A Thousand Shall Fall
By: Dan Vis, founder of FAST missions.
This week has been a pretty rough week in terms of news headlines. There seem to be almost hourly updates about the rapid spread of a deadly new coronavirus commonly referred to as Covid-19. Infection numbers, and worse, death tolls are steadily increasing. It has caused massive financial fluctuations, and massive social upheavals. Panic is in the air. How should we as believers think about this new threat?
What We Know
First, let’s summarize what we know about this disease, and what experts are projecting for the future. I don’t profess to be a doctor, or epidemiologist, or even a medical professional, but it does seem from my perspective, there is legitimate cause for concern. Just observing how rapidly this infection has spread around the world, despite the extraordinary efforts being made to contain it, suggests something serious is at hand.
Since its sudden discovery late 2019, there are confirmed cases in well over 100 countries, and nearly all 50 states in the USA. It’s even arrived in my isolated and rural state of North Dakota! The World Health Organization recently labeled this outbreak a pandemic, a designation limited to a very small number of diseases. HIV/Aids was one, a disease that has cost the lives of between 30 and 40 million people, and is still rampant in some parts of the world. And H1N1, also known as Swine Flu, received that designation, though it turned out to be less serious than anticipated. Still, some half million people died from that outbreak.
There have been other recent close calls: SARS, Avian Flu, Ebola, Zika. These all had the potential to become a global crisis, but thankfully ended up being more or less contained, and thus never received “pandemic” status. I remember each of those outbreaks, but don’t ever remember seeing the level of panic we’re seeing today. Is it justified?
Many are making a comparison between Covid-19 and the Spanish Influenza outbreak in 1918 that infected 1/3 of the world population and killed between 50 and 100 million people. Others suggest it won’t amount to much more than the more normal seasonal flu. What does the evidence suggest?
Two factors are generally used to assess how serious an infection is likely to be: virality and lethality. Virality refers to how easily the disease spreads. And lethality refers to how fatal it is. How does Covid-19 stack up on those two fronts?
It’s still early, and accurate numbers are hard to come by, but the best statistics I can find, suggest Covid-19 is significantly more infectious than the flu. Epidemiologists calculate how contagious a pathogen is, by measuring how rapidly it spreads. Influenza normally spreads at a rate of about 30% per cycle. That is, 10 people infected with influenza will infect approximately 13 people before they recover. A 30% expansion rate. With Covid-19, those same 10 people will infect on average 22 people. An expansion rate of 120% per cycle. While these numbers may change, the virus appears to naturally be infectious enough to spread four times as fast.
Actually, the “common cold” is typically caused by other variants of coronavirus, hinting at just how contagious we can expect this one to be. We still haven’t come close to figuring out how to stop that!
What about lethality? The statistics here are even more problematic. The mortality rate commonly associated with normal seasonal flu is about 0.1%, meaning out of 1000 people, all but one will survive. With Covid-19, the best figures available, suggest an overall average mortality rate of 3.4%. That is, with the same 1000 infections, 34 times as many people could die! Yes, most young, healthy individuals will recover, probably in the range of 97-98%. And even those in their 70’s and 80’s have a solid 85% chance of recovering. But we’re looking at a particularly potent pathogen.
Put those two statistics together, and you can see why health experts are concerned. We are looking at a contagion that is more infectious than the flu, and far more deadly. It is going to be very difficult to stop, and loss of life could be significant. I’ll let you do the math of what could potentially happen, in a crowded, interconnected world of 7.5 billion people.
There are some promising signs, however. While we don’t have any natural immunity, because this virus is so new, scientists are working aggressively to create a vaccine and appear to be making progress. And while viruses are particularly difficult to treat, some antiviral medicines are showing limited success. And that information is being rapidly disseminated. In China, where the virus was first discovered, extreme measures were imposed to slow the spread of the virus, and they’ve had dramatic success at containment. There, infection rates have actually gone into decline. They appear to have turned the corner.
Whether other countries can do same, remains an open question. Some places, like Singapore and Hong Kong seem to have things under control. In other places, like Iran and Italy, infection is rampant. Here in the USA, leaders are working hard to ramp up a number of rather extraordinary measures. Whether they will be enough to keep our health care system from being overwhelmed, remains to be seen. Countries which lack the infrastructure to put strong measures in place will almost certainly face a difficult time.
