Tag Archives: corona virus

COVID-19: Fulfillment of “Men’s hearts failing them for fear” (Luke 21:26, KJV)?

One thing does seem sure at this point. Two, and perhaps three, of our major “authorities” have lost credibility in this fight. One is the news media. By vigorously promoting the lockdowns and then doing an about face and supporting public gatherings to protest, the news media shifted in many eyes from a fact-based entity to an advocacy role. While advocacy is an important function in a free society, we do not generally look to the news media for advocacy, we look for sound information and objective reporting of what is going on in the world. Advocacy can skew how one views events and also how one weights which events are worthy of the news cycle. The news media’s credibility as an “honest broker” has taken a severe hit. I am not blaming journalists as a class. It is the “advocates” on all sides that make money online, not objective fact-checkers. So you can blame the internet, at least in part. But journalists could all be more careful to put their opinions in abeyance while weighing the evidence. Even Bible scholars struggle more with that than they used to.

A second major authority to lose credibility in the public eye is the scientific community. The one thing everyone seems to agree on today is that it doesn’t hurt to wash your hands, wear a mask, and watch your distance from others. But we were told at the beginning that wearing a mask made no difference, so save them for health-care workers (but why do that if it makes no difference?). Now they make a difference. It seems this virus caught even the scientific community off guard and media reporting has made the “science” seem a bit chaotic and contradictory. While great hope is placed in a vaccine, there is doubt whether such a vaccine would be more than 50% effective. And increasing numbers of people are not trusting in the whole concept of vaccination. So science has lost some of its credibility in the eyes of the public, except where current scientific opinion supports a prevailing narrative. Again, I am not blaming scientists as such, we demanded answers from the start and they were feeling their way along, doing the best they could to answer us.

The third “authority” to take a credibility hit during this crisis is government. And I say this as apolitically as I can. The federal government’s handling of this has seemed all over the map. Part of this due to relentless, knee-jerk reactions from the news media and the party out of power. At the other end of the political spectrum, there is a recall drive (the provincial level equivalent of impeachment) in California against the left-wing administration there. So no government seems to have come off well in this matter, except perhaps a few countries where the people are willing to submit to draconian measures to defeat the virus. But there is a heavy price to pay in accepting coercive government in exchange for temporary safety and peace. While the virus is a very serious matter, in the long run I suspect the loss of credibility in entities we once trusted may prove more dangerous than the virus itself.

While COVID-19 may be a far cry from the Black Plague as a threat to human life, it is very serious for those deeply affected by it. At the same time there seems to be a growing sense of psychological dis-ease (sic) from the lockdowns, the racial unrest, and the breathless electioneering. I note then that Luke 21:25-26 offers distress, perplexity, fear and foreboding as accompanying the end-time. While these are not a measurable sign of the End in themselves, we are getting a taste of what those days might be like psychologically and emotionally. The internet and social media lend themselves to hype and over-statement. So we are constantly bombarded with messages designed to get attention by arousing the emotional brain rather than the rational brain. What some have called “professional outrage peddlers” draw out worst-case scenarios which seem inevitable yet rarely turn out as bad as predicted. When simple things like kneeling during the national anthem or refusing to wear a mask take on apocalyptic proportions, it is no wonder so many feel exhausted and depressed. Even though our eyes in most instances tell us differently at the local level, the international hype-train overtakes our rational brain and we feel overwhelmed. The “fight or flight” mechanism takes over, with serious consequences for our physical, mental and emotional health.

Here are five things I have learned that help keep me and my family sane.

1) Be open to evidence on both (all) sides of an issue. Outrage peddlers make a living on manipulating some evidence and ignoring other evidence so that their “truth” seems irrefutable. Don’t examine viewpoints solely through the eyes of opponents. Listen to both sides of the argument. The truth is likely to be somewhere between the extremes.

2) Limit your diet of news and social media to manageable doses. Suspend judgment on any particular claim until you have had a chance to examine a larger body of evidence. Take a deep breath and change the subject when you feel overwhelmed.

3) Much of the stress and anxiety we feel we do to ourselves. As we focus on the negatives and buy-in to the outrage, we are strengthening the amygdala (at the center of the brain), the emotional brain. As it gains strength, the emotional brain drowns out the logical brain (the frontal lobes). Instead of seeing the beauty in the present, we brood on the past or worry about the future. As noted above, this fight or flight mindset has serious consequences.

