COVID-19: LIVING BY PROBABILITIES OR BY PROVIDENCE?
by Mike Emlet
The COVID-19 pandemic is making statisticians of us all. Perhaps you, like me, have investigated where you fall in the mortality-by-age charts. (If you haven’t, don’t.) I’m 58 and, at least on the graphics presented last week, if I contract the virus my probability of death is somewhere around 1.3% (likely higher since the 60-69-year-old age group sits at 4.6%). Unfortunately, that number bumps up even a bit more due to an underlying health condition I have that is associated with a worse prognosis. Still, my 86-year-old mother fares far worse on the charts. How about you?
Are you tempted, if you’re young and healthy, to breathe a sigh of relief? To think, with a sense of optimism, “Even if I get the virus, I’ll be OK”? Perhaps you find the current social distancing policies somewhat draconian and are just itching for life to get back to normal.
Are you tempted, if you’re older and less healthy, to live each day with dread, wondering which object or person may bring illness to your doorstep? Are you resigned to the belief “If I get the virus, I won’t survive”? Perhaps you find the social distancing policies reassuring, but insufficient, and you’re attempting self-quarantine, still wondering if it will be enough.
Let me say, dear brothers and sisters, we shouldn’t find either our safety—or our doom—in numbers, statistics, and risk profiles. (I’m preaching to myself here, too!) Scripture turns our gaze elsewhere:
• The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Ps 23:1)
• Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth. (Ps 124:8)
• All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Ps 139:16)
• The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. (Prov 16:33)
• Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. (Matt 10:29)
• And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom 8:28)
• And he [Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col 1:17)
He [Jesus the Son] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Heb 1:3)
Sit with these glorious realities for a minute. Read through them slowly. Let them soak into your soul. We don’t live by probabilities and chance. We live under the loving, wise, and sovereign rule of our Creator and Redeemer God. The result of that is true hope, which steers clear of both a naïve optimism or a resigned pessimism.
Many years ago, one of my seminary professors was diagnosed with cancer. He was quoted an 85% five-year survival rate with treatment, which he undertook. I remember him remarking, “Well, I don’t know about those numbers. I’d say my odds are either 100% or 0%. If the Lord wills, I will be here in five years.
If not, I will be with him in five years.” Rather than putting his hope on a relatively encouraging 85%, or focusing on that still substantial 15% risk, he entrusted himself to the One who would keep him safe, body and soul, no matter what was to come.
I will close with the Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer #27, which I’ve always found reassuring and reorienting. All the more so now:
Q. What do you understand by the providence of God? A. Providence is
the almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand,
heaven and earth and all creatures,
and so rules them that
leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty— all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.
Nothing is by chance. Everything comes to us by our Father’s loving and wise hand. Don’t live in these trying times unduly focused on impersonal probabilities, statistics, and risk assessments. They will prove to be an unstable foundation for true hope and reassurance. By all means follow the guidance of your local health authorities, but first and foremost, look to your faithful and loving God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who holds you in the palm of his hand.
Written by Mike Emlet on the blog at ccef.org, March 25,2020
Mike Emlet is the Dean of Faculty at the Christian Counseling and Education and Foundation.