Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Avoid crowds. Cancel your plans. Self isolate.
The buzz over COVID-19 is everywhere, and even in places yet to report a single case, people are panicking. Perhaps the greatest indicator is the dearth of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and face masks in stores: folks are taking this very seriously (though none of us seem able to stop touching our faces). There are also hilarious memes popping up on Facebook about the widespread panic and hoarding, but still…many people are in full-blown alarm—enough to drastically alter their lifestyle, at least for now.
Only time will reveal how the virus plays out. But the public’s willingness to believe the warnings/predictions/worst-case-scenarios—sight unseen—brings our next faith hero to mind:
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Hebrews 11:7)
So much has been said about Noah and the Flood, it’s hard to find a fresh angle. We know he spent many years building the ark, exactly following God’s instructions. We know he preached to his unbelieving countrymen as he prepped for the deluge. We know he lived in a world of sin so rampantly out of control that God chose to wipe out everyone—except for Noah’s small family. We know that the state of the antediluvian world broke God’s heart. And we know that until the rain came and the waters rose, no one believed Noah’s message. “Fake news”, they would have called it, if the term had been current.
Not a single person sided with Noah as he built and preached, except, we assume, his own family. Some of them might have been skeptical, too.
And the same skepticism/unbelief over God’s warnings has prevailed ever since.
We’ve also been warned—by Jesus himself—that the End of the World is coming. That every eye will see Jesus when he returns, with ALL his angels accompanying him. That sinners—unprepared to face God—will cry out for mountains to cover them. That Jesus’ appearing will happen when we least expect it. That this Second Coming will be a time of rejoicing for God’s people, and a time of dread for everyone else. That there will be only two camps on Judgement Day: the lost and the saved, the goats and the sheep, the chaff and the wheat. That God will judge each person’s secrets through Jesus Christ. That there will be no second chances, no ‘thousand year reign’ where Christ dwells physically on earth again and the godless get a do-over: when Christ returns, the final judgement happens, and the world and everything in it will be laid bare and destroyed.
All these warnings come directly from the New Testament. But who’s listening?
One of Satan’s many tactics against humanity is to lie about these things—he is, after all, the father of lies. I know many Christians have been taught ‘Premillennialism’ and accept it at face value, without comparing its claims to actual Scripture. Most of it is drawn directly—and almost exclusively—from the book of Revelation, which is perhaps the hardest book in the Bible to interpret, written in apocalyptic, visionary language and rich in symbolism. Premillennialists take its symbols and metaphors very literally, including its description of the Thousand Year Reign, from which most of these teachings are drawn.
I believe can disagree on our interpretation of these matters and still be in fellowship. Some of us will be very surprised when things don’t unfold as we’ve been taught! But the danger in these teachings is the false hope it gives the disobedient. If we get a second chance at faith and repentance—made infinitely easier by Christ’s physical presence in Jerusalem—it cancels the message of the gospel: that we are saved BY FAITH in Jesus, faith in things unseen and yet-to-be-seen. Faith in God’s promises and warnings. People who say they’ll believe it when they see it WON’T actually get that second chance!
As we’ve heard before, Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. (Heb. 4:7)
The Left Behind series (books and movies) popularized the Premillennialist teachings beyond church walls. I remember meeting a stranger back in the 70s who frightened Biblically-illiterate me with terrifying concepts: 666, the Mark of the Beast, the Great Tribulation. He warned me about the dangers of future technology; specifically, the recently developed bar code system, soon to be applied to humans. Once marked, he said, I’d belong to the devil forever. But he didn’t share the gospel with me or talk about Jesus. I was advised to watch for signs of the times and be on guard, to avoid being marked. His words terrified me (temporarily), but did nothing to point me to salvation.
I’ll bet a lot of people read the Left Behind books and respond the same way. They’re looking for the obvious, sensational signs of the End Times. But it won’t be that way.
I’m amazed at the crazy things people believe. There’s the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories—where leaders and celebrities are not as they seem, but are lizard-like pawns of the Illuminati. And the multitudes who believe in zombies and a walking-dead apocalypse. There’s been a baffling resurgence of Flat Earthers. And then there are all the folks who look at the same amazing earth, the same immeasurable heavens, the same wonderfully made creatures—including humans– and attribute everything to fluke, not to a divine Creator.
God calls them fools.
Getting back to COVID-19, why are people so quick to panic when warned about a virus estimated to kill less than 7% of symptomatic carriers (at latest report), yet unwilling to consider, let alone prepare for, an actual Judgement Day—when no one will escape?
Why did no one believe in Noah’s day ?
Eight souls, saved through water, in a salvation that prefigured baptism (I Peter 3:18-21). A world of friends and neighbors, steeped in sin, wiped out in one unimaginable Act of God. These are the odds that should scare us.
I’m all for being proactive about any threat to public health, and pray for as many as possible to be spared through this pandemic. I hope the virus doesn’t plunge more people into poverty. And of course I pray that God will use these challenging times to bring about good. But unless we’re safely in Christ, there’s a greater danger than COVID-19 to prepare for. And it doesn’t involve any shopping or hoarding.