On February 15—about a month after the first reported case of coronavirus and about a month before our country started taking it seriously—our family welcomed a new baby boy.
We never thought his life was possible.
My wife was told—by both her primary care doctor and her obstetrician—that she could no longer have children. Not unless she took fertility drugs, which she didn’t want to do. She didn’t take the drugs, but we got pregnant anyway. We named him Theodore—gift of God.
But could his miraculous life continue, begun as it was during a global pandemic? Amid more than 39,000 deaths and counting? We’d be lying if we said we didn’t ask these questions. And kept asking them each of my son’s first six weeks of life.
We have a few earthly reasons to hope. I’m 41, my wife is 38 and neither of us has health complications. So if we catch the coronavirus, the odds say we’d recover. Also, there have been almost no coronavirus deaths worldwide for kids under 10.
Furthermore, my employer instituted a new policy last year—just in time for Theodore—that allows new dads to take two months off, with pay. So I’ve been home, helping take care of our two older boys, driving them to and from school. And now that their school is closed, teaching them at home. I also do the food shopping, exposing myself to the risk of infection. After all, if I get sick, I can stay away from the baby. But if my wife gets sick, she’d have to stop nursing.
Knowing that the odds are in our favor, however, is only small comfort. Our real sense of security comes from God’s Word.
Since learning Theodore was on the way, I’ve felt a new connection to the story of Abraham and Sarah. When God promised Isaac to Abraham, He called Himself El-Shaddai. I especially like Herman Bavinck’s translation of that name: “God the Almighty, who subjects all the forces of nature and makes them serviceable to grace.”[i]
Human reproduction is a force of nature. And just as God subjected those forces to give two 90-somethings a baby boy, he subjected those forces to give our family a baby boy. Both boys, I believe, are part of God’s plan of grace, to expand redemption into all the world and on into the future.
Likewise, the coronavirus is a force of nature. It has spread to 200 countries and territories, infecting more than 800,000 people—and counting. A coworker of mine sent out a note Sunday morning, asking for prayer because both his cousin and grandmother had died from COVID-19, the disease caused by this new coronavirus. And the latest forecast is that, in the U.S. alone, there will be 100,000 or more deaths from this virus.
Yet God tells us—His very name tells us—that He is subjecting this force of nature, too, and making it serve his plan of grace.
How exactly, I don’t know. I do know that scientists are racing to discover or develop medicines that stop or prevent COVID-19. And I’m confident that, as with previous the Spanish flu, AIDS and other epidemics, this one will produce great learning that will benefit society for decades to come.
I do know that the stay-at-home policies instituted by governments are, somewhat counterintuitively, leading to more interactions among neighbors. With nowhere to go, we’re walking around our neighborhoods and talking to people we rarely see. Or texting or video chatting more with friends and family. Such relational connections are great opportunities to share our faith and the gospel.
I do know that Christians are—as they always have—reaching out to those who are sick and vulnerable. Many of those Christians are health care workers, like my sister-in-law, who bravely goes to the largest hospital in our state five days a week to keep caring for patients. And many Christians are coming along side those health care workers. In New York City, Samaritan’s Purse rallied volunteers from churches there to construct a field hospital across from one of New York’s major hospitals. And around my city pooled together over this past weekend to raise $270,000 to purchase personal protective equipment for local health care workers.
There will be amazing stories of service and self-sacrifice that emerge from this time, showing the world that those who have been loved by God are compelled to love others. Even more, there will be millions of small acts of service by Christians that, collectively, will display the gospel in big ways. Here’s just one tiny thing I’ve tried: When I went to the grocery store yesterday—my weekly trip for our family—I also bought several items requested by our next-door neighbor. She’s a 70-something widow with Parkinson’s disease, and we didn’t want her to have to go out in public and risk exposure.
I also know there will be stories of tragedies—premature, painful and lonely deaths. I pray my son Theodore isn’t one of them.
Yet as Christians, we rest on God’s powerful work with Abraham. When he and Sarah were “as good as dead,” (Heb. 11:12) God worked through them to create life and preserve it (Heb. 11:19). And so now, when death is all around us—and our own powers have so far failed us—we know that God will bring life out of death. We know He will preserve life in the midst of death.
This is our hope. Because our God is the one who says, “For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you’” (Isaiah 41:13).
[i] Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, translated by Henry Zylstra, (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, Mich., 1956), 137.