4) Protect the children as far as possible from the overwhelming media messages. Even innocent cartoons contain dramatic elements of peril and fear that stimulate and strengthen the amygdala. When they become teen-agers, the emotions rage and the ability to control is weakened. A “sheltered life” in the early years (harder and harder to do) protects and strengthens the logical brain for the heavy lifting needed in adulthood.

5) Repeat the words of Jesus over and over in your mind: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27, ESV. The disciples of Jesus were about to face the most distressing reality possible. The Son of God was soon to leave their physical presence for good. But He wasn’t taking his “peace” with Him. He was giving them the tools to cope with His physical absence. “Perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18. The antidote to the hype train is to spend more time with Jesus and the gospel. It is my prayer that my blogs and web sites will help point you in that direction every day.

COVID-19: How My Mind Has Changed or Stayed the Same II

In my earlier blogs on the COVID-19 virus I expressed concern that the virus could mutate into something much worse. I stated at the time that it wasn’t likely, so I hedged my bets. And, in fact, so far there is no evidence of such a mutation. Instead, there seems to be a gradual weakening of the virus, as noted above. My greater concern in March, however, was the economic fallout of the lockdowns. I feared that the widespread shutdown of business activity could result in another Great Depression. I was right about the economic fallout of the lockdowns, but the economic depression I feared has not arrived. Instead of 25% unemployment, the US topped out at less than 15% and is now closer to 10%, a depression to those who lost their job, but not an imminent end to the whole economic order. So the economy has fared better than I expected.

I was also concerned in March that a combination of the virus, the lockdowns and the economic disruption could lead to looting and rioting. A major reason for this concern was the breakdown of the social order in a post-Christian culture. I didn’t think American society had the resilience it used to have when Protestant faith was a common cultural heritage. This projection has turned out to be quite prescient, in fact, it has been much more widespread than even I could have expected. But I certainly missed that the rioting and looting would be over issues of race. Certainly, no one could have predicted the specific George Floyd incident or how it would impact the whole country. But the three things (fear of COVID, economic disruption and racial tensions) have combined with a fractious election season to keep everyone just a little on edge.

I made a number of other projections back in March. I suggested that the COVID crisis might be the end of higher education as we knew it. Until now, it has been a general perception that face to face education with expert teachers is the gold standard. But the coronavirus forced even the Harvards and Yales of this world to move to online education, blurring the difference between top-quality education and for-profit schooling. Why would students pay top dollar to study at home when they could cover many of the same subjects for much less online? The jury is still out on this one, but so far most students have stuck with the tradition powerhouse schools even though the teaching is in “Zoom” format. Why settle for second best when you can “dance with the stars”?

I made two other projections in March. First, I suggested that there would be a long-term decline in tourism and international travel. So far this has been on target. I recently visited the grandkids in Hawaii and my guess is that domestic air travel is operating at about 20% right now. International travel is even less and most travel seems to be for business or family events. Tourism for tourism’s sake (as in cruise ships and adventure travel) has not come back. It will probably be a long time before tourism reaches levels we took for granted before. Second, I predicted a major decline in the restaurant industry and in-person retail. Both of these have occurred. Some restaurants and retail chains are not coming back. But the discovery that you don’t generally pass the virus with food has enabled many “take-out” establishments to survive and some even to thrive. And many of us miss strolling through the aisles of our favorite mall or department store. So all may not be lost in this area.

All in all I think I got more right than wrong. But then a stopped clock gets it right at least twice a day also, perhaps I was just lucky. Having said that, “Day ain’t over yet!” We’ll see where this adventure leads us. In the final blog of this trilogy I will talk about the heavy impact this crisis has had on us and offer a bit of biblical advice.

Corona Virus Update

The following is an update and expansion of the original blog including some elements of the original and additional biblical evidence.

Since the outbreak of the corona virus pandemic, many people are asking faith-based questions. Is this a judgment of God on the human race? Is this a sign of the End? Does Bible prophecy speak about it? Even if people don’t believe in God or the Bible, they are wondering what their Christian neighbors are thinking about the subject. So I will address what the Bible has to say about contagious diseases and the role they may play as signs of the End in Bible prophecy. Is the current pandemic the Big Event that many have feared?

