Unsurprisingly, some retailers are hiking prices amid coronavirus fears. For instance, bottles of Purell were going for $149 on eBay this week. Amazon has been cracking down on price gougers and products that falsely advertise protection against the virus.
Other effects of the epidemic might be less obvious to those who have been less affected by it (so far). I noted yesterday that the release of the new James Bond movie has been delayed because of theater closures in China and elsewhere. Now Disney is worried about its remake of Mulan for the same reason. Shares of movie theater chains are dropping due to these closures.
Hundreds of conferences have been canceled, costing tens of millions of dollars in lost revenues for local economies. Cruise lines are struggling with cancellations as well. Broadcasters could lose millions if the 2020 Olympics are postponed. And almost three hundred million children are out of school due to the virus.
Closer to home for me, Chinese restaurants in the Dallas area are reporting significant drops in business even though, as one owner says, she gets all her ingredients locally and in the US. And the Texas Rangers are scheduled to open the baseball season in Seattle on March 26, plans that could be affected by the epidemic.
How Christians in China are responding
Here’s another side of the coronavirus epidemic that is receiving less attention: doctors around the world are risking their personal health to fight a pandemic no one fully understands. They are also risking the health of their spouses, children, and other close family members if they become infected.
They’re not the only people serving others at personal sacrifice.
Faith-based disaster-relief groups are working in Tennessee after tornadoes killed at least two dozen people. (For my first response to this disaster, go here.) They are assisting with cleanup and are raising funds for survivors.
And Christians in China are sharing the gospel with coronavirus victims in remarkable ways. In January, for example, Pastor Paul Peng called a woman from Wuhan who had fallen ill from the disease and led her to Christ before she died. He then led a memorial service via videoconference for about one hundred of her family and friends.
After the service, several of the attendees professed faith in Christ. The service has been seen about eighty thousand times on social media.
The pastor says, “Through this, we’ve seen God’s grace and the love between the brothers and sisters in the church. The church members also feel a greater burden to evangelize with their family members.”
A fascinating study of “terror management theory”
Such sacrificial compassion obviously follows the example of our Savior who “was pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). He called us to serve others just as he has served us (John 13:15), a command early Christians obeyed diligently (cf. Acts 3:1–10; 4:34–35; 5:14–16; 6:1–6; 8:4–8; 9:32–42; 10:34–43; 14:8–10; 16:16–24, 28–33; 19:11–20; 20:7–12; 28:7–9).
Such compassion became a powerful part of their witness in the following centuries. For instance, during epidemics in AD 165 and 251, Christians were unafraid to die and thus stayed behind when others fled, caring for the sick and dying at great personal risk. African American Christians did the same during the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793. (For more, see my paper, “Where is God when pandemics strike? A biblical and practical response.”)
Why is service in fearful times so powerful? A fascinating study offers some surprising answers.
Social psychologists speak of “terror management theory,” the idea that humans will go to great lengths to avoid reminders of their own mortality. A group studying this phenomenon found that individuals high in “extrinsic religiosity”—those who engage in religion for its personal and social benefits—are more fearful during stressful times. They also tend to be more prejudiced towards refugees and others they identify as threats.
By contrast, those who scored high in “intrinsic religiosity”—people for whom religion is more central to their daily lives and who seek to live by their religious beliefs—were less fearful of threats and threatening people.
Demonstrating “intrinsic religiosity” today
How can we demonstrate more “intrinsic religiosity” in these days?
In Luke 21, Jesus looks to the destruction of the temple and the time of his return. However, there are principles in his discourse that speak to our present circumstances as well, offering us four ways to share the compassion of God with hurting people.
One: Serve sacrificially. Jesus commended the “poor widow” who put “two small copper coins” in the temple offering (vv. 1–4), showing that God measures our service by its cost to us. Obviously, the more we keep for ourselves, the less we have given to God and to others.
Two: Serve people over possessions. Herod’s temple was more than twice the size of the Acropolis in Athens, but Jesus predicted that “the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (v. 6).
Three: See suffering and persecution as “your opportunity to bear witness” (v. 13), knowing that God will give you the courage and words to make public your faith (vv. 14–15).
Four: Serve with urgency, for the day when we will go to heaven or Jesus will come to earth is closer than ever before (cf. v. 34).
Author James Clear observed, “Your success depends on the risks you take. Your survival depends on the risks you avoid.”
What risks will you take for someone in Jesus’ name today?
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