May 2020 Feature
What are the Lessons for Me as a Christian?
The COVID-19 pandemic is not a sign the world will end soon. It is a reminder that the world is vulnerable and we are not in control. It is not permanent, and will ultimately give way to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. And He might come at any moment. In light of this, what are the lessons for me as a Christian?
Here are the ten lessons that should inspire us to live as we should:
1. The prophetic passages about the end times are not there to pinpoint a specific time. The Lord Himself said, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt 24:36). So what is the point of the “signs”? What is the spiritual significance of COVID-19? For me, they are a constant reminder that the world is impermanent, and the end is inevitable.
2. If the world is not permanent, what is the implication for me? I find the teaching of Peter most pertinent:
“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him… Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Peter 3:11-4; 17-18).
My responsibility is to be the kind of person God expects me to be—one who lives a holy and godly life, making every effort to be spotless, blameless and at peace with Him. For me, it is a commitment “to enjoy God and to glorify Him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism). In practice, it is translated into action in the words of John Wesley: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
3. If COIVD-19, like all the other plagues in the history of humankind, is a reminder of the impermanence of the world, I would be very slow to conclude that it is a specific judgment of God executed to punish us. Theologically, we are all already under God’s judgement because of sin—that is to say, we do not live forever on earth because of sin. Hence in a general sense all death is the result of sin, as “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). In that sense, death by COVID-19 is not different from death by any other causes, natural or otherwise, it is not a specific punishment of God.
Hence, I do not believe that anyone who dies of COVID-19 is being punished by God. That goes for individuals as it does for nations. Unfortunately, there are some who believe that it is a specific judgement of God on specific nations.
4. It follows that I do not believe that Christians are exempt from dying from COVID-19 or any other diseases. Christians are not in any way more protected from contracting COVID-19 than anyone else. In fact, the whistle-blower Dr Li Wenliang of Wuhan who died of COVID-19 was, by his own testimony, a Christian. The first person to have died of COVID-19 in Sarawak was the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Kuching. In 2003, Dr Ong Hok Su was the first doctor to have died of SARS. His mother, Dr Tay Soat Hoon, who came down from Batu Pahat to take care of him, also died. Both were Christians.
5. God is sovereign and our lives are in His hands. All of us have an expiry date and how long we are given to live is within God’s sovereignty. Meanwhile, we are all stewards of the life gifted to us. That is the thrust of my book Through the Valley: The Art of Living and Leaving Well. We have the responsibility to live purposefully and meaningfully and will be held accountable for the way we live and the difference we make. William Borden (1887-1913), a graduate of Yale, was a young man dedicated to serve God without retreats, reserves or regrets, and who died at 25. But the legacy he left behind far exceeds those who lived twice or more his age.
6. As a believer in God, I am humbled by the thought of His sovereignty. His being in charge gives me assurance that in “all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). The “all things” include suffering and death. In light of the suffering and death of Christ, I am given to understand that suffering and death, in His sovereign will, can be redemptive. It is an article of faith I need constant reminding because it is easy to think that living is the highest and ultimate value. In God’s economy, the highest value is to do His bidding, and He bids His disciples “to deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 23:9). The cross is a symbol of death.
7. COVID-9 affects people around the world, cuts across all nations of all races and religions, classes and status, ages and genders. The disease affects all without discrimination. Before this plague, we are all equal. This humbles me for it makes me realise that I am not better or smarter or more righteous than anyone else. It is also humbling to realise that in spite of all our advances in science and technology, commerce and industry, all it takes is a non-living virus, invisible to the human eyes, to bring our superstructure of human civilization to its knees.
8. COVID-19 has shown to us that all of humanity is intimately interconnected; the actions of a single individual can have a profound impact on the entire world. If this is true at a global level, then it must be true at a local, community level. It brings home the truth that no one is an island. We are all interdependent. The idea that we do can live selfishly without regard for anyone else is a dangerous deception. It encourages me to continue to speak about kindness in terms of other-centredness. We are indeed our brother’s and sister’s keepers.
9. The importance of being a member of an interlocked community cannot be overstated. Paul in Romans 12:15 reminds us to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn”.
10. Finally, it reminds us that in the season of crisis, there are many opportunities to do good. While it is natural for our self-preservation instinct to kick in, we as Christians are to be reminded that if we love God, it must surely follow that we need to love our neighbours as we love ourselves (Lk 10:27). So, as we find ourselves loving ourselves to preserve ourselves and our family in these difficult times, we should remember that we are also called to love all the others around us as we love ourselves. This must translate to us not hoarding everything for ourselves, but instead making sure that those who are vulnerable and in greater need have access to the resources to help them overcome as well. In other words, we are reminded again to live as God expects us to live—godly and holy lives—loving our neighbours as we love ourselves; “doing all the good we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can and as long as ever we can”.
Dr. William Wan is the General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement and the Chairman of Prison Fellowship Singapore. He is also a winner of the Active Ager Award (Council of the Third Age) 2011. Dr Wan also sits on the advisory panel of The Bible Society of Singapore.