For starters, let’s all take a deep breath and get some perspective. COVID-19 has sadly led to thousands of pre-mature deaths, but it still pales in significance to the Spanish Flu of a hundred years ago. That resulted in 50-100 million deaths all around the world, at a time when world population was less than two billion (it is close to eight billion today). And further back in history is the Black Plague, which is estimated to have killed 75 to 200 million people (1347-1351 AD) at a time when world population was less than 500 million. That is a ratio of one out of every three people in the world, more or less. So while the current situation is very serious, in human terms, it is not yet at the level of what one might call “apocalyptic proportions.”

So what does the Bible have to say about contagious diseases or pandemics? In the older portion of the Bible, the primary language is ancient Hebrew. The Hebrew word for contagious disease or pandemic is dever. It occurs around fifty times in the “Old Testament”. The root word in the Hebrew has the meaning of “destroying,” with an extended meaning of “pestilence” or “plague.” Ironically, this word is not only associated with contagious disease, it is often associated with animals; it is the “cattle disease” (Exod 9:3). God was planning to use the threat of pestilence to scare off the Canaanites (locale inhabitants of the land of Canaan), so Israel wouldn’t have to fight to enter the “promised land” (Num 14:12). We know, from current experience, how easily a pandemic can induce panic and irrational behavior.

The most common occurrence of “pestilence” in the Hebrew portion of the Bible was as a consequence of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. When Israel was unfaithful to God, they lost His protection, with the result that enemies would invade their land and cause destruction. In that context we repeatedly find the famous trio: war, famine and pestilence (Lev 26:25; Jer 24:10; Ezek 14:12-21). The three together portray the siege of an ancient city. War drives a people inside the walls of the city, famine follows as the siege continues, and the end-result is contagious disease followed by exile (Lev 26:21-26; Jer 21:6-9; Ezek 7:15). The important point for the questions at the beginning, it that contagious disease (Hebrew: dever) is not in these contexts portrayed as an active punishment from God, but rather as the consequence of disobedience, which results in a loss of God’s protection (Jer 27:13; 32:14; 34:17; 38:2). Pandemics don’t come because God is angry with people, they are the natural consequences of human foolishness and rebellion.

The more recent portion of the Bible (the New Testament—written in the common Greek of the Roman world) has less to say about contagious disease. Luke 21:11 associates pestilence (Greek: loimos, loimoi) with earthquakes, famines and heavenly signs that would occur at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The word is not found in the part of Luke 21 that addresses the end of the world (Luke 21:25-28). A parallel text to Luke 21:11 is Matthew 24:7. There you will find “pestilence” in some Bible versions but not others. The reason is that the Greek manuscripts the translations are based on sometimes include “pestilence” and sometimes don’t. It is likely that “pestilence” is not original with Matthew. But even if it were, Matthew 24:8 does not place this at the End of the world, but as “the beginning of birth pains.” Pestilence was seen by Jesus as something general to the human experience, not something especially associated with the End. The word is also used metaphorically in Acts 24:5, as in, “This Paul is such a pest.” That derogatory reference is, of course, no clue as to the meaning of COVID-19 today.

There is another Greek word that is often translated as “pestilence.” It is thanatos—a common Greek word for “death.” For whatever reason, it as the usual word chosen in the ancient Greek Old Testament (LLXX) to translate the Hebrew word for contagious disease, dever. So the Greek word for death at the time when the New Testament was written, can carry connotations of “pestilence,” or pandemic. It is used in this way three times in the book of Revelation. In Revelation 2:23, it is used in the context of a specific event that is in the past today. The second reference is found in Revelation 6:8. The rider on the pale horse is given authority over a fourth of the earth, to smite with sword, famine, and pestilence. Like Matthew 24 and Luke 21, pestilence is predicted to be a general characteristic of human history, which has certainly been the case.

The third reference to thanatos (death/pestilence) is clearly in an end-time context, however. Pestilence is one of the consequences of “Babylon’s” fall just before the second coming of Jesus. This text does not tell us that COVID-19 is a sign of the End, there is not enough information to be that specific. But it does indicate, more than other biblical texts, that pandemic is likely to be a feature of the end-times. There is one other end-time text that could be relevant to our questions, and that is Revelation 16:2, which speaks of sores afflicting those who have the “mark of the beast.” While these sores are serious, the biblical words for contagious disease or pandemic are not used there.

