God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Harper Collins, 1940/1996), p. 91.
by Msgr. Fernando Gutierrez
As the number of COVID-1 cases rise globally and daily, we find ourselves on lockdown and in dire need of medical apparatus, supplies and health personnel. It seems that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. In the meantime, the US government launches The Covid-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, a collaboration among various industry, government, and academic institutions to make their supercomputing resources available to the wider research community for speedy solutions to the enlarging pandemic.
At the same time, lots of Christian search the Bible for answers. Is it a judgement call from God? Is Armageddon about to occur? Are there Biblical events that are like COVID-19? If so, what are their similarities and differences? Herein are a few Biblical passages that are relevant to these questions.
The Exodus: Egypt enslaved the Israelites for almost 400 years. God sent Moses to Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, to “let is His people go”.
As the story goes, Pharaoh was obstinate. Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding and refuses to let the people go. The Lord told Moses, “Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out to the river. Confront him on the bank of the Nile… Then say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness. But until now you have not listened. This is what the LORD says: By this you will know that I am the LORD …” (Exodus 7:13-17). After the blood plague, God sent nine more to complete a total of 10 (the Biblical symbol of fullness and divine power): “That you may know that I am the LORD” (Exodus 10:2). (2) Frogs (3) Lice or Gnats (4) Flies (5) Death of Livestock (6) Boils (7) Hail (8) Locusts (9) Darkness (10) Death of Every Firstborn. (Alyssa Roat. What Were the 10 Plagues that God Inflicted on Egypt and Is COVID-19 Similar?Christianity.com)
In the first place, the difference between the Exodus plagues is that the Lord openly declared the plagues before they occurred. In contrast, COVID-19 follows the typical route of a pandemic — unknown source and cure.
Secondly, the plagues targeted only the Egyptians. In COVID-19, all are equal: rich and poor, young and old, uneducated and wise, healthy and sick, powerful and weak.
Thirdly, how is COVID-19 like the Egyptian plagues? The Egyptians plagues were meant to punish the Egyptians for their obstinacy. We do not know if COVID-19 is God’s punishment to a sinful world. While it is true that God writes straight with crooked lines and inflict punishment on the wicked, yet he is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (Psalm 103: 8)
Ancient taboos in the Bible
Isolation and full body washing are commanded for anyone who touched an unclean individual, such as the leprous and adulterous individuals, and anything, like carcass of an animal or bed, chair on which the unclean person used or sat.
Leviticus 13:45-46; 14:8-9 command the people to follow rigidly the protocols – isolation and washing of clothes and body – when in contact with something that is unclean, such as the carcass of an animal, the body of a dead person or someone with bodily discharge, an infectious disease.
Leviticus 5:2-3: If a person touches any unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean beast or the carcass of unclean cattle or a carcass of unclean swarming things, though it is hidden from him and he is unclean, then he will be guilty. Or if he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort his uncleanness may be with which he becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him, and then he comes to know it, he will be guilty.
Leviticus 15:27: Likewise, whoever touches them shall be unclean and shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening
Leviticus 13:45-46: And the leper in whom the plague [is], his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, “Unclean, unclean”.
Numbers 5: 1-2: The Lord said to Moses, “Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has a defiling skin disease …”
Numbers 19:22: Furthermore, anything that the unclean person touches shall be unclean; and the person who touches it shall be unclean until evening.
Luke 7: 38-39: Jesus and the adulterous woman at the house of Simon, the Pharisee. Jesus would have repelled the sinful woman who poured an expensive perfume on his feet and wiped them with her hair, but he did not. According to the Pharisaic tradition, her very touch would have rendered Jesus unclean. The Pharisees, according to later Jewish writings, forbade sinful women to stand nearer to them than four cubits. (Isaiah 65:5)
Mark 5: 40-42: Jairus’ daughter. “But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand italics added) and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.”
Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Jesus heals the demon-possessed man who lives in tombs which according to ancient Jews are unclean.
Mark 7:33: Jesus touched the deaf-dumb man. “And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into the man’s ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue.” (italics added) Deafness can isolate and exclude the sufferer from communal and religious activities. This impediment can also result in loss self-respect. Jesus did not follow what was taboo in those days: not to touch the mouth of the sick.
Another global crisis
Roat narrates how different much fatal pandemic historically afflicted the world:
The Black Death (bubonic plague) of the 15th century, caused the death of about 25-50 million people, taking out more than half (and as much as three quarters) of the then population of Europe.
Spanish Flu of 1918-1919 infected about a third of the world’s population and wiped out over 50 million lives.
Cholera is still blame for about 21,000-143,000 deaths worldwide each year.
Seasonal flu regularly kills about 290,000 to 650,000 individuals per year, about 15 to 30 times as many as COVID-19
Is COVID-19 a sign of imminent judgment day?
More than four in 10 likely voters in the United States believe the coronavirus pandemic is either a wake-up call from God or a sign of “coming judgment,” according to a new poll.
This survey provides a fascinating window into how Americans see the COVID-19 pandemic and how it is dramatically increasing their interest in spiritual matters,” Joel C. Rosenberg, the founder and president of The Joshua Fund said.
