COVID-19: Distancing is no solution to a spiritual problem

As the great Titanic continued to sink in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, bringing certain death to the men remaining on board, some safety boat survivors remembered hearing the big ship’s string quartet playing the hymn Nearer My God to Thee. In that last dark hour, there was no one left to turn to.

The title words from that moving hymn were most fitting, as James, the half-brother of Jesus had already reassured the passengers: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  James 4:8 (NAS). This lesson, having been well taught and understood in 1912, remains equally true for all generations everywhere.  “For that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” Romans 1:19-20.

The current risk of infection and the risk of mortality and morbidity is tiny compared to being on a sinking ship, but on March 14, 2020, President Trump boldly called for focus on the spiritual, seeking God’s help in his message to the nation, and calling for a National Day of Prayer on the COVID-19 threat.  It was disappointing that President Trump made no call to national repentance for the sins of the nation, but that was likely a bridge too far for large segments of the people.  Indeed, in response to his call for prayer, the President received mocking from many, and there have been few references to an Almighty God since then.  Instead, the rest of his Administration’s efforts have been earthly -- what we the American people, and our state and federal governments, can do in our own power.  Foremost among the concrete steps urged, if not enforced, upon the general public is to practice social distancing, that is, stay home and wash your hands. 

But distancing is no solution to a spiritual problem.  And it certainly does not work for everyone.  Distancing does not protect persons who must work for a living in close proximity with others, who cannot risk losing a job, a car, or a house.  It is not on option for those who provide necessary assisted living for the elderly or infirm.  Nor is it available to first-responders, much less for those living and working inside our woefully over-populated prisons.  And, although long-distance learning alleviates the burden of supervision, teachers are not yet robots-in-waiting, eliminating all need of actual classrooms for human interchange.  At best, distancing modulates the behavior of those who enjoy the best of health, and those who would otherwise act presumptuously.  But on the other hand, isolation and loneliness is said to deplete the immune system and increase susceptibility to illness. 

While there are no doubt benefits from the nation’s current distancing containment policy and practices, they fall short of attaining one necessary objective: the defeat of paralyzing and mind-clouding fear of falling prey of the influenza. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7.  Fear produces a confused mind, rather than a sound, sober one.  Fear will cause us to pull up the covers and hide in bed.  Fear will result in accepting, even welcoming, sometimes demanding, assertions of government power which exceed constitutional limits.  The virus will pass, but fear of it could destroy the foundations of our constitutional republic.

Defeating fear is possible, but only if the American people draw near to God.  As Moses wrote:

And [God] said, “if you will give ear to the voice of the Lord, and do what is right in his sight, and give ear to his commandments, and keep all of His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I put on the Egyptians for I, the Lord, am your healer.”  Exodus 15:16.

Many would dismiss this Biblical admonition on the ground that it is limited to its specific context, applicable only to Israel and her people.  Ontologically, they are mistaken.  There is not one disease, not one people, not one nation outside the healing power of God.  As The Gospel of Matthew attests:

[J]esus healed all who were ill.  This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: HE, HIMSELF TOOK OUR INFIRMITIES AND CARRIED AWAY OUR DISEASES.  Matthew 8:16(b)-17.

"God's Light of Hope," licensed in the public domain by Robert Knacke

Rather than focusing exclusively on running away one from another, distancing ourselves from friends and family in fear of COVID-19, we also ought to be running to Jesus, that “we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by his wounds [we] were healed.”  1 Peter 2:24.

We know from Daniel 2:17 that “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men.”  But we must come to the Lord on His terms, not ours.  He has the power to remove temporal judgments from the people, but repeatedly in Scripture we see His precondition of repentance -- a change of mind, and a change of behavior.  See 2 Peter 3.  There is no repentance inherent in simply asking God to remove the current “plague.”  Where are the calls from the Ministers of God to both believers and nonbelievers to repent?  If repentance is ignored, why should we expect a righteous God to end the plague?  How should we expect Him to respond to executive orders issued by some Governors to shut down all elective surgeries, except for the one procedure which is murderous?  To the Lord, we sound like the people who “cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.”  Revelation 16:11 (NIV). 

Not long after the nation saw God’s hand move as this nation was given its independence from a British Empire wielding the greatest military power on earth, our first President showed no reluctance to declare America’s utter dependence on our Creator God, as he entreated the Hebrew Congregations of Savanah, Georgia:

May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivering the Hebrews from their Egyptian Oppressors planted them in the promised land, whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent Nation, still continue to water them with the dews of Heaven and to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah.

May we Americans, individually and collectively, draw near to God in this time of crisis, “for He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”  Hebrews 11:6.

Herbert W. Titus taught constitutional law for 26 years, concluding his academic career as founding dean of Regent Law School.  William J. Olson held three positions in the Reagan Administration.  They now practices constitutional law together, defending against government excess, at William J. Olson, P.C., Vienna, Virginia.  E-mail wjo@mindspring.com, visit www.lawandfreedom.com, or follow www.Twitter.com/OlsonLaw.

