Can anything good come out of COVID-19

I was having lunch with a friend recently, and he asked me, “Can there be any good that could come out of COVID-19?”

I have to admit; it was a good question on many levels.  My immediate thought is that it can never be a universally welcomed phenomenon.  With so many dead and others suffering from the virus, I can only think of COVID-19 as nothing less than evil. 

We had gone through SARS in 2003, then H1N1, H5N1, H7N1 and so on.  Each time, we learn that viruses are mutating and evolving.  Along the same track, the viruses and bacteria today have developed higher resistance to antibiotics, which constitute our usual defence.  Each time we come up with a new defence, viruses develop a way to get around it.  Scientists and researchers have thus far been unable to come up with a vaccine for COVID-19 because each time they think they have achieved a breakthrough; the virus evolves such that the vaccine is no longer comprehensively effective.

For all our boasts in scientific and medicinal advances, we are still able to be brought to our knees by a microorganism that cannot be beheld by the naked eye.  How can this possibly be good?  How can any good come out of it?

I have no difficulty answering the first question (anything that results in suffering is always bad), but it’s the second question that I have a little more confidence answering (only because the sovereignty of God ensures that there is always something good that can come out of the evilest things in the world).

I see it as an aspect of the fulfilment of end-time prophecies (see Luke 21:11).  This is a warning to those who are complacent, but also an encouragement to those who are faithful (and struggling to remain faithful).  It is proof that the Word of God can be trusted, and continues to point us toward a progression of human history toward a fulfilment of other prophecies mentioned in Scripture (whether or not human beings believe in God is immaterial).

Let me then circle back to the question my friend asked:  Can there be any good that could come out of this pandemic?

My answer is yes for the following reasons:

Firstly, it should force us to realise that human accomplishments and ingenuity have their limitations.  The loss of answers and ideas should point us to a trustworthy and almighty God who is the only One who can really save us.  And He has already extended the hand of salvation to us.

Secondly, the Church is forced to relook at what it really means to be Church.  Gone are the days (at least until we move beyond phase 3 of safe reopening) where we can gather physically and do the things we normally do on Sunday Services.  Church cannot be defined solely as gathering together on Sundays to worship God together.  Nor can we pretend that our faith makes us immune to viral transmissions.  If anyone thinks so, I would have that person remember that one of the cases of infection took place in Cathedral itself.

Finally, because we cannot gather physically (and even if we did resume, it has to be with numerous sensible restrictions), our notion of discipleship has to be re-examined.  During the pre-COVID age, discipleship could be defined as attending classes or forums that talk about discipleship.  They fill us with knowledge, and after that, we think we know all there is to know about discipleship.  We lulled into thinking that we are good disciples.  In this light, COVID-19 performs a function of refining us by fire.  Now, because we don’t have our usual contact time with church members, and friends, now we put to the test all that we know about discipleship.  To borrow a common saying, the “rubber has hit the road”. 

Many of us have expressed spiritual dryness during this time.  Many of us, being at home more often, have found that additional time with family and loved ones have yielded extra tension and friction as well.

All these are opportunities for us to put into action what we thought we knew about discipleship.  It is no longer about knowledge; it is about how we enact that knowledge into practical holiness.  How well we do that, or how hard we work at doing that, would go to show the world how real our faith is.  It is your opportunity to show your neighbours (at school, at work, or in your literal neighbourhood) how you find hope in Jesus in the face of anguish and despair.  That’s when the name of Jesus can be proclaimed in the world.

I urge you not to miss this opportunity.  Rather than complain about lost privileges, let us show the world how we can still be joyful without those privileges, all because of the love of Christ, which we are supposed to demonstrate anyway.

That’s how good can still come out of COVID-19.

In His Majesty’s Not-So-Secret Service,

Bertram Cheong

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