Admittedly, it’s impossible to predict the future. The virus could peter out, the stock market come roaring back to life, and things could pretty much return to normal in a matter of weeks or months. Or, we could see an infection that continues to spread uncontrollably around the world, leaving thousands, or even millions dead. Only God knows…
The Promises of God
There is one thing we can be sure of, however: God is there for His people. As I reflected on these headlines, I couldn’t help but think of that beautiful passage in Psalms 91
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust. Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
The promise is “sure”. God will deliver us from the “noisome pestilence”. We do not need to be afraid of the “pestilence that walketh in darkness”. Thousands
will fall on either side, but it will not come near us. The next few verses continue:
Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
Promises like this should give comfort and hope to the believer. But they are also a bit problematic. After all, Christians do get sick. They don’t always escape infection. In my experience, there doesn’t seem to be a promise of absolute immunity. As long as we live in a world of sin, bad things will happen to good people.
Then what do these verses actually mean? Allow me to suggest a few thoughts.
1) Don’t be afraid
First, and foremost, the believer really has no reason to fear. God is our refuge and fortress. Our trust is in Him. We can rest under His protection.
Some have suggested these promises point only to the resurrection. That if disease does take our life here, we can be confident God will raise us up. And ultimately we do have that assurance. To quote Paul, “Death, where is thy sting?” But I think there is more going on in these verses.
2) God protects
For one thing, it seems clear these verses describe God actively protecting His people. They seem to show Him willing and able to intervene and keep infection from us. It will not come near us. We will not fall like others. We really can be secure under his wings.
Which implies if God does allow us to become sick, there must be some reason for it. Or to put it differently, nothing can touch us except by God’s permission. Otherwise, we really are perfectly safe, in the hands of God. And we can trust Him, that anything He does allow through, is ultimately for our good. Except by His permission, we literally are indestructible.
3) There are conditions
Perhaps most significant, this passage gives clear conditions for His protection. These promises are for those who dwell in the “secret place” of the Most High. Who abide under His shadow. Clearly this is talking about an experience of intimate communion, a relationship of real communication, and interaction. Those who are spending time in earnest fellowship with God, in His presence, seeking direction and counsel, are the ones who will be protected.
Verse four says it His truth that will be our shield and buckler. That is, God will give us the information and instructions we need to make good decisions, and those decisions will help protect us.
If we are not getting direct communication from God, or worse, not following His instructions, we are tossing away the shield and buckler God gives to keep us safe. But if we pray, and seek His guidance at every point, about what steps to take or not take, and follow His leading carefully, we are complying with His conditions and can claim His protection.
The Dangers of Presumption
It is interesting, that the very next verses in this passage were actually quoted by the enemy when tempting Jesus. You remember the situation: Jesus was taken up to the top of the temple and urged to throw Himself off because of this promise:
For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Satan left off part of the verse, of course–that part about God keeping us “in all thy ways”. But Jesus understood this promise was for those who committed their “ways” to God, and followed His instructions explicitly. God’s protection was not promised to those who stepped out of God’s will, by doing something as crazy as jumping off a building!
To claim a promise without fulfilling the condition is called presumption. Jesus immediately recognized the trap, and rebuked the devil.
All the promises in this chapter are similar. If we stay connected to God, abide with Him, listen for His still, small voice, in our secret times with God, we will have His presence. His protection. There is nothing to fear. God is in control. Nothing can touch us except at His will and for our ultimate good.
But to neglect that fellowship, to not seek His counsel, or worse, to not follow it, puts us in a more dangerous situation. We risk falling into the exact same trap of the enemy: claiming God’s promise of protection when we haven’t fulled the conditions. When we haven’t done our part. To ignore His instruction, and then still expect His blessing, is presumption.
This principle reminds me of another related verse:
And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.
Notice the clear cause-effect relationship. If we hearken diligently, do what God tells us, value His commandments, keep His statutes, then we will be protected from the many diseases of the Egyptians. God will be our healer.
Notice further, that this is a particularly all or nothing kind of verse. Our part is to keep “all” His statutes. His part is to put “none” of those diseases upon us. It doesn’t say keeping most of his statutes will leave us susceptible to just a few diseases. No, it’s keep them all, and your protection will be complete.
The Health Message
Which leads to my final point: Our health message is now more important than ever! The whole health message.
