Is the Coronavirus Evil?

Or is this part of life in the world God made?

The [corona] of the wise is their wisdom, but folly is the garland of fools (Prov. 14:24).

As the coronavirus convulses a planet without immunity, self-quarantine has become a Lenten imposition even upon the faithless. Churches bar human touch and Communion reverts to self-serve, all in an effort to somehow contain a pandemic, a viral villain we cannot see.

Reportedly, Karl Barth wrote at the end of his life of a certain bacillus besieging his kidneys,

… this monstrosity does not belong to God’s good creation, but rather has come in as a result of the Fall. It has in common with sin and with the demons also that it cannot simply be done away with but can be only just despised, combated, and suppressed. … the main thing is the knowledge that God makes no mistakes and that proteus mirabilis has no chance against him.

The theological tendency is to view God’s creation as a good thing gone bad—all due to our avaricious overreach as humans. Any cursory survey of human history confirms this. “Wars and rumors of wars” (Matt. 24:6), along with every imaginable and unimaginable wickedness, ravage human life as God made it and causes love to “grow cold” (v. 12).

With Barth, the inclination is to ascribe bacteria and viruses and the diseases they cause to Adam’s folly. But unless God’s creation defies every characteristic of biological reality, bacteria and viruses are not bitter fruits of the fall, but among the first fruits of good creation itself. If the science is right, there would be no life as we know it without them. God makes no mistakes, and bacteria and viruses indeed are mirabilis (from the Latin meaning remarkable, or even amazing or wondrous, adjectives frequently …

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Whatever Your Secret Sins, the Psalms Will Give You the Courage to Come Clean

Hiding from God (and neighbor) is dehumanizing, but honest prayer and confession bring healing and freedom.

In February 1995, I confessed my sins publicly in front of 500 fellow students at the University of Texas at Austin. This took place at a concert of prayer sponsored by a parachurch campus ministry. Standing on the auditorium stage of a large classroom, I confessed the sins of lust, pride, impatience, anger, and others I have now forgotten. While I had previously confessed my sins to a pastor or a group of friends, I had never confessed my sins publicly. (It is rather terrifying.)

Everyone, of course, has a secret. For some it is an addictive behavior. For others it is an abusive or traumatic experience that may only intensify feelings of shame. For still others it is the fear of being rejected, the lust for power, an uncontrollable temper, emotional infidelity, a vicious prejudice, an insatiable jealousy of others, repeated acts of self-indulgence, and so on.

Whatever they may be, with our secrets we hide. We hide from others, and we hide from ourselves. Ultimately, we hide from God, and in our hiding, we choose darkness over light, we embrace death instead of life, and we elect to be lonely rather than to be relationally at home with others.

The psalms understand the human condition. In them we see a mirror of humanity at its best and at its worst. We see our very selves reflected back, “be he a faithful soul or be he a sinner,” as Athanasius once described the experience of looking at the psalms. If we wish to flourish in our God-given calling, then, our secrets must be brought into the light so we are no longer governed by their corrosive and destructive power.

And if we desire to be truly alive, we must abandon all our efforts not just to hide our secrets but also to justify them. This is what the psalms help …

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Ce Que Martin Luther Nous Enseigne à Propos du Coronavirus

Fuir une épidémie est-ce se montrer fidèle ? La réflexion du réformateur allemand sur la peste peut guider les chrétiens en Chine et partout où le virus de Wuhan s’est propagé.

[Read in English]

Depuis son épicentre à Wuhan, en Chine, l’actuelle épidémie de coronavirus alimente la peur et perturbe les voyages et les affaires dans le monde entier. Plus de 3 000 personnes sont mortes du virus rien qu’en Chine, et plus de 167 000 sont infectées dans 90 pays—chiffres qui dépassent ceux de l’épidémie de SRAS de 2003.

Les habitants de Wuhan, grande ville centrale comparable à Chicago, sont mis en quarantaine par le gouvernement et les activités publiques sont au point mort, y compris les célébrations du Nouvel An chinois (qui ont commencé le 25 janvier). Les chrétiens chinois, à Wuhan et plus généralement en Chine, ont été placés devant des décisions difficiles: fallait-il comme des millions de Chinois rentrer pour rendre visite à la famille (comme il est d’usage pendant la période des vacances lunaires), fuir le continent ou encore se rassembler pour les services réguliers du dimanche ?

Mais est-il juste pour les disciples de Jésus de fuir une épidémie alors que des gens souffrent et meurent ?

Au XVIe siècle, les chrétiens allemands ont demandé au théologien Martin Luther de répondre à cette même question.

En 1527, moins de 200 ans après que la peste noire ait tué environ la moitié de la population européenne, le fléau a réapparu à Wittenberg, la ville de Luther, et dans les villes voisines. Dans sa lettre: « Si l’on peut fuir devant la mort », le célèbre réformateur …

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A Different Kind of Calling: Spiritual Disciplines in Uncertain Times

Spiritual disciplines matter all the time, but we need to be reminded of that in tumultuous times.

Right now, it seems the world is on fire.

