world. it is therefore deeply regrettable to see this meaning being discarded, and the rainbow being used instead to foster the idea that the State and its medical agencies are the nation’s only Saviour.
It goes without saying that we appreciate hard-working and dedicated medical professionals who minister to the sick. Nevertheless, our God-rejecting society in attempting to deal with Covid-19 is putting excessive trust in human endeavour, and is using the rainbow to venerate – to the exclusion of God – the State-sponsored agencies which administer medical care. Accordingly, a whole generation of young schoolchildren has been encouraged to draw pictures of rainbows, but not in remembrance of the works of God in judgement and then mercy (which is the Biblical origin of the rainbow), but rather to honour the works of man in dealing with human problems without any reference to God at all.
Secularism lacks the mental and philosophical faculties to deal with a pandemic. Its abandonment of the reality of the providence of God makes it react disproportionately to the need of the moment. When society loses an understanding of the sovereignty of the God over creation, it resorts to excessive fear and a misplaced trust in human ingenuity.
We have seen this with climate change alarmism, leading many, overcome with anxiety, to argue that our whole mode of economic existence must be radically changed, if ever WE are to save the planet. However, the very notion of man saving the planet or controlling the climate is in God’s sight a usurping of authority which man simply does not possess.
Similarly with the virus, it is not unreasonable to question the levels of fear and anxiety to which a society which rejects God’s providence is sadly prone. Again, we emphasise that we take this virus seriously, but care must also be taken about building up excessive fear in order to enforce a lockdown policy, the scientific basis of which is subject to much debate.
One of the major regulations being enforced in order to contain the coronavirus is that of mandatory mask-wearing. Back in April 2020 the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan van Tam, stated, “There is no evidence that general wearing of face-masks by the public who are well affects the spread of the disease in our society” (1) .
Yet in June 2020, when for seasonal reasons the virus was at a low point in terms of its virulence, mask-wearing was introduced by the Government. Had the science suddenly changed? Then in November 2020 the results of a major Danish study into the use of face-masks was published, following on from a large ‘randomised controlled trial’ of Danish mask-wearers (2). The results of the trial were that “masks do little or nothing to lower the infection rate” (3) .
These facts are mentioned, not in order to claim that there must be ‘a Christian position’ on face-masks, but simply to emphasise the more general point that the science behind the Government’s precautions and lockdown measures may not be as clear-cut as is claimed.
Christians seek to be good citizens and to obey the authorities, but such obligations do not require an abandonment of God-given discernment, nor of the need to “gird up the loins of our minds” (1 Peter 1:13) and “walk circumspectly” (Ephesians 5:15). We are most definitely not required to believe that the Government and their experts are always right. It is rather a Biblical obligation laid upon each believer to think through his actions and attitudes using the mental faculties which are a glorious aspect of having been made in the image of God.
Regarding the scientific validity of lockdowns, how open has the Government been to the scientific viewpoint as represented by the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD)? In this document three eminent public health specialists and epidemiologists from Oxford, Harvard and Stanford Universities argue against the suitability of existing lockdown measures. There are 44 co-signatories to their statement, all of whom are also medical professionals. These then are the original authors, but in addition to these, many other experts have endorsed the statement. At the time of writing 13,290 ‘medical and public health scientists’ and 40,199 ‘medical practitioners’ (4) from all around the world have given their support to the GBD.
The GBD points out the “devastating effects on short and long-term public health” which lockdowns create, leading to higher than normal mortality rates in the years to come. The negative consequences of lockdown policies include “worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating metal health … with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden” (5). The GBD advocates as an alternative to lockdowns what it calls ‘Focused Protection’ policies. Such policies will “allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk” (6).
Again, this writer is not saying that the GBD position must also be the viewpoint of all Christians, but merely that there must more be more openness in Government circles and in society generally to the whole range of scientific opinion which is available.
Furthermore, it is surely within the realms of Christian moral concern to question the principle that treatment of Covid-19 patients must needs be prioritised over, say the treatment of cancer sufferers. For example, at the time of writing it has been reported that “two-thirds of cancer operations face cancellation in London and chemotherapy is being postponed”. Professor Pat Price of the ‘Catch Up with Cancer’ organisation has stated that the situation is “the biggest cancer crisis I have seen in my 30-year career” (7).
The lockdowns are also creating economic mayhem, and Christians have a duty of care towards those who are losing their livelihoods, as well as to those who are sick or medically vulnerable. It is further relevant to point out that the Biblical principle for containing disease, as laid down in Leviticus 13, is to quarantine the sick, not the healthy and economically active. This Biblical pattern establishes the necessity of specific symptoms being present before any quarantining process begins (e.g Leviticus 13:24-25). In contrast, the modern lockdown asserts the principle of universal quarantining regardless of symptoms.
Ever since man’s first rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden all subsequent generations have lived in a fallen world which is no longer a paradise, a world always characterised by ongoing anti-God rebellion. This fallen condition includes sickness and disease, and always will do. It is impossible for modern man to create a world where there is no risk and no viruses. This is what secularism fails to understand. Yes, we do all that we can to diminish sickness and suffering, but disease is never going to be completely eradicated this side of glory.
So let us repeat our primary thesis, Covid-19 is God’s call to the nation to humble itself before Him and to come in repentance and faith to the Lord Jesus Christ. However, instead of crying out, ‘Lord, have mercy upon us’, the nation has been proclaiming instead, ‘We shall beat this virus by working together and stopping normal living, until the quickly developed vaccines rescue us all’.
There is an alternative to this utterly secular response, namely learning from the willingness of the wartime generation to swallow their pride and to confess in time of adversity their utter need of the help of the one true Trinitarian God. Let us again recall the words of the psalmist, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God”. How Britain today needs to abandon its total trust in human agencies, and to cry out to the Lord of all creation for mercy, approaching Him through faith in the only Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pastor Peter Simpson, Penn Free Methodist Church
3 Will Jones, www.conservativewoman.co.uk/mask-study-released-at-last-what-do-you-think-it-says/
7 Inderdeep Bains, The Daily Mail, Jan 12, 2021, p9