At the beginning of lockdown, when travel was restricted and restaurants, shops and cinemas were closed, I couldn’t help thinking about a line from the musical Kiss Me Kate, based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew: ‘Where is the life that late I led? Where is it now? Totally dead! Where is the fun I used to find? Where has it gone? Gone with the wine.’
It also reminded me of a humorous reference in The Spectator, which described Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK Government’s top scientific adviser, and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty as ‘the two gentlemen of Corona’ – referring to the Shakespeare comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
But when the Prime Minister, Health Secretary and Professor Whitty all got COVID-19, it didn’t take long to realise that those in power are as vulnerable as the rest of us and that, try as we might, none of us is truly in control. Only God is!
But where is God in all this? And what does the Bible have to say to us during this devastating period? Did God send the coronavirus, or allow it?
When the Tower of Siloam collapsed, Jesus said, ‘Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’
In other words, bad stuff happens, and no one is exempt. It’s our relationship with God that’s important – now and eternally – hence Jesus’ call to repentance. Tragedies such as Siloam are common to all.
We are, as Romans 8:20-22 indicates, the inevitable casualties of a world that’s subject to bondage and decay – doomed to frustration because of the Fall.
On the other side of the coin, Matthew 5:45 reminds us that, ‘Your Father in heaven… causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.’
In other words, we are also the recipients of God’s ‘common grace’ – whatever our relationship with Him. As Psalm 145:15-16 reminds us, ‘The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food at the proper time’ – regardless of whether we belong to God or not.
Passages in Job 1-2, 1 Chronicles 21:1, Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 13:16 and Luke 22:3-31 also remind us that there’s an enemy – the devil. Satan, Scripture tells us, hates mankind and is responsible for the sad, bad and wicked things that happen in the world, despite the constraints imposed on him by God.
But the Bible also shows that – whether we like it or not – God really does punish people for their rebellion and sin.
There’s the account of those who perished in the flood (Genesis 6-7), the condemnation passed on the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19), and the plagues sent to afflict Pharaoh and his people (Exodus 7-11).
Because of their disobedience, 14,700 Israelites died of plague in the desert (Numbers 16:49), Ananias and Sapphira perished because they lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11), and Uzzah, who was told not to touch the ark of God but nevertheless did so, was struck down as a result (2 Samuel 6:6-7).
If God is all-powerful, which He is, then He must surely have allowed the pandemic to occur, though it is the devil who delights in death and seeks only to ‘steal and kill and destroy’ (John 10:10).
Ultimately, however, because God is love (1 John 4:7-9) and His ways are perfect (Psalm 18:30), He will bring good out of even the hardest situation (Romans 8:28).
For many, this is a time of terrific stress and strain, bereavement, job loss and financial difficulty. But if we are called to ‘rejoice always’ and ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), are there things for which we can nevertheless give thanks?
What about the things we were able to do before lockdown? The church services we were able to attend because we live in a country where there is freedom to worship. The family and friends our reliable roads, cars and public transport system enabled us to visit. The technology that now allows people to work from home, see family and friends, attend church services and take part in Bible studies and house groups.
Are we sometimes guilty of taking the many good things God gives us for granted?
And what about the fact that the coronavirus outbreak has resulted in many people watching church services online who would never have entered a church building? As Psalm 107 reminds us, in times of trouble and adversity, people often turn to God.
With souls being saved because of lockdown and uncertainty, that is certainly something for which we can praise Him, even if the life we used to lead now looks decidedly different.
Written by: Gary Clayton
Gary Clayton is married to Julie, the father of Christopher (17) and Emma (14) and works for Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). To learn how MAF pilots enable the Gospel to reach people in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, visit www.maf-uk.org.