How early Christians handled their "COVID-19" | The alternate

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Today most of us are sitting in their homes and are not sure how widespread the COVID-19 virus is in our community, in our country or in the world. I often open the app, count global statistics and try to understand what life is like in places where the virus wreaks havoc.

Some have sarcastically dismissed the virus as a political slide. Now such silliness is sobered up by reality. Others try to spiritualize this pandemic as if it were God's punishment for our misguided ways.

Today's "New Normal"

We are not the first Christians to face a global pandemic. In fact, now is a good time to learn how to deal with this crisis that is closing the world. Those in the early church were exposed to two life-threatening epidemics in the first 200 years. The first was AD 165, in which up to a third of Roman citizens died, and the second was AD 251

My point in finding these early Christians is for one reason: that we choose hope over confusion, humility over arrogance, empathy over self-interest, belief over fear. If we acknowledge our frail humanity, we will greet the pervasive presence and life of the Spirit to assert God's will over our own distractions and to offer us a different way of seeing and understanding what is existential for too many Is reality.

Instead, let's see today and tomorrow through the prism of God's grace and love.

Learn from early Christians

In these catastrophes of the second and third centuries, Christians, who were then only a very small minority, had an extraordinary impact on their societies. Faced with the headwind of human devastation, they wasted neither time nor personal effort to care for those who were struck by these deadly pathogens.

The sociologist Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity (i) notes that the Christian community survived and flourished amid human misfortune. He suggests three reasons for this.

First, Christians lay down to death and comforted the dying and comforted those affected by the deadly contagion.

In this way, Christians were recognized by those who viewed them as cult or heresy. With their extraordinary kind actions, Christians were then viewed as a caring community and their faith taken more seriously.

The first of these massive epidemics were smallpox (it is believed) during the reign of Marcus Aurelius from 165 to 180. A hundred years later, another devastating epidemic (possibly measles) resulted in a massive loss of life.

The extraordinary response of Christians, however, contributed to unprecedented growth in the Church. While pagan religions and various forms of Greek philosophy were a means of soliciting and addressing different gods, “Christians offered a much more satisfactory account of why these terrible times fell on their societies. And they projected a hopeful and even enthusiastic portrait of the future. "

Second, Christians who were strengthened by their faith seemed to endure difficulties better than others.

So if:

… Disasters occurred, Christians were better able to deal with them, and this led to "much higher survival rates" (Stark). This meant that after each epidemic, Christians made up a larger percentage of the population, even without new converts.

Third, Stark argues that in such a widespread epidemic, “a large number of people, especially pagans, would have lost the ties that would have prevented them from becoming Christians.

In addition, the amazing survival rate of Christians provided evidence that this disreputable group called Christians should be looked at again. In any case, the number of conversions was significant. Even in those early days, Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (North Africa), wrote in writing about the epidemic of AD 251: "… this mortality … especially for Christians and servants of God, that we have gladly started martyrdom." seek as we learn not to fear death. "

While the world is constrained by fear, we take a different stance. We observe facts and listen to scientists, those who were given to us by God to make us wise. We then take their analysis and see it through the eyes of our eternal and caring God, always framed with hope. It is our platform from which we observe and react.

How should we react then?

How could we think otherwise, in contrast to the swirling fear that fills our media, floods our family conversations, and paralyzes us when we think about our finances? Below is a recommended way to formulate our answer. (These ideas come from an excellent article by Gary Hoag.)

Pray first and avoid people.

Listen to our medical experts and keep your distance as you pray. Prayer is not easy and not always easy, but now we have time. Prayer is God's gift to us, which enables us to talk to him, to engage in topics and people's lives by "pleading" with our father or speaking to him convincingly.

He is not nervous. He can handle our open and uncomplicated conversation.

Second, take a break and write to people.

Take out paper and pen and write down your thoughts and findings. Crafts for others to read what you learn from this experience. Write the life-giving words of Christ to inspire others of His power over all of creation. (Use email and text, of course.) Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, wrote:

“The Lord had predicted that these things would come. With the exhortation of His foreseen word, instruction and teaching as well as preparation and strengthening of the people of his church for all perseverance of the things to come. "

Third, celebrate and unite people.

Here Hoag urges us to celebrate in the middle of a disaster. While “feast” seems to be too strong a word today, the Bishop of Alexandria, Dionysius, does not exhort us to despair:

For other men, the present doesn't seem like a good time for a festival. . . . Now everything is indeed tears and everyone is grieving, and because of the multitude of dead and dying, there is a wailing in the city every day. . . . But . . . We were happy about the peace of Christ that he gave us alone.

Can we find times of praise in the midst of suffering and dying? Yes. This was what Dionysius, the leader of the church, advised 1,800 years ago. The apostle Paul also sent this prayer to the Christians in Ephesus:

I pray that he strengthens you from his glorious wealth through his spirit within you so that Christ lives in your heart by faith. And I pray that, rooted and anchored in love, you, together with all the holy people of the Lord, have the power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is, and to know that love that is Knowledge surpasses. Now to the one who is able to do immeasurably more than what we ask for or imagine, according to his power that works in us, for him glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and forever! (Eph. 3:16)

Christians are called to see life strengthened by hope. Write down what you can do for yourself and others today and tomorrow while relying on the presence and help of the Lord. Can TO HOPE Be the determining word of our disposition, attitude and determination and always call on the spirit of the living God so that we can think differently from those who have no such hope.

My friend Dr. Ling from the Republic of Mauritius reminds us to "look at this rainbow that appears over the thick clouds that obscure our lives". Grab this biblical metaphor, the rainbow of hope, and put it in the sky of your life daily so that you can imagine a new perspective today and tomorrow.

Put this verse in your memory bank: “Because God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of strength and love and of a healthy mind ”(2 Tim. 1:17).

(i) Rodney Stark, 1997, The Rise of Christianity, HarperCollins: Princeton NJ, see Chap. 4th

Brian C. Stiller is a global ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance.

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