The short conclusion of this biblical study is two-fold. 1) Pandemic as such is not a “sign of the end.” Since far worse pandemics have occurred in history, it COVID-19 should not be used as an indicator of where we are in history. If the end-times are at hand, other indicators will prove to be more significant that this one. To put it plainly, Bible prophecy does not indicate that pandemic is a key element of the “signs of the End,” neither does it rule it out as one of the troubles of the End. 2) Pandemic is not a direct, active punishment of God, it is a consequence of the human condition that the Bible calls sin and rebellion against God. According to the Bible, God (through Jesus Christ) is the author and sustainer of life (John 1:3-5). But there are forces in the universe that oppose God and create pain and destruction (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). To the degree that the word “judgment” is appropriate in a pandemic, it is God allowing the human condition to take its course and reap its consequences.

Is there anything else in the Bible that may be helpful in the current crisis? In the Old Testament contexts, contagious disease was a condition that could and should be alleviated by human action (Jer 27:13; 38:2). The most practical remedy offered for contagious disease in the Bible is, in fact, social isolation (Num 5:1-4; see also Num 12:10-15 and Lev 13:45-46), the very thing many of us are now experiencing. It is important for a community to place a separation between those who have the disease and those who do not, as far as this is possible. Co-operating with authorities in these matters should not create an issue of conscience for believers, in fact, conscience should encourage co-operation in a crisis like this (Rom 13:1-5).

Having said all this, prophecy clearly indicates that panic is one characteristic of the final events (Luke 21:25-26). Could COVID-19 lead to eschatological levels of panic? I am not a prophet, an economist, or a scientist, so take the following with a grain of salt. COVID-19, as we experience it, could get a whole lot worse, killing (in the worst case scenario publically stated) as many as two million Americans and tens of millions worldwide. That would put it in Spanish flu territory, but not Black Plague numbers. The greatest concern would not be the current virus, but a mutation of the virus into something even more dangerous. This possibility is something to watch closely, but it does not seem likely to me (I am open to correction on this from scientific sources, not internet speculation). Viruses tend to decrease in potency over time rather than increase. And due to lack of widespread testing, the death rate is probably much lower than 3% right now, as many people who have COVID-19 don’t even know it. In Germany, a nation where testing has been much more widespread than most places, the death rate is currently about eight-tenths of one percent, around a quarter of the world rate. In the USA it is currently less than 2%.

My greater concern for the future is the economic fallout of social isolation over many months (if that proves necessary). Worst-case estimates are that unemployment could reach 20% or more in the USA if the lockdowns last 6-12 months. This could trigger another Great Depression. Given the panic buying already occurring, the social order in a Facebook, post-Christian world could easily break down, leading to rioting, looting and other consequences. Among the likely consequences would be the end of face to face higher education as we know it, a long-term decline in tourism and international travel, a major decline of the restaurant industry and in–person retail, and in today’s climate, a serious increase in perceived anti-Christian persecution.

A couple of years from now, it is very possible that the current, global response to COVID-19 will be perceived as an over-reaction. But since we will never know for sure if that is really true, I am glad we are doing what we are doing, just in case. As to when the final events of earth’s history will happen, the words of Jesus remain relevant, “stay awake, because you don’t know. . . .” Matt 24:42.

Corona Virus and Prophecy

I have been hesitant to speak out on the new corona virus (COVID-19) and its potential implications for prophecy and vice versa. There is so much that we don’t know yet. But with a total lockdown in the state of California and many other places (leaving the house only for exercise and food gathering), people are anxious and want to know if I have any advice.

First of all, take a deep breath and get some perspective. COVID-19 has sadly led to thousands of premature deaths, but it still pales in significance to the Spanish Flu of a hundred years ago. That resulted in 50-100 million deaths all around the world, at a time when world population was less than two billion (it is close to eight billion today). And beyond that is the Black Plague, which is estimated to have killed 75 to 200 million people (1347-1351 AD) at a time when world population was less than 500 million. That is a ratio of one in three, more or less. So while the current situation is very serious, in human terms, it is not yet at the level of what one might call “apocalyptic proportions.”

