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28 Mar, 2020 15:09

I'm a Christian, but I don't believe God has promised to protect me from Covid-19. Here's why

I'm a Christian, but I don't believe God has promised to protect me from Covid-19. Here's why

Health experts are unanimous: by enacting social isolation, we can stem the virus’s spread, prevent health services being overwhelmed and save lives. Religious groups can’t claim some God-given exemption from this edict.

Unfortunately, many are continuing to disregard the guidance by gathering together and putting others at risk of infection. Perhaps the most stark example of this comes from a Louisiana megachurch pastor who is openly defying state orders and swinging wide the doors of his church for thousands of worshippers to come and gather together in close quarters.

Laying waste to the advice on social distancing, Pastor Tony Spell is insistent that God will protect his flock from coronavirus. Convinced of his special spiritual status and assured of the power he commands, this pentecostal minister has even provided a private shuttle bus service to ensure that Sunday services are packed to the rafters. More than 1,000 attended at the weekend, most of whom came without any sort of protective gear.

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At the same time, Louisiana Governor John Edwards issued a grave warning: his state is currently battling the fastest Covid-19 infection rate on the planet, with cases jumping from 100 to 1,000 in just a week. "That's a ten-time increase in seven days," Edwards said. “In the last two weeks, our growth rate has been faster than any state or country in the world.”

Edwards had also issued a "stay at home" order and personally requested that church leaders temporarily shutter their operations.

None of this has impacted Pastor Spell, who believes that his ideological right to free assembly should trump any regard for public welfare.

Bizarrely, the minister insisted that instructions to stay at home during this pandemic amounted to a “persecution of the faith” and warned that the pandemic was “politically motivated” – presumably referring to the notion that doomsday media coverage is hurting Trump’s re-election chances. Only when every business in the city is closed, he said, will he even consider pulling the plug on his gatherings.

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And if anyone from his church was to get sick? The pastor has a simple backup plan: he’ll rely on God’s supernatural protection and healing power. "I'm going to address that by laying hands on them and praying for them and depending on God to heal their body," he told a local station.

As a Christian, I find Pastor Spell’s language extremely distressing. He appears to be more interested in propagating an image of personal spiritual prowess than he does actually protecting the people entrusted into his care.

Plus, the very notion of testing one’s faith – particularly amid a global pandemic – is also distinctly unbiblical.

When Jesus was tempted to test God in a similar way, he flatly refused. "If you are the Son of God," the Devil said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" Jesus replied: "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

At that moment, Christ issued a clear mandate for all believers: we should never seek to flaunt the power of God, no matter how tempting it is. Why? Because God’s power and might is not about making us look good.

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Still, another question remains: is it right for believers to rely on God to protect his church during this pandemic? This is a difficult one. Of course, on the one hand, most Christians would believe that God is ultimately sovereign over all. However, one thing is abundantly clear - he does not offer his people an escape from suffering or pain, nor does he promise to protect us from earthly illness. You can be a Christian and still be a firm believer in the power of viral infections!

So what does he promise those who trust in him? Simply put: peace in the midst of crisis. Indeed, it is the response to difficult circumstances that reveals the true nature of a believer’s spiritual life, as they trust in God’s ultimate plan for the future.

As such, I would contend that coronavirus presents the church not with a chance to put God to the test, but with a critical opportunity to make known the love and kindness of Jesus. With the world brought to its knees by a global pandemic and with panic and anxiety proliferating across the globe, there is a need for people of peace and wisdom who will commit to following the appropriate health advice for the sake of the other. This is no time for supernatural grandstanding. It is a time for realism, hope and care.

Why is Pastor Spell so misguided? Because God is not some sort of magic genie that grants immunity from all the world’s problems. And he may not prevent you from catching Covid-19.

However, as a Christian, I am inclined to believe that Jesus would be more interested in seeing us embody his call to love our neighbors than he would be concerned about the preservation of our church services. And how do we express that love right now? By heeding the expert advice, by respecting the civil authorities, and by staying home.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.