As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads panic across the globe, Christians face a call from God.
Generations of believers before us have confronted the same questions.
How are we to live in faith as followers of Christ during these times?
According to Martin Luther, the answers aren’t simple — but they can impact the world.
Luther faced a deadly pandemic of his own in 1527. The bubonic plague was spreading across Europe and a case was found in Luther’s hometown of Wittenberg, Germany.
Many believers across Germany and Europe looked to Luther as a spiritual leader, and he was repeatedly asked, “Should a Christian flee the plague?”
After several pastors and congregants had besieged Luther with the same question, he wrote an open letter entitled, “Whether one may flee a deadly plague.” His words, although written for a 16th-century audience, are surprisingly relevant to our modern pandemic.
Here are five key takeaways from Luther’s writings on the bubonic plague.
1. God does not call every Christian to the same kind of action.
“Since it is generally true of Christians that few are strong and many are weak, one simply cannot place the same burden upon everyone,” Luther wrote in response to the pastors’ questions. “Christ does not want his weak ones to be abandoned.”
Luther realized that some believers would be weaker in body and faith than others, and that Christ understood this.
Not every Christian is called to work in medical ministry in these times. Not every Christian is called to endanger their life or wellbeing. What you do to reach out as a believer is between you and Christ.
We shouldn’t judge other Christians for their responses to COVID-19. Instead, we should strive to discern God’s call for us.
2. Christians must think first of others.
“No one should dare leave his neighbor unless there are others who will take care of the sick in their stead and nurse them,” Luther wrote. “[Every man] is obliged to assist and help [his neighbor] as he himself would like to be helped.”
Though we are certainly allowed to think of our own weaknesses and struggles, our calling as believers is to love others before ourselves.
How is God calling you to step outside your comfort zone in these unusual times? How can you put aside selfish reasoning and give yourself wholly to God’s purpose and kingdom?
3. Every trial is a challenge—and an opportunity—from God.
“We can be sure that [this pandemic] has come upon us…to test our faith and love,” Luther cautioned believers.
The spread of COVID-19 is no accident, and God is still in control of everything happening in the world. As His people, we need to view this pandemic as an opportunity to stand firm in our faith and say “yes” to His call!
The Gospel can still be shared in these uncertain times, as long as Christians accept the opportunity they’ve been given and follow Christ’s example in all things.
4. Christians must cast out fear and choose faith.
“The devil would excrete us out of this life as he tries to make us despair of God…and, under the stormy and dark sky of fear and anxiety, make us forget and lose Christ,” Luther wrote, reflecting on the reflex to fear infection and death.
The devil would have us lose the battle of faith in this trial. But Christians, who “know that it is the devil’s game to induce such fear and dread…should take such courage as to spite and annoy him.”
How can you encourage others to take courage in the face of this pandemic?
5. No Christian should run from death.
Finally, Luther noted, “Death is death, no matter how it occurs.”
This sobering statement reminds us—and the Christians in Luther’s time—that God has appointed a time for each of us to pass from this life.
Whether we are ushered into His presence through the effects of persecution, disease, or old age, we will all face Him eventually.
It’s not a sin to take appropriate precautions and strive to protect others and ourselves, according to Luther. But a Christian should always be prepared to lose his or her life in service of Christ.
As Christians, we should hope and pray that the COVID-19 pandemic won’t take many lives.
But, no matter our circumstances, we should follow Luther’s example and offer this daily prayer: “Lord, I am in thy hands; thou hast kept me here; thy will be done.”
Let’s say this prayer together each day and trust that God has a purpose for these uncertain times.