To really dwell in the secret place, to enjoy the secret counsel of the Lord, is to abide under His protection. To hearken diligently to His voice and keep all His statutes is to be protected from the diseases of this dark world.
For many years, I’ve recommended people follow a popular acronym for maximizing our health, based on solid biblical principles: NEWSTART.
Nutrition: A good plant based diet that’s low in sugar and refined foods. As close to the Genesis model as possible: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, berries, etc. What we eat has a huge impact on the immune system.
Exercise: A good cardio workout 2-3 times a week can get the blood circulating all through the body, strengthen our heart and lungs, and all this stimulate the immune system.
Water: Drinking lots of plain old pure, water is another great way to flush toxins and impurities out of our body and bolster our immune system’s ability to fight invaders. Get rid of your teas, coffee, and soda.
Sunlight: Not only is sunlight a powerful anti-viral, but it creates Vitamin D in our bodies which is an integral part of our immune system.
Temperance: Abstaining from anything harmful to our body, that breaks down its natural defenses. And even good things need to be used in moderation.
Air: Take a brisk walk outside during the day and keeping a window cracked where you sleep are more great investments in your health.
Rest: Want another way to keep your immune system robust? Make sure you are getting 8-9 hours of good quality sleep each night. Rest is vital!
Trust: Don’t let stress overwhelm you. It’s a killer and can greatly compromise your ability to fight infection. The antidote: put your trust in God!
In other words, following God’s counsels for healthy living will strengthen us to face any health crisis. His truth indeed becomes a shield and buckler for us. But living stress-filled lives, without enough sleep, little sunshine, fresh air, or exercise, and eating junk food and soda pop, even it if is vegetarian, well, that’s a recipe for disaster.
There’s much more, of course. The Bible is full of instructions about proper sanitation, hygiene, cleanliness. And one of the key ways to prevent the spread of infection is frequent hand-washing. The Bible gave instructions for strict quarantine laws. And we too should be careful about exposing ourselves unnecessarily. Even our clothing can play a part–making sure our extremities are properly covered and not wearing things that are tight or restrict the circulation. And the list goes on. If we will take the time to study God’s principles of health, we’ll find a wealth of simple things we can do to protect ourselves.
I worked for a number of years at a lifestyle center that emphasized biblical approaches to health, where we advocated all sorts of simple, but powerful remedies. And in particular, we taught various ways to use hot and cold applications of water to boost the immune system and fight disease. It’s called hydrotherapy.
While there I heard the story of Paul Stuyvesant, who set up a tent during the Spanish Flu outbreak for infected students at a small college in Tennessee. His primary treatment: fomentations (hot and cold water treatments). Not one patient died. Later he was invited to help at another college in Alabama, during an outbreak there. Again not one student died.
After googling it, I found other stories. A naturopathic doctor in Connecticut who treated 58 patients for the Spanish Flu using hydrotherapy, dietary recommendations, and herbal remedies. He had a 100% survival rate.
And then another naturopathic doctor in Edinburgh, who treated 87 patients using hydrotherapy, diet, and rest. All but one fully recovered, and that person died simply because they objected to the treatment, and refused to cooperate!
There are more stories, I’m sure. And while anecdotal, they suggest a simple point. God’s ways of healing really work. If we listen diligently to the voice of God, He will protect us from the diseases of the Egyptians. If we dwell in the secret place of the Most High, we’ll be safe from the noisome pestilence.
To wrap this up, allow me to summarize my main points.
First, Covid-19 is a potentially serious threat, and we have good reason to be concerned. Things may stabilize quickly, or they may spiral out of control. It’s difficult to know, but the risk is real.
Even so, we have nothing to fear. If we dwell in the secret place of Most High, we can count on His protection. His promise is trustworthy and sure. Nothing can touch us but by His permission, and for our ultimate good.
But we do need to comply with God’s conditions. To listen carefully to His secret counsel, and obey fully all His teachings. Particularly, His teachings about health. His truth can be a shield and buckler, but only if we practice it.
Ultimately each person should follow Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians:
II Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?
Examine yourself. Test yourself. See if you are truly in the faith, following God’s instructions, living out the principles of Christ in your day to day habits of life. Are you heeding and following His counsel? If we are, we can trust ourselves fully into the hands of a loving and omnipotent God. If not, it may be time to make changes.
May none of us fail what appears to be an imminent test…