14 percent of Christians said they’re “reading the Bible more than ever before.”
16 percent of Christians said they’re either listening or watching Bible teaching and Christian sermons online since they cannot go to church.
10 percent said they’re “searching online to learn more about Bible prophecy and God’s plan for the future of mankind.”
“These are no ordinary times,” Rosenberg said. “Americans in near full lockdown are anxious, and understandably so. Yet millions are turning to God, the Bible and Christian sermons for answers, some of them for the first time. That may be the most important silver lining in this crisis so far.”
The survey asked non-Christians if the global pandemic has caused them to “have more interest in God and spiritual matters.” Although 63 percent said it had not, others said it had. (44 Percent Say Coronavirus Is ‘Wake-Up Call’ from God, Sign of His Judgment. Michael Foust | ChristianHeadlines.com. April 1, 2020.)
Lessons from the present pandemic:
Things we have taken for granted all our lives – ease of movement and travel, group assembly – are withdrawn. Since we are social beings, companionship, engagement, and socialization is a facet of our daily routine.
We never knew what it would be like to have even little things taken away from us so quickly. We miss our daily and normal routine – attending parties with friends, strolling at the mall, commuting from home to work and vice versa in spite of the congested traffic, and working at the office/factory.
Apart from this loss of freedom to move about or travel, it is likewise a frightening news that many will die before their providential time, that we are confronted with our own mortality, life on earth easily flies and we are not in full control of our own lives.
It is sad and disheartening to watch TV and hear the news on COVID-19, that there are countries that the pandemic goes unabated, deaths of depressed persons and suicide of health professionals happen. According to Yahoo News, Emily Owen, a 19-year-old woman in the UK, has committed suicide after being “unable to cope with her world closing in” following the coronavirus lockdown. Daniela Trezzi, 34 committed suicide because she was left deeply upset by what she had seen on the frontlines of the battle against the virus. She was working in the intensive care unit of San Gerardo Hospital in Monza in Lombardy, Italy, the region that has been worst affected by the pandemic; John Mondello, 23, a Bronx emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic, witnessing the ruthlessness of the pandemic toll, fatally shot himself with a gun belonging to his retired NYPD cop dad; Dr. Lorna Breen, who had been medical director of the New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital killed herself after spending days on the front lines of the coronavirus battle.
Suicides per 100,000 people per year
- South Korea (28.9)
- Japan (18.5)
- Myanmar (13.1)
- Thailand (11.4)
- Cambodia (9.4)
- Laos (8.8)
- China (7.8)
- Singapore (7.4)
- Brunei (6.4)
- Vietnam (5)
- Indonesia (4.3)
- Malaysia (3)
- Philippines (2.9) (“Suicide rates Data by country”. World Health Organization. 2012.)
Religiosity and suicide
According to Brett Pelham and Zsolt Nyiri of Gallup Polls of 2015-2016 countries that are more religious tend to have lower suicide rates. For example, whereas the Philippines has one of the world’s highest religiosity scores (79), Japan has one of the world’s lowest scores of religiosity (29). Suicide rates in the Philippines are almost 12 times lower than rates in Japan. Paraguayans, who are much more religious than Uruguayans are, also have suicide rates about five times lower than in Uruguay. Armenia, Georgia, and Tajikistan have relatively high religiosity scores, especially in comparison with other former Soviet Union countries. All three countries also have low suicide rates. Tajikistan is also notable as one of the few countries in the sample with a substantial Muslim population (Kazakhstan is another). Tajikistan’s Religiosity Index score is higher than Kazakhstan’s, and suicide rates in Tajikistan are lower than Kazakhstan’s rates.
However, it is so overwhelming and consoling to read the news on how neighbors help neighbors and when poor families received Social Amelioration Program financial assistance gave it up for their poorest-among-the poor fellow barangay residents. Philippine Daily Inquirer has reported that Sadanga in Mountain Province has declined food relief from the national government so that its less fortunate neighbors could receive assistance during the Luzon lockdown. Gabino Ganggangan, the town mayor, cited indigenous social customs requiring the more affluent members of the town to share their food with the rest of the tribe, particularly neighbors in distress; two poor couples of Pulilan, Bulacan returned their SAP assistance to help poorer families of the barangay. The Philippines bayanihan spirit persists primarily due to its religiosity. How uplifting and amazing!
It is mandatory for all during this pandemic to follow the guidelines of the Interagency Task Force (ItAF) to avoid spreading further the coronavirus. However, the best contagions we can spread are the principal virtues of humility (humilitas), charity (liberalitas), kindnes (humanitas), patience (patientia), chastity (castitas), temperance (temperantia) and diligence (industria). (Colossians 3: 12)
The COVID-19 challenges, fears, anxieties, and trials are God’s megaphone to rouse us from spiritual slumber to a “new normal” faith life. This pandemic is a wake-up call to sincerely examine our conscience, wholeheartedly repent, trustfully pray, profoundly love and be truly thankful for the gift of life, of family and friends, even our enemies. “To be successful you need friends and to be very successful you need enemies.” (Sidney Sheldon, The Other Side of Midnight.)