Lessons from the Pandemic: The Risks of Life June 14 2020

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

The famous philosopher Bilbo Baggins was quoted in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring“ as saying “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.”

It seems that people worldwide are much more aware of that now than they were three months ago. Let’s face it: life is full of risks, some we are aware of and some we are oblivious to.

We’re going to embark on a short series of blogs on the subject of “things we have learned from the Coronavirus Pandemic.” And it seems there are many lessons we can learn, primary among them being the balancing of the risks of life with the need to carry on with the everyday tasks of life. For each one, we’re going to look to God’s powerful principles to live by, as we delve into His Word.

My daily commute to work is 70 miles in each direction on Interstate 10. Among the three of us in our carpool, we calculated that we had accumulated enough miles on I-10 in the last 10 years to go to the moon and back three times. And we have seen many things out there on the freeway: multiple rollovers, cars on fire, recreational vehicles in flames, tractor trailer trucks flipped on their side, men and women on stretchers, and we have called 911 multiple times.  We have been spared so far, but we have never thought once about questioning whether we should go into work because of the danger. We are aware that risks are out there, but we are willing to accept that risk. Some 38,000 Americans each year leave home expecting to return, but perish in traffic accidents.

Enter the Coronavirus. I’m not going to second guess all the decisions that have been made on stay-at-home orders and the rate at which the economy should reopen, but it has put a spotlight on different perceptions of risk that our people have, as well as our leaders. There are legitimate questions that can be asked as to whether the consequences of “not going out your door” were adequately taken into account. None of this is to minimize the deaths some 120,000 who have died in the U.S. and over 400,000 estimated worldwide. Many of us know of a family member, a friend, or friend-of-a-friend who has died of COVID-19.

But for the believer in Christ, there is a bigger picture here. In the Bible, we see risks being taken all the time. Paul summarized his own experience in 2 Corinthians 11:25-26:

"Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren …."

Paul knew something about risk, and there are some things we can learn from how he and others in the Scriptures dealt with those risks. Here are some principles and biblical background.

  • We do not need to fear death or physical suffering – risk-taking is part of life. This is the great promise for believers in Jesus. As the old gospel hymn phrases it “this world is not my own, I’m just a-passing through.” After all, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20) and “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). It would be well worth your time to read Paul’s passionate speech to the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20:17-38:
    • He talks about the risks: “how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews.
    • He talks about his mission: “how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
    • He talks about the uncertainties: “And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there…”

And yet he continued on to Jerusalem knowing full well what could await him. This is because he knew that God’s will for him was not really a risk at all – even though it may have involved risk from a human perspective. What would have been an actual risk is being outside of God’s mission for him. Read 1 Peter 3:13-18 for confirmation of this principle. This is radical thinking from the world’s standpoint, but tremendous hope and comfort for the believer in Christ in the most difficult of times.

  • Realize that we do not live for ourselves. Paul concluded his speech in Acts 20 with this: “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” Again, he had in mind the ministry that God had given him.  This is emphasized further in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 – “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” Dwelling too much on our own protection may mean that we do not take risks that we should be taking for others. “Protect and Serve” is the motto of the Los Angeles Police Department adopted in 1963, and since has been used by many other law enforcement agencies. It could be a good personal motto as well.
  • While being prepared to take risks, also be wise. Paul and Silas were being successful in their ministry of the Gospel in Thessalonica (Acts 17:4),  But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people” (17:5). In response, “The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.” Also read Acts 19:28-41, which is a fascinating account of the city of Ephesus which was “filled with confusion” threatening the lives of believers there, but “when Paul wanted to go into the assembly, the disciples would not let him” (Acts 19:30). Later on, the town clerk was able to calm the crowd and Paul had a productive ministry in Macedonia and Greece. In other words, we should balance our risk-taking with prudence. There is no magical answer to this. Each person must weigh this balance, especially for the times in which we live. Some are at ease without masks, while others are not, and may wear them to protect others. Principle 2 comes into play as we each make our personal decisions.
  • Appreciate others who take risks for us, and for the Gospel. Several times, Paul commended those who had taken risks for him: Prisca and Aquila (Romans 16:3-4) and Epahroditus (Philippians 2:28-30) where Paul states: “Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.”

Back in the 14 March blog (Pandemics, Fear, and the Scriptures) we talked about how the solution to fear (whether pandemics or other life events that tempt us to fear) is to “put on love” (1 John 4:18), and we provided examples of that. We will talk about that more next time in another lesson-learned blog on “essential workers.” Exactly who are the essential workers from a biblical perspective?

But to conclude on the subject of appreciating others who take risks, we certainly have to include the medical workers, the law enforcement officers, the grocery store workers, our military, the delivery people, and all those who are exposed to the virus day in and day out. But there is one special group that does not receive much notice of their risk-taking: our dear missionaries and health care workers ministering in third-world countries right now. These are inspirational people. Like the Riebens who in their 70s have been ministering in Malawi for the last 7 years training pastors and running feeding programs for families. Our daily challenges are like nothing in comparison to theirs. Or like the Kujs with medical and gospel ministries in South Sudan. I could not help but include an excerpt from one of their recent newsletters:

Today, around lunchtime, we heard there was another shoot out. Now with children not in school many people were worried, so Albino took the car and picked up the children of several IDAT (In Deed and Truth Ministries) families and brought them to the compound. We currently do not have a Governor and this is the worse tribal fighting I have seen in 20 years. It feels very unpredictable and reckless. We stepped up security on the IDAT compound and we will see how tonight goes, we may have to close our clinic again.
On top of all of this, we are dealing with the lock down from COVID-19. Even if we  want to leave Tonj, we  can't. We are trying to prepare ourselves and the community the best we can but social distancing is very difficult. The kids and I are sewing masks as fast as we can, and  currently made around 50! The lock down means no supply chain, so getting money here (no banks) and food or other supplies has been another challenge. So thankful our one year medicine supply arrived in February. We are heading into the heavy malaria season when our patient numbers rise drastically. This is also a concern to have COVID-19 mixed with so many other illnesses. Lord have mercy and go before us and spare us.

The newsletter goes on to describe how they are praying for us here in the states. These are the real risk-takers in today’s world, amazing servants of God. They are inspirations of faith to the rest of us who may have risks, but nothing like what they are going through. And they are some of the world’s most essential workers, which we will talk about next time.

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail blog@bcfministries.org. You may also subscribe to the blog by emailing that address and put “Subscribe to blog” in the subject line. If you need general information about BCF, you can access our home page at www.bcfministries.org

Steve Smith