If you want to see one of the strange ways our collective anxiety can manifest itself, go to Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, or Costco and look at the toilet paper aisle. The shelves will be empty. When I first began seeing posts about this on social media, I chuckled thinking it was probably just a few random stores. Then, yesterday, I needed to run some errands, and I paid a visit to a few of these stores. All of them were the same. The toilet paper shelves were empty, and it didn’t matter where I went. It seems to be this way all over the United States. Other countries are experiencing this as well.
Coronavirus, also known a covid-19, has many people feeling vulnerable. What is interesting, however, is that according to the New York Times on Saturday, there have only been 500 reported cases in the United States. Now, I do not want to belittle that number. We do not want this to spread, but we have hardly reached hysteria-level proportions. As of my last check, the death rate for the virus is around 3.2%. To give you some context, the flu has a death rate around 0.5%, so covid-19 is a bit more serious, but it is nothing like SARS which had close to a 15% death rate. How contagious is the coronavirus? The flu has a contagious rate of about 1.2. That means that for every person who gets the flu, it will be transmitted to 1.2 people. The coronavirus is slightly higher at 2.2, and, thankfully, it is not airborne, as many people originally feared.
As you read the stats above, I assume you had a reasonable response. First, I hope we felt concern for those infected, and like any virus, I hope we all will do our part to keep our hands clean and help prevent the virus from spreading. Second, I hope we saw this for what it is. Though concern is warranted, it is not something over which we need to panic, even if it does make us feel a little unsafe. What I want to focus on for a few paragraphs, however, is not the disease itself, but our feelings of vulnerability that seem to be manifesting themselves in strange ways. As Christians, our response should be different.
When something like the possibility of the coronavirus comes into our lives, our façade of safety and security begins to fade quickly. Our anxieties rear their head and begin to show, even if we try to keep them under wraps. To be honest, I am less concerned about coronavirus than I am of the uneasiness of the culture around me. I have a feeling that when many people went to the store this weekend, they did not think to themselves, “I need to buy extra toilet paper because of the coronavirus.” What probably happened is that they went to the store and saw the supplies running low or completely out, and thought, I better get some before it is all gone. If other people are this alarmed, maybe I should be too. It appears that the fears of others are more contagious than covid-19.
Truly, it would not take much to disrupt our delicate cultural ecosystem and send us into a panic. Hoarding paper goods is a perfect reminder of this fact. If you think about it, there is no shortage of toilet paper. There is as much there as there has always been. What changed is that coronavirus reminded us that we are not bulletproof, and many people do not know how to deal with feelings like that.
The answer to these problems is not what culture often tells us it is. The answer is not to try to calm ourselves by convincing ourselves that everything will be fine. Our job is not to whip up enough courage to convince ourselves that we are a shield unto ourselves. Nor to pretend that nothing can touch us because we are the captains of our destiny. To do that would be like trying to hide behind the walls of Jericho. It is false security that will soon come crashing down.
We also do not need to run out and follow the anxieties of others in their irrational shopping. What we need to do is admit our vulnerability and turn to the One who will never be shaken. As Christians, we know the Lord, and he is our refuge in times of trouble. He is our strong tower, and the righteous can run into it and be safe. If our anxieties over coronavirus are getting the best of us, it is probably an indication that we are not as spiritually minded as we should be. We are looking at the waves instead of our Savior who is walking on them.
We are vulnerable people. This world has fallen in sin and it is not the way God originally created it. The fall is why viruses like covid-19 exist. We not only live in a fallen world, we, as individuals, are sinful as well. We not only have to deal with the sins of others, but we also must also deal with our own sin and guilt. The good news is that God is merciful and gracious.
In his mercy, the Father sent his Son, Jesus Christ, who died upon the cross as a substitute for the sins of all who will place their faith in him. On top of that, when we come to him, he begins a good work of conforming us to his image, which he says, “He is faithful and just to complete.” Of his children, he will not lose one, and he has promised to set all things right again one day. The power of death is sin, and our sins have been washed clean. He has delivered us from the fear of death, and we are no longer subject to its lifelong slavery.
It is okay to feel the danger of this world like a small ship on an angry sea. The question is, as a Christian, what will you do with the knowledge of that danger. My prayer is that it will cause you to draw up under the wing of your heavenly Father. He has promised, if you draw near to him, he will draw near to you. One day our time will come. If it is not coronavirus, it will be something else. At that time, there is only one rock to stand upon, but he is not only telling us to find our refuge there on the day that we die, he is also calling us to find our refuge there right now. In doing so, we not only find peace with God in the forgiveness of our sins, but it is there that we will also find rest for our anxious souls.
In these anxious times, may you find your comfort in the God of all comfort, and when people ask you about the hope that is within you, may you comfort them with the same comfort you have been given. As our culture is clamoring for more toilet paper, may we point them to our great Savior. As this happens, let us pray that, through the Holy Spirit’s work, our faith in Jesus will have an even greater contagious rate than covid-19.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. – Psalm 46:1-3