Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy! I look to You for protection. I will hide beneath the shadow of Your wings until the danger passes by. Psalm 57:1
“The ways in which the disease was communicated, were various and unaccountable: for some perished by merely living with the infected, others by only touching them, others by having entered their chamber, others by frequenting public places. Some, having fled from the infected cities, escaped themselves, but imparted the disease to the healthy. Some were altogether free from contagion, though they had associated with many who were afflicted, and had touched many not only in their sickness but also when dead. Some, too, who were desirous of death, on account of the utter loss of their children and friends, and with this view placed themselves as much as possible in contact with the diseased, were nevertheless not infected; as if the pestilence struggled against their purpose. This calamity has prevailed, as I have already said, to the present time, for two and fifty years, exceeding all that have preceded it. For Philostratus expresses wonder that the pestilence which happened in his time, lasted for fifteen years. The sequel is uncertain, since its course will be guided by the good pleasure of God, who knows both the causes of things and their tendencies.”
Evagrius Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History 4.29 (A.D. 431-594), trans. by E. Walford (1846). Here’s a header photo from my home office during this lockdown. It’s my prayer map of the world with pins in place I have taught (compliments of my daughter, Sophie).
Evagrius was writing about the horror of the Justinian Plague. The outbreak was named after the emperor in power during the outbreak, around A.D. 541-542. It claimed millions of lives over many years. Why consider this excerpt from this church historian as today’s post?
As we experience lockdown on a global scale, we must be careful where to pin the blame and where to place our hope. The most generous thing we can do with our neighbors is give grace, and toward those in power we should lavish an abundance of prayers.
This is hard when it is actually the people around us that can infect us. And while none of us have lived through a pandemic, everyone has opinions on what needs to be done. We are quick to point blame. Imagine getting the plague named after you. Bummer to be Justinian!
Notice also that Evagrius reports that the plague struggled against the purpose of those who served the sick for the wrong reasons. Those who aimed to join the deceased were foiled. Why? God is working in all this, and the only right answer for all of us is to humble ourselves before Him.
Evagrius adds this powerful point about the plague then, which relates to COVID-19. The “course will be guided by the good pleasure of God, who knows both the causes of things and their tendencies.” God is at work for good on a global scale so however this plague touches us is for good.
Let’s resolve to humble ourselves before God, pray for those in authority, and extend grace to our neighbors. And with David, the psalmist, let us hide not so much from the disease but beneath the shadow of God’s wings. To do that, we must draw near to Him. Have mercy on us, O God, have mercy!