Jessica Lau—Edmonton, Canada
Throughout the Bible, the Lord often uses something physical to depict what is happening spiritually. Today, we can also draw many lessons for our faith from the physical conditions of these uncertain and troubling times.
During this pandemic, many people ignore the dangers, despite warnings from the government or health officials. They feel that the risks have been exaggerated. For example, many believed that COVID-19 is no worse than the flu. However, we now know that it is much more deadly than the flu and can cause lasting organ damage even for those who survive. Similarly, we often hear of the dangers of sin but ignore them or take them lightly because we believe it will not affect our faith. But the Bible tells us clearly that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). There is no such thing as a small, harmless sin, just as there is no such thing as being a little bit pregnant (Jas 1:15).
COVID-19 is so dangerous and spreads so quickly because many infected people do not show any signs or symptoms for several days, and some remain asymptomatic, allowing them to infect others. Similar to our spirituality today, many people may live in sin but show no apparent symptoms or sickness in their faith. Like the Pharisees, they outwardly seem strong and devout, but inwardly they are decaying (Mt 23:27–28). Their actions may then infect others into believing that sin is acceptable and that they can maintain a strong faith despite living in sin.
COVID-19 affects every individual differently. Some suffer symptoms as mild as a cold, while others suffer acute respiratory distress that could weaken them for life or lead to death. While, in general, those weaker, older, or with pre-existing conditions are more likely to be the worst affected, there are also many cases of the young and healthy requiring hospitalization or even threatened with death. In the same way, we cannot predict how sin will affect us. For one person, skipping a Sabbath may briefly weaken their faith, but leave no lasting damage. For another, the skipped Sabbath becomes the start of spiritual decline, beginning gradually but then rapidly deteriorating until their faith is critically low. Unfortunately, we cannot tell which group we fall into until it is too late, so prevention is our best bet (Prov 27:12).
With the pandemic, we are all in this together. It does not matter if you are low risk or healthy; your disregard of safety measures could put everyone else at risk. Similarly, we must consider one another in our faith. Our conscience may be clear when carrying out certain actions, but as Paul says, we must "beware lest somehow this liberty of [ours] becomes a stumbling block to those who are weak” (1 Cor 8:9). "Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being" (1 Cor 10:24).
Commission versus Quarantine
At this time of uncertainty, the safest and most responsible thing to do is to stay at home with our family. Our spiritual home and family is our church. This is our sanctuary and safety zone from sin. But this does not mean we should isolate ourselves from society and only interact with our church brethren. In this world, quarantine keeps people safe, but at the cost of productivity and the economy. Similarly, if we associate only with our church members, it reduces our ability to preach the gospel.
As interaction with non-church members is necessary and inevitable, spiritual distancing is the best method to prevent infection. It does not mean cutting off or ending relationships but ensuring that we do not get close enough for the transference of worldly attitudes and ideals. It requires more effort to maintain a relationship at a distance, but this is important for our safety. In terms of our spiritual life, we cannot avoid every sinful person, because then we would have to leave this world (1 Cor 5:10)! But we can limit our exposure and keep our distance from those with different values than us. Jesus gave us an example of how to do so. He befriended sinners but ensured He did not entrust Himself to them (Jn 2:24). He kept an emotional distance and made sure He spent time cultivating Himself in isolation.
Since the advent of COVID-19, we have become more conscientious in washing our hands when we get home, after interacting with others, and before we eat. Even if we do not see any dirt, we know that we need to take the time to sanitize thoroughly. Spiritually, it is also critical to wash and purify ourselves after being out with friends, and just interacting with the world in general. It does not matter if we think we have not sinned; we should still make a habit of taking the time to purify and cleanse our hearts and souls (Jas 4:8; 1 Jn 1:9).
While the world is currently on high alert in response to the physical pandemic, let us not neglect to also be vigilant in our spiritual lives. Let us use what we see and what we experience in this world to reflect on our spiritual health, and use this precious opportunity to draw closer to God.