At this writing, there are more than 127,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with more than 4,700 deaths. The pandemic is causing global chaos on a level unprecedented in my lifetime. From physical suffering to economic turmoil, political controversy, and personal fear, the virus is clearly affecting the world in calamitous ways.
It might surprise you, however, to learn that the virus is also accomplishing some good.
For instance, G-FEED, which describes itself as “an interdisciplinary group working cooperatively to understand the relationship between society and the environment,” has published an article by Marshall Burke (environmental sciences professor at Stanford University) with the title, “COVID-19 reduces economic activity, which reduces pollution, which saves lives.”
The article focuses on the massive reduction in air pollution in China resulting from the drastic economic slowdown in that country following its aggressive response to the virus. Ground-based concentrations of key pollutants fell substantially across much of the country. Given clear evidence that breathing dirty air contributes heavily to premature mortality, the author then calculates the effect of this drop in pollution on mortality in the country.
Dr. Burke determines that, by the most conservative calculation, two months of reductions in pollution likely saved the lives of 1,400 children under the age of five and 51,700 adults over the age of seventy in China. This would be twenty times the number of lives lost directly to the virus (at the time of the article’s writing on March 8).
As Dr. Burke notes, “It seems clearly incorrect and foolhardy to conclude that pandemics are good for health.” He adds, “The effects calculated above are just the health benefits of the air pollution changes, and do not account for the many other short- or long-term negative consequences of social and economic disruption on health or other outcomes; these harms could exceed any health benefits from reduced air pollution.”
His article nonetheless makes the point that even the worst crises can have surprising consequences.
Redeeming tragedy for eternal good
The Midianite invasion of Israel led Gideon and his troops to experience God’s power and providence in an unprecedented way (Judges 7). The crisis presented by the giant Goliath led to the ascendancy of David. The persecution of Christians in Jerusalem led to the scattering of believers and transmission of the gospel across the region and beyond (Acts 8:1).
One way God redeems all he allows is by using his people to manifest his courage in chaotic and challenging days.
John Wesley was on board a ship bound for America with a group of Moravian Christians. As they were conducting a worship service, a terrible storm came up. Wesley recorded later: “The sea broke over, split the main-sail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up.”
According to Wesley, “A terrible screaming began among the English,” but the Moravians “calmly sung on.” Their peace in the midst of such turmoil greatly impressed Wesley and led directly to his conversion to personal faith in Christ.
The coronavirus pandemic is horrific on so many levels. But let’s not miss opportunities to join God in redeeming such tragedy for spiritual and eternal good.
Will you be a Moravian Christian today?