As news of the Coronavirus continues to develop at such a rapid pace, everything seems to be changing. Things that seemed so sure, so permanent just last week, we are now not so sure of. Last week I was set to graduate in May, to walk the stage and receive my Master’s in divinity. But now, not only am I not sure if that event will take place, but the ceremony itself seems so unimportant. Wednesday, March 18th, marked the most significant loss of life in Italy since the outbreak of the Coronavirus with a death toll at 427. Many I’m sure were caught unaware, resting assured that their days would proceed much like they had in the past. I am reminded of James 4:13-16, there James tells the church not to boast about tomorrow.
James 4:13–16 —
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
By what is your life, James does not mean that your life is not valuable, or that in some way, God does not care for individual lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. What James warns of is thinking about our future without reference to God. James warns of trying to be autonomous, self-sufficient, forgetting that our time is in the hand of the Lord, forgetting that our days here are numbered.
The Coronavirus is waking us all up to this very fact. Now in bold, neon flashing lights we are seeing how foolish it is to think things will go on like they have forever. We as Christians know better than to put our trust in kings, or in the strength of horses (Ps. 33:16-17), we read such things and then look down on the people of Israel for trusting in them. But we do the same thing when we think the government should solve this problem, or we put all our stock in the medical field. These things are good, just as horses and kings are, but the reason scripture teaches us not to put our trust in them is because they are not God, and they will fail.
The government can no more prevent the spread of Coronavirus then they could control the wind and the waves. But we serve a God who can do both. We serve a God who brings life from the dead. Not only did he bring his Son back from the dead, but he promised that the resurrection of Christ was the first fruits. Then when Christ comes again, we too who have died will be made alive together with Christ. This is why in the face of the Coronavirus, we can stand without fear in hope because there is a resurrection.
James doesn’t tell the Church not to conduct business, or not to say we’re going to such and such town to do business, what he says is that in our planning for the future we are to commit our ways to the Lord, saying “if the Lord wills.” In that confession we recognize that God is God and we are not, affirming our trust that “all things come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand” (Heidelberg, #27). In the coming weeks, things will no doubt go on from bad to worse—but amid the impermanent things of life stand firm on your confession that Jesus is Lord, and draw your hope from his resurrection.