The Hebrew word for contagious disease or pandemic is dever. It occurs around fifty times in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). The root word has the meaning of “destroying” and it came to have the meaning of “pestilence” or “plague,” hence the association with contagious disease, and often associated with animals; “cattle disease” (Exod 9:3). It was how God planned to scare off the Canaanites so Israel wouldn’t have to fight to enter the promised land (Num 14:12). It is was also a consequence of disrespecting the covenant, often associated with war and famine in the famous trio: war, famine and pestilence (Lev 26:25; Jer 24:10; Ezek 14:12-21). The three together portray the siege of a city. War drives a people inside the walls, famine follows and the end-result is contagious disease followed by exile (Lev 26:21-26; Jer 21:6-9; Ezek 7:15). This dever is not portrayed as an active punishment from God, but rather as the consequence of disobedience, which results in a loss of God’s protection (Jer 27:13; 32:24; 34:17; 38:2).

The Greek Bible (New Testament) has less to say about contagious disease. Luke 21:11 associates pestilence (Greek: loimos, loimoi) with earthquakes, famines and heavenly signs that would occur at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Late Greek manuscripts include pestilence in Matthew 24:7, probably because of familiarity with the Lucan wording. In other words, loimos/loimoi is one of the consequences of the siege of Jerusalem by Titus. The word is also used metaphorically in Acts 24:5, as in, “This Paul is such a pest.” The only other text in the New Testament that contains a word often translated “pestilence” is Revelation 6:8. The rider on the pale horse is given authority over a fourth of the earth, to smite with sword, famine, and pestilence (Greek: thanatos—a common word for “death” and the usual translation of dever in the Greek OT). In historicist SDA interpretation, Revelation 6:8 is not a sign of the end but something common to the whole age between the opening of the scroll and the Second Coming. The one end-time text that would seem at all relevant here is Revelation 16:2, which speaks of sores afflicting those who had the mark of the beast. While these sores are serious, the biblical words for contagious disease or pandemic are not used.

The short conclusion of this biblical study is two-fold. Pandemic is neither a “sign of the end” nor a direct, active punishment of God, but it is one of the consequences of sin in the broadest sense. In the OT contexts, it was a condition that could and should be alleviated by human action (Jer 27:13; 38:2). The most practical remedy offered for contagious disease in the Bible is social isolation (Num 5:1-4; see also Num 12:10-15 and Lev 13:45-46), the very thing many of us are now experiencing. To put it plainly, Bible prophecy does not indicate that pandemic is a key element of the “signs of the End,” neither does it rule it out as one of the troubles of the End.
Having said all this, prophecy clearly indicates that panic is one characteristic of the final events (Luke 21:25-26). Could COVID-19 lead to eschatological levels of panic? I am not a prophet, an economist, or a scientist, so take the following with a grain of salt. COVID-19, as we experience it, could get a whole lot worse, killing (in the worst case scenario publically stated) as many as two million Americans. That would put it in Spanish flu territory, but not Black Plague numbers. The greatest concern would not be the current virus, but a mutation of the virus into something even more dangerous. This possibility is something to watch closely, but is not likely (I am open to correction on this from scientific sources, not internet speculation). Viruses tend to decrease in potency over time rather than increase. And due to lack of widespread testing, the death rate is probably much lower than 3% right now, as many people who have COVID-19 don’t even know it. In South Korea, where testing is widespread, it is 0.7%. Current numbers for Germany (another nation ahead of the curve) are 0.3%, one-tenth of the rate reported in China and Italy (75 deaths out of 21,000 reported cases). In the USA, the current rate is about 1.2%.

My greater concern is the economic fallout of social isolation over many months (if that proves necessary). Worst-case estimates are that unemployment could reach 20% or more in the USA if the lockdowns last 6-12 months. This could trigger another Great Depression. Given the panic buying already occurring, the social order in a Facebook, post-Christian world could easily break down, leading to rioting, looting and other consequences. Among the likely consequences would be the end of face to face higher education as we know it, a long-term decline in tourism and international travel, a major decline of the restaurant industry and in–person retail, and a serious increase in perceived anti-Christian persecution in this country. In the words of Jesus, “stay awake, because you don’t know. . . .” Matt 24:42.

If you want my speculation–for what it is worth, and it isn’t much–I think a couple years from now, we will consider the current, global response to COVID-19 an over-reaction. But since we will never know if that is really true, I am glad we are doing what we are doing, just in case. But even if we find ourselves in the Kingdom a couple years from now (whether through death or the Second Coming), no one will complain that they are missing out on all the excitement here below.