On Dread & Distance: Biblical guidelines for how to respond to the Coronavirus Pandemic

Dread: Psalm 91

“Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness…”
— Psalm 91:6

The first instruction I want to consider is the one that reminds me to turn my heart to the Lord and entrust my life to Him. He gives instructions to tend to my heart (Proverbs 4:23), to let his peace rule (Colossians 3:15), and to not let myself be overcome by dread or terror.

More on that later.

Distance: Leviticus 13

“Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’  As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp.”
Leviticus 13:45-46

Social distancing, quarantine and isolation protocols were actually God’s idea! All the way back in ancient times, he gave Israel instructions to keep those who were contagious separate from the living quarters of the main community, and to have them warn others in an obvious way so they didn’t get close enough to contract skin diseases unwittingly.

It’s important to set my heart on the Lord and trust in his protection so that I don’t react in a panic; but it’s also wise to practice thoughtful caution once I recognize that an illness has a propensity to spread.

Even Jesus, when presented with the promises of protection outlined in Psalm 91, refused to use them as an excuse to be reckless and put that protection to the test.

This virus is an extremely effective traveler! Not only does it spread by air droplets, but a recent study found that live COVID-19 virus was still detected up to 72 hours after application to plastic and stainless steel surfaces.

Rather than labeling the limiting measures that are being put in place as giving in to fear, I’m recognizing that it can actually be an act of love to lay down my freedoms and my plans in order to protect the health of those who are more vulnerable than I am. We can’t control every factor, but if our actions can help to limit how many people an illness affects, we may count those hard choices a worthwhile sacrifice.

God is absolutely able to deliver us from disease, just as He protected Israel from all the plagues that assaulted Egypt; but he does not promise believers immunity or an immediate fix for the physical struggles we face. He promises to deliver us eventually into a life without sickness, without pain; and to walk with us through all we face in the meantime.

“The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
    I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer;
    I will be with them in trouble.
    I will rescue and honor them.”

Psalm 91:14-15

Why does Coronavirus Makes Some People So Sick?

The COVID-19 virus attacks lung tissue. Most people present with mild respiratory symptoms and then recover; their body deals with the virus, then rebuilds the damage. But in some people, the sick who take a turn for severely sick, it’s not directly because of damage done by the virus. It’s because of something called a cytokine storm.

As the virus damages lung tissue, the cells send out a chemical distress signal (called cytokines) that draws immune cells to the damaged site to help. In some patients, this cytokine release prompts an overreaction of the immune system. Instead of “sniper mode,” where the white blood cells target and ingest foreign bodies, or the killer T lymphocytes scan for markers they recognize as belonging to the virus and kill only those cells; the body switches to “guns blazing” mode.

The immune cells flood the area in trouble, destroying any and all tissue in their path in an over-the-top campaign to save the rest of the body. The virus is taken out in the cross-fire, but so is the viable lung tissue that was still getting oxygen to the bloodstream.

The immune system was only trying to get rid of the threat, but in the process, it compromised the body’s ability to breathe. Those are the patients that end up on a ventilator, trying to oxygenate a body whose lungs have become a warzone. In the sickest patients of all, this hyperactive response of the immune system even damages the liver and kidneys, causing multiple organ failure.

A Microscopic Analogy for Fear

While learning about this disease process and immune response, I was surprised at what a good picture it was of the destructive nature of fear.

Wisdom and caution are excellent guides to our thoughts. But when we start to use fear as the basis of our decisions, it’s like a runaway immune system whose overreaction can compromise the body’s ability to breathe.

We must weigh each choice, each issue with care and calm, and thoughtfully take such measures as we deem necessary. But when we get in a panic and start overanalyzing and overpreparing, rushing on the outside and running in circles on the inside; when we try to control what we cannot control; when we turn inward toward ourselves for solutions instead of outward to our God for help, we are the immune system who is overreacting.

We have stopped targeting and started blindly launching missiles and wildly throwing grenades. As collateral tissue is destroyed in the lungs, fluid begins to leak in, drowning the patient. As we give in to fearful thoughts, they open the gateway to more fearful thoughts, and we drown in them.

And so God lovingly instructs us not to live in dread.

So Practically,  What Do I Do?

The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said,
“Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do,
    and don’t live in dread of what frightens them.
Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life.
    He is the one you should fear.
He is the one who should make you tremble.
He will keep you safe…

Isaiah 8:11-14

When our thoughts are tempted to lean into an exaggerated response, may we learn to firmly place them on the One who is worthy of our attention and worship. It is often in walking through darkness and disaster that we get to know him most. In sickness, in peril, in struggle, in discouragement, in deep and miry pits, we find Him faithful.

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.
Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord…

Psalm 40:1-4

So, be wise. Be careful. Prepare prudently. Do all you can to protect others. And when you have done all you can do; do not fear what you cannot control. Do not allow fear to turn you inward so that you only see yourself, your inconveniences, and your losses. Look up. Look out. Press into our Savior. See those He has called you to love. Let Him lead you in how.

However this plays out, we will look back and see that He led us well. May we also look back and see that our words and actions in the midst of crisis were characterized by the One who lives and rules within:

Loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, faithful, gentle, self-controlled.


  • Aerosol and surface stability of HCoV-19 (SARS-CoV-2) compared to SARS-CoV-1, NEJM Original Article, Contributors: Neeltje van Doremalen, Trenton Bushmaker, Dylan H. Morris, Myndi G. Holbrook, Amandine Gamble, Brandi N. Williamson, Azaibi Tamin, Jennifer L. Harcourt, Natalie J. Thornburg, Susan I. Gerber, James O. Lloyd-Smith, Emmie de Wit, Vincent J. Munster   website: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.09.20033217v1.full.pdf

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