As the great Titanic continued to sink in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, bringing certain death to the men remaining on board, some safety boat survivors remembered hearing the big ship’s string quartet playing the hymn Nearer My God to Thee. In that last dark hour, there was no one left to turn to.

The title words from that moving hymn were most fitting, as James, the half-brother of Jesus had already reassured the passengers: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  James 4:8 (NAS). This lesson, having been well taught and understood in 1912, remains equally true for all generations everywhere.  “For that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” Romans 1:19-20.

The current risk of infection and the risk of mortality and morbidity is tiny compared to being on a sinking ship, but on March 14, 2020, President Trump boldly called for focus on the spiritual, seeking God’s help in his message to the nation, and calling for a National Day of Prayer on the COVID-19 threat.  It was disappointing that President Trump made no call to national repentance for the sins of the nation, but that was likely a bridge too far for large segments of the people.  Indeed, in response to his call for prayer, the President received mocking from many, and there have been few references to an Almighty God since then.  Instead, the rest of his Administration’s efforts have been earthly -- what we the American people, and our state and federal governments, can do in our own power.  Foremost among the concrete steps urged, if not enforced, upon the general public is to practice social distancing, that is, stay home and wash your hands. 

But distancing is no solution to a spiritual problem.  And it certainly does not work for everyone.  Distancing does not protect persons who must work for a living in close proximity with others, who cannot risk losing a job, a car, or a house.  It is not on option for those who provide necessary assisted living for the elderly or infirm.  Nor is it available to first-responders, much less for those living and working inside our woefully over-populated prisons.  And, although long-distance learning alleviates the burden of supervision, teachers are not yet robots-in-waiting, eliminating all need of actual classrooms for human interchange.  At best, distancing modulates the behavior of those who enjoy the best of health, and those who would otherwise act presumptuously.  But on the other hand, isolation and loneliness is said to deplete the immune system and increase susceptibility to illness. 

While there are no doubt benefits from the nation’s current distancing containment policy and practices, they fall short of attaining one necessary objective: the defeat of paralyzing and mind-clouding fear of falling prey of the influenza. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7.  Fear produces a confused mind, rather than a sound, sober one.  Fear will cause us to pull up the covers and hide in bed.  Fear will result in accepting, even welcoming, sometimes demanding, assertions of government power which exceed constitutional limits.  The virus will pass, but fear of it could destroy the foundations of our constitutional republic.

Defeating fear is possible, but only if the American people draw near to God.  As Moses wrote:

And [God] said, “if you will give ear to the voice of the Lord, and do what is right in his sight, and give ear to his commandments, and keep all of His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I put on the Egyptians for I, the Lord, am your healer.”  Exodus 15:16.

Many would dismiss this Biblical admonition on the ground that it is limited to its specific context, applicable only to Israel and her people.  Ontologically, they are mistaken.  There is not one disease, not one people, not one nation outside the healing power of God.  As The Gospel of Matthew attests:

[J]esus healed all who were ill.  This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: HE, HIMSELF TOOK OUR INFIRMITIES AND CARRIED AWAY OUR DISEASES.  Matthew 8:16(b)-17.

"God's Light of Hope," licensed in the public domain by Robert Knacke

Rather than focusing exclusively on running away one from another, distancing ourselves from friends and family in fear of COVID-19, we also ought to be running to Jesus, that “we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by his wounds [we] were healed.”  1 Peter 2:24.

We know from Daniel 2:17 that “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men.”  But we must come to the Lord on His terms, not ours.  He has the power to remove temporal judgments from the people, but repeatedly in Scripture we see His precondition of repentance -- a change of mind, and a change of behavior.  See 2 Peter 3.  There is no repentance inherent in simply asking God to remove the current “plague.”  Where are the calls from the Ministers of God to both believers and nonbelievers to repent?  If repentance is ignored, why should we expect a righteous God to end the plague?  How should we expect Him to respond to executive orders issued by some Governors to shut down all elective surgeries, except for the one procedure which is murderous?  To the Lord, we sound like the people who “cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.”  Revelation 16:11 (NIV). 

Not long after the nation saw God’s hand move as this nation was given its independence from a British Empire wielding the greatest military power on earth, our first President showed no reluctance to declare America’s utter dependence on our Creator God, as he entreated the Hebrew Congregations of Savanah, Georgia:

May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivering the Hebrews from their Egyptian Oppressors planted them in the promised land, whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent Nation, still continue to water them with the dews of Heaven and to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah.

May we Americans, individually and collectively, draw near to God in this time of crisis, “for He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”  Hebrews 11:6.

Herbert W. Titus taught constitutional law for 26 years, concluding his academic career as founding dean of Regent Law School.  William J. Olson held three positions in the Reagan Administration.  They now practices constitutional law together, defending against government excess, at William J. Olson, P.C., Vienna, Virginia.  E-mail wjo@mindspring.com, visit www.lawandfreedom.com, or follow www.Twitter.com/OlsonLaw.