The church has always had an interesting history concerning plagues and viruses.
It is not a history of self-preservation.
As I wrote in my book, The Whole Life Offering:
Hospitals owe their origin to the plethora of plagues and epidemics that struck the ancient world with alarming regularity and force. Observes author Rob Moll, “When an epidemic struck in the ancient world, pagan city officials offered gifts to the gods but nothing for their suffering citizens. Even in healthy times, those who had no one to care for them, or whose care placed too great a burden on the family, were left out to die.”
The early church responded not only out of compassion, adds Moll citing Christian medical history professor Gary Ferngren, but out of a worshipful recognition that every cast-out body bore the Imagio Dei—the image of God. The church sought to restore that image to vitality through the practice of the Works of Mercy, first in private homes and then, as the tide of desperation and disease swamped the ancient world, in “hospitals” designed for comprehensive care. If restoration proved impossible, Christians provided comfort and burial at the cost of their own health, safety, and finances.
When the plague of Cyprian struck in 250 and lasted for years, this volunteer corps became the only organization in Roman cities that cared for the dying and buried the dead. Ironically, as the church dramatically increased its care, the Roman government began persecuting the church more heavily.
Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, wrote, according to Ferngren, “that presbyters, deacons, and laymen took charge of the treatment of the sick, ignoring the danger to their own lives.”
Even in times of plague and virus, our bodies remain our main tool for ministry. Sending things like masks and donations to Coronavirus-infected areas in China is good. Regarding Chinese people, wherever we may encounter them, as bearers of the image of God rather than possible bearers of the Coronavirus, is better.
We ought never to be careless in any kind of ministry. But knowingly giving up our comfort and safety in the service of the Lord should never be regarded as synonymous with carelessness. Real ministry is by definition always lethal to our own self-preservation; we find our lives only through losing them. Whether entering quarantined areas or extending friendship and basic care to individuals outcasted by suspicion of disease, Christians have a history of paying the ultimate personal cost to serve the other in love. This is what has prompted others for two millennia to ask, “What love is this?”
In the end, no mask can mask what is in our hearts. When the Lord Jesus is in our hearts, we will always unmask ourselves in ways the world can’t fathom. I wear a mask when I travel, but I must always be careful not to pull it up over my eyes. To do so would be to court a far greater infection that ends in a far worse death.
Yes! Thank you for pointing this out.
I remember reading about the Christians who in many cases gave their lives in helping the victims of the red death and the black plague in Europe and it was inspiring. I cannot but help to think that in the judgments of the Day of the Lord how it’ll be the Lord’s people helping the sick and the dying as well. I read of the founders of the African Methodist Episcopal church who tirelessly helped the afflicted of the yellow fever that in the Middle Atlantic states.
Good thoughts Joe!