And, ironically, that’s why we need to get some time with Jesus.

Spiritual disciplines matter all the time, but we need to be reminded of that in tumultuous times.

Spiritual Disciplines

Over the past three decades the topic of spiritual disciplines has experienced something of a renewal. Writers like Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Don Whitney, and others have shown believers the importance of, to use Whitney’s phrase, disciplining ourselves for the pursuit of godliness. Walking with Christ in the practice of spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, worship, and service helps believers in all seasons, including times of certainty.

The coronavirus has provided plenty of uncertainty just now.

However, it is circumstances like this that remind us that we need to lean in to God in times like these.

Ironically, I wrote about spiritual disciplines as an aid to help us deal with stressful times in my book Christians in an Age of Outrage [1]. While I was talking there about how to focus on those practices that help to focus us on Christ can direct us to a godly response to outrage, I believe they are even more useful as we daily watch the news updates on COV-19.

Followers of Christ are frequently called disciples in the New Testament. The terms discipline and discipleship come from the same root, right? A person can be disciplined and not be a disciple of Jesus, but can one be a disciple of Jesus and be undisciplined?

The coronavirus offers the Christian community both an opportunity and an inventory. It provides places where we can serve the Lord and others, and it will test the depth of our discipleship. Will we surrender to fear, or will we trust the Lord and serve others?

I want …

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Should Your Church Stop Meeting to Slow COVID-19? How 3 Seattle Churches Decided.

A global health expert offers tools for your congregation to respond now.

As I write this, my heart is very heavy. I just spent the second Sunday morning of Lent in my living room with my wife, watching a livestream of the worship service from my church. The church was empty because this past Friday, the King County Public Health Department in Washington state sent a notice to faith-based organizations, recommending that they cancel all gatherings with 50 or more people. Pretty much all churches in the Seattle area have already stopped their in-person worship services along with most other church activities. Since the evangelical church that I attend has over 1,500 worshipers in four services each Sunday, we livestreamed our worship services. As this article was being prepared for publication, Gov. Jay Inslee took it further, banning gatherings larger than 250 people in three metro counties, and WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.

But my heart is not heavy because I could not gather with others to worship (as much as I appreciate corporate worship). It is heavy because I can see where the COVID-19 epidemic is going to take us, while most of those in our society and churches do not. Seventeen years ago, I was working for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Beijing when the SARS coronavirus epidemic broke out in China. I was thrust into leading much of WHO’s support to China and worked 24/7 for over three months to help contain that epidemic. I saw firsthand the effects of SARS on the people of China, the extraordinary social distancing efforts undertaken by the government, and the cost that the society paid to contain that epidemic.

After working for WHO and then the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in China, my wife and I moved to Seattle in 2015 to lead the foundation’s work …

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7 Lessons from Singapore’s Churches for When the Coronavirus Reaches Yours

Advice from Christians in the “Antioch of Asia” on how your congregation can survive—and thrive—amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Stores emptied of sanitizer, canned food, toilet paper, and water. Fights over the sale of limited supplies of face masks. Anger as congregations continue to gather for worship, prompting accusations of a lack of “social responsibility.”

The COVID-19 virus has spread from Asia to Europe and North America rapidly over the past week, bringing with it a level of panic and angst—everywhere from the supermarket to the stock market to the local church—not seen in recent times. The global tally is now more than 125,000 infected and more than 4,600 dead.

Churches in Singapore, which Billy Graham affirmed as the “Antioch of Asia,” have already weathered the anxiety now sweeping the world. On February 7, the nation-state’s government raised its national risk assessment level from Yellow to Orange, indicating “moderate disruption” to daily life—and in particular to large gatherings of people.

March 7 marked the one-month anniversary of Singapore—which has seen 166 cases but zero deaths—going Orange. This means that for the past month, local churches—which account for about 1 in 5 Singaporeans—have been forced into an extended period of self-examination, reflection, and action.

The process has not been straightforward, with a senior pastor afflicted with the coronavirus (and subsequently discharged), entire denominations suspending services, church-based preschools closing, and very public online disputes—in a nation that strictly enforces religious harmony—on how the situation is being handled by church leaders.

To help churches in the United States, Italy, Brazil, and other countries now facing decisions that churches in China, Korea, and Singapore …

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For Me, Science and Faith Are the Same Adventure

A virologist reflects on being female and Christian in the sciences.

When I was six or maybe seven years old, I used to sit alone on my parents’ bedroom floor and watch Star Trek reruns. I traveled with the crew of the Enterprise to “where no man has gone before” and felt especially fascinated by alien cultures: Romulans, Vulcans, and Klingons. The stories captivated my imagination.

My mother, too, helped fuel my curiosity by taking me to the library every week. At age 11 or 12, I joined a science fiction book club that opened my mind to more possibilities. I devoured the works of Isaac Asimov, Roger Zelazny, and Arthur C. Clarke. Maybe space travel beyond the moon would be possible in my lifetime, I hoped. Or maybe I could be a starship captain when I grew up. Eventually, I settled on becoming a scientist—arguably the next best thing.

