May 2, 2020

Six Lessons from the Coronavirus

The world is settling into a new normal, defined by an invisible virus that managed to find its way to almost every country on earth. It has confined hundreds of millions of people to their homes and made it almost impossible to go about their business and make a living. As the new uncertainties of life settle in, our generation is forced to learn some painful lessons.

1Crisis can come out of nowhere.At first the world knew next to nothing about the Chinese region of Hubei. But in today’s interconnected world something happening anywhere can disrupt life everywhere. This runs counter to our generation’s narrative that our institutions and technologies guarantee a level of control over the environment like never before. This is our time of “peace and safety,” until what seemed inconceivable suddenly became reality. The apostle Paul suddenly has total relevance, and destruction suddenly strikes just as “people are saying, ‘Peace and safety’” (1 Thess. 5:3).

2Things can happen very fast.The speed of this catastrophe leaves us dizzy. On January 1 the public had never heard about the “novel coronavirus.” On February 27, United States President Donald Trump was still saying, “It’s like a miracle. It will disappear.” With only 60 cases in the country, that seemed easy to say. Today, all Europe, most of America, and almost every country on earth is under orders to stay at home. Events accelerate dramatically. What was true yesterday is no more today. Overnight, Ellen White’s words gained burning actuality: “Plagues and judgments are already falling. . . . The calamities by land and sea, the unsettled state of society, the alarms of war, are portentous. . . . The agencies of evil are combining their forces and consolidating. They are strengthening for the last great crisis. Great changes are soon to take place in our world, and the final movements will be rapid ones.”1

3Freedom of movement can be lost overnight. Almost overnight, countries shut down their borders. Air travel, so vital to the global economy, came to a screeching halt. Thousands traveling abroad either rushed to airports in the hope of making it on the last flight out, or resigned themselves to staying where they were for an undetermined period of time. Some missionaries who wanted to leave their country of service missed the last flight out. Others just made it. What a lesson to remind us that such will be the end of the time of probation: “When probation ends, it will come suddenly, unexpectedly.”2

4Ethnic and social hatred quickly reappear.Leading newspapers have both reported and themselves been criticized for “shocking” levels of racism and verbal and physical abuse against Chinese and Asian people once the coronavirus showed up in Western countries.3 Jesus warned His disciples of coming human and natural disasters. Also, of persecution and death, “hated by all nations,” because of Him (Matt. 24:9). Persecution is not new. But human reactions against people who had nothing to do with the pandemic show how quickly irrational hostility, attacks on innocent neighbors, can spring up and flourish, even against those who are trying to serve and help. Today it’s the Chinese; one day it will be those who choose to remain faithful to God’s Word.

5There are things that humans cannot control. The past decade has vastly increased our perception that we can quickly find  answers to almost all our problems. “Just google it” has become the mantra of the day. Our ability to find solutions to complex problems, thanks to digital technology and its global reach, has given us the illusion of being “masters of the universe.”

But the novel coronavirus, deadly and invisible to the naked eye, with as yet no vaccine or effective therapy in sight, wakes us up every morning wondering: will it be life today? Sickness? Worse?

My generation has never been confronted on such a scale with the unwelcome thought that we are mortal after all. Who can say with certainty whether we are still going to be around in 14 days? And what about the looming, cascading consequences some are predicting long-term: after the health crisis a global economic crisis, after a global economic crisis, national debts skyrocketing and countries defaulting, then political turmoil and the collapse of global cooperation.4

If this is not the time to deepen our sense of dependence on God, then when will it be? For the first time perhaps, my generation can experience what is described in the book of Revelation, not as an abstract prophecy, but as a reality that is felt and experienced in the here and now.

6This earth is not our home.With so much uncertainty looming, it seems that we are being shaken awake from our slumber. We were being seduced into thinking that the prosperity and peace we enjoyed for the past 10 years or so was our due reward for the collective decisions of our national communities—political, technological, and social—and that these fruits would be enjoyed long into the future. But as C. S. Lewis wrote: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”5

Perhaps, before God can rouse a deaf world, He needs to rouse a deaf church and rekindle in us the “longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16). This is the time to connect or reconnect—via Zoom, Facebook, and hopefully soon in person—with today’s faithful believers, and stand firm with those “who have longed for His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).

  1. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 9, p. 11.
  2. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1957, 1980), vol. 7, p. 989.
  3., February 9, 2020;, February 9, 2020.
  5. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperCollins, 1940/1996), p. 91, quoted at

Claude Richli is an associate secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland.