As we all know, the word “pandemic” has become synonymous with terms like “plague, scourge, and disease” and therefore conjures up a sense of dire threat. But “pandemic” is actually an adjective that qualifies something else as “widespread, prevalent, pervasive, universal, global.” “Pan” means “all,” and “Demos,” means “people.” When something is pandemic it extends to all. The virus, COVID-19, has been declared to be “pandemic,” anticipating global impact. To fight a disease that threatens the world requires treatments and responses that can heal the world.
Another way to say this is: You fight one pandemic most effectively with measures that are themselves pandemic. Theologically, the Apostle Paul put it this way: Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more (Rom. 5:20). However deeply and widely “sin” reaches, grace out-reaches it. Whatever danger and damage “sin” promises, grace counters the promise, and does so exponentially. At least that is the claim a relative handful of Jesus-followers began to make some 2000 years ago.
This claim is more than just a simplistic, pious “cheap-shot” in a time of real and pressing crisis the world over. Consider: If the worst that plagues humanity really gives way to other powers and realities that outreach, cover over and eventually neutralize its damage and impact … If the Roman Empire was, at the time, universally known and everywhere feared, and yet when exposed to the “virus from Nazareth” eventually itself became a primary center for spreading the “contagion” … If the dying and rising of a carpenter-become-the people’s-prophet-become-Emmanuel brings the world as it was to historical, cultural, spiritual “tipping points” … Yes, if the pandemic of evil, hate and death can be outsmarted and outdone by a love that sacrifices self for all … then what?
Well, only to begin: the pandemic of evil will not be the last word and will not have the last laugh. To continue, there are pandemics of good already seeded into the world that will indeed outsmart and out do the evil. In fact, those seeds are already at work!
Of course, this statement of Paul is just a narrow swath of the redemptive tapestry, but it’s a central swath that reflects how the tapestry’s wider weaving eventually comes together and offers itself to the world. It’s a swath that signals where to focus our hope and how to participate with pandemic impact in times of crisis.
There is plenty for all to do. Medical and scientific specialists—both researchers and practitioners—must offer their expertise; the public in general must embrace wise practices for their own sake, but also for all of us; and every sector of government, industry, commerce, communication must join in.
But there is also much for the followers of Jesus to do, for which they are uniquely prepared and positioned—prepared to the degree they seriously follow Jesus and positioned in that they are to be found everywhere. We tell the story of good news that spans the ruin of a once good and beautiful creation to its renovation and re-creation in Jesus. And, of course, to tell this story is to be drawn into its unfolding movements.
Earlier this week, the Governor of Indiana, Eric Holcomb, addressed residents of our state’s response to COVID-19. He commended wise and safe measures for all citizens to follow, applauded the majority who are responding well, and warned the few who were acting dangerously. Toward the end of his report, he gave an extraordinary shout-out to the leaders of faith-communities throughout the state. He noted that on Sunday tens of thousands of people in greater Indianapolis were uplifted, encouraged, and given hope as Pastors live-streamed their services and carried out their ministries through creative uses of social media. As the Governor concluded he made a surprising assertion: Along with first responders and medical researchers and practitioners, such faith-leaders were among the most important contributors to our efforts to arrest the spread of the virus and bring healing in its wake.
I would only add that it is not just the pastors; this is the calling and work of all the people of God. We demonstrate the way God works this new creation, the way revealed and walked by Jesus. We show and tell by actually following Jesus to his death, which becomes our own death to living for only ourselves and our own, and his rising, which empowers us to live in new ways, above all for the one who loves us and gave himself for us (see 2 Cor. 5:15). Thus, we follow Jesus to love, forgive, serve, help and heal others just as Jesus has done for us. Wherever we are, we tell and live this story by all the means open to us in these extraordinary times We tell and live this story in our virtual gatherings and varied conversations and discussions, through our use of the media within our reach, and whatever other opportunities we have to be good neighbors to those who are near. We tell and live this story in such simple ways with confidence that doing so will have pandemic saving and healing impact. We do so confident that we are acting on the good news that where the plague abounds, God’s grace sweeps far wider and reaches far deeper. Our words of hope, our prayers for breakthrough, and our extensions of love will bear fruit. We fight pandemic with pandemic.