Just after my 12th birthday, while perusing titles in a small bookshop, I happened upon a series of books by C. S. Lewis (who was unknown to me at the time) and used birthday cash to purchase The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. A subsequent snowstorm left me confined to the world of Narnia, and the stories began unlocking connections between exploration, discovery, and Christian ideas.

On a hot summer day the following year, the lifeguard at our neighborhood pool approached me as I sat on the edge and dangled my feet in the water. I was serving my time-out for breaking the rules. She bent over and asked, “Are you saved?” Although her question made little sense to me at the time, that interaction set me on a path that reached its peak when I gave my life to Jesus the following fall.

As I think back over my childhood love of learning and also my faith conversion, I see them not as separate, concurrent narratives but rather as …

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Twelve Christian Women in Science You Should Know

From studying dinosaur bones to creating digital assistants, these women see research as their calling.

Sitting in rows of desks, women from the US and Canada gathered in a basement classroom at Wheaton College last summer to consider what topics they would like the Christian Women in Science (CWiS) group to address. Some men also came, wondering how they could support women. One participant asked to discuss “what we can achieve because of who we are instead of in spite of who we are.”

The parent organization of CWiS, the American Scientific Affiliation, has slowly grown in female membership since it began nearly 80 years ago. In 2013 it launched the women’s network, which today has about 200 members and aims to build an online community while providing mentorship to younger women pursuing science careers.

Science is not awash in female Christians, but it is rich in female Christian role models. Perhaps more women than ever lead top science-and-faith organizations. First, the ASA’s own executive director is Leslie Wickman, an aerospace engineer. Jennifer Wiseman, a physicist, is the director for the Dialogue on Science Ethics and Religion at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). And Deborah Haarsma, also a physicist, has served as president of BioLogos since 2013.

Reflecting this shift, CT interviewed 12 scientists who are respected in their fields and whose work reflects not only who they are as women but who they are as Christians.

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The Old Testament Twins We’ve Forgotten

Jacob and Esau get all the attention. Yet it’s another pair of brothers who reveal the heart of the biblical story.

There are two pairs of twins in Genesis, but most of us only notice the first. Jacob and Esau get the headlines: the smooth wheeler-dealer who becomes the father of the Israelites and his hairy, oafish twin who gets tricked out of his birthright for a bowl of soup. By contrast, Perez and Zerah (Gen. 38) fly under the radar. They don’t appear in kids’ Bibles, or even sermons. Yet in many ways, they summarize the biblical story more crisply than any other siblings in Scripture.

The twins are born to Judah and Tamar, the product of an incestuous relationship between a father and his daughter-in-law, whom he thinks is a prostitute (another story omitted from kids’ Bibles). Judah will become the tribe of kings, so it matters greatly which twin gets the inheritance. During childbirth, one brother’s hand emerges first, and a scarlet thread is tied around his wrist to confirm that he is the heir. But when he withdraws his hand, his brother barges past and is born first. The line-jumper is named Perez, which means breach or breakthrough. The one with the scarlet cord is called Zerah, which means dawn or rising. In those two names is found the heart of the gospel.

The world looks for a Zerah. We want a king who rises up and shines like the dawn. We want the firstborn, with a mark of royalty on his fist. But God chooses Perez, the boy of the breach, the child of breakthrough. He wants the sort of king we never would choose: a younger, weaker boy, without the obvious signs of kingship, who only triumphs because God breaks through on his behalf.

This is the plotline of Genesis. Again and again, the “rising” that looks impressive loses out to the “breakthrough” that doesn’t. Human power …

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What Edith Blumhofer Taught Me on Writing About Strong Women

A tribute to a pathbreaking Pentecostal historian who also knew the value of a cannoli to a grad student.

When I started writing my biography of Charismatic evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman, I went to Edith Blumhofer for advice. Edith wrote a masterful biography of Pentecostal superstar Aimee Semple McPherson, and another of hymn writer Fanny Crosby, so she knew more than anyone the challenge of writing about strong women in conservative Christian contexts—women who were held to unattainable standards, lived and ministered under intense scrutiny, and sometimes stumbled into ignominy. “People always want to talk about the scandal,” Edith warned me. “You have to talk about the scandal, of course, but you can determine that it won’t be the center of the conversation.” Help the reader to understand the larger story of the person under scrutiny, Edith recommended. And always let these women be human.

Edith, who died on March 5 at the age of 69, was a renowned historian of American Christianity, who wrote groundbreaking books on the history of American Pentecostalism, the Assemblies of God, Christian hymnody, American evangelicalism, and clear-eyed biographies that were deeply sympathetic but never hagiographic. She was also a gifted and beloved teacher. In both her professional work and personal life, Edith saw the human.

I met her in in the late 1990s when I was a student at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Dr. Blumhofer, as I knew her then, was the Associate Director of the Pew-funded Public Religion Project. I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in one of the Project conferences, held at the Drake Hotel in downtown Chicago. New to Chicago and to the academic world, I was completely freaked out by the whole experience. I had a social anxiety attack of epic proportions—but Edith …

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