I decided that this article, less than a week from our National election, should not be about politics. But I wanted it to be timely, so I’m going to write about the only other thing in the news these days: the COVID-19 virus.
The Bible has a lot to say about sickness and disease, but it was written at a time when knowledge and attitudes about these subjects were very different from ours. We see this demonstrated in Jesus’ sending out his disciples on their first evangelistic mission:
Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. . . . They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere. (Luke 9:12, 6)
I’ve printed key words in bold typeface. First, note that the two concepts of demons and diseases are expressed as parallel ideas. As we read the four Gospels and the Book of Acts, we find that some human conditions we speak now of as identifiable diseases were then treated as demon possession. This doesn’t mean that demon possession was more common in Jesus’ day, or that people then were more superstitious; it just means that they didn’t have as many scientific categories to describe things as we do.
Second, look at these four words: power, authority, cure and heal. They all speak of the spiritual force and effectiveness Jesus was giving the disciples to show that, when they were speaking in his name, they were proclaiming the Kingdom of God (verse 2). The Kingdom of God was the realm where demons and diseases had no more control over humans, and Jesus was bringing that realm close to the people around him.
Now, this coming of the Kingdom was spiritual, experienced by faith as each person responded to the Gospel message. The Kingdom was not going to totally transform human history at this time; as Jesus would teach elsewhere, that would come by a process through the lives of the expanding body of believers, the Church. The reason Jesus empowered his disciples at this special point of time was to authenticate the launching of this new chapter of human history: “See, this is just a taste of what you and all humanity will experience in God’s fulfilled Kingdom.”
There is no evidence that a “gift of healing” continued as part of the life of the Church throughout its history. The twelve disciples ultimately died, as have all the “faith healers” throughout church history, showing that the full manifestation of God’s Kingdom is still future. Christians do not enjoy better health than Jews, Muslims, or atheists. God has given healing through the disciplined minds and skills of scientists and doctors, as they learn more and more about the nature of each disease and discover ways to overcome it, but the rule of human life is still disease, aging, decay and death.
This is where COVID comes in. We’ve become proud that we’re scientifically advanced to the point where we smile condescendingly at the simple folk around Jesus, with their superstitions about demon possession. And then a tiny virus, so primitive that it can hardly be defined as living, accidentally rearranges a few molecules in its single cell, and poof! Millions of humans are wiped out. Complex, thoughtful beings, the apex of creation, uniquely made in God’s image — brought to their knees by this tiny wayward, wispy bit of a thing. This is more ironic than the explanation of disease as demon possession.
One of our government leaders recently said to a reporter, “We can’t control this.” Yup, that’s where we have to start. Then, we need to humbly work our way out of this awful COVID pit, using all the information and research provided by our most gifted medical scientists. And, even then, we may just make it through in time to face the next pandemic, compliments of another tiny virus gone off the rails.
Meanwhile, we should remind ourselves of the Gospel announcement of Jesus, that, in him, the Kingdom of God has drawn near, where there will be no more demons, diseases or death.
– Pastor George Van Alstine