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Question: Would God really allow people to contract a virus at church by giving fellow parishioners a hug or a handshake?
Handshakes and hugs are certainly things that we have grown to miss during the COVID-19 global pandemic, especially with the familiar faces we like to see at church. It is just one more way that this disease has separated us from each other.
The plain and simple answer to the question is this: We don’t know. God has not given specific promises about every circumstance we might face. Indeed, the Lord promises to watch over and protect His people in a general way. Psalm 91 offers a beautiful description of this promise:
“He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge…
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday…
For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.” (Psalm 91:4-6,11, NKJV)
Under the Lord’s gracious care, we have nothing to fear! Yet that does not mean God will never permit evil to touch our lives. Take Job, for example. God’s mercy and protection were there for Job, and yet God still permitted Job to suffer not only the loss of his family and property, but even his health! (See Job 1-2.)
So while we rely on the Lord’s promise to care for us, we dare not take our safety for granted. Remember, Satan used the words of that very Psalm to try to tempt Jesus to jump from the highest point of the temple. Jesus’ response to the devil still rings in our ears to this day: “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God’” (Matthew 4:7).
The Lord reminds us in Isaiah 55 that “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” The Lord simply has not given us a specific promise about preventing the spread of a communicable disease like COVID, nor has He guaranteed that churches are safe. A simple internet search yields numerous news stories around the country where the virus has spread at churches through close physical contact, which includes, among other things, handshakes and hugs. So is it possible that God would keep His people safe from contracting a virus while worshiping in His house? Yes. Yet it’s also just as possible that God, for His own good and gracious reasons, might allow a virus to spread among those worshiping in His house.
Do not misunderstand. If people at church choose to share a handshake or a hug during the current pandemic, they are not “tempting God” or sinning in any way. Yet the threat of COVID gives us an opportunity to practice Christian love by bearing with each other’s weaknesses and putting the needs of others ahead of our own. Many in our congregations are in “high risk” populations due to age or other underlying medical conditions. Some live with the terrible fear of what might happen if they get sick. So during this extraordinary season, we sacrifice our own desires for physical contact with other human beings for the sake of those we love.
Of course, Christian love may also be why we want to shake someone’s hand or give a hug. When one of our fellow churchgoers has gone through a terrible tragedy or is mourning the sudden loss of a loved one, that person’s need for a comforting hug might outweigh our own fears of getting sick. In that instance, putting ourselves “in harm’s way” would be the God-pleasing, honorable thing to do.
Lord willing, the current pandemic will come to an end at some point, just as every other past pandemic has come to an end. At that time, everyone will go back to their old hand-shaking ways. In the end, though, whether we choose to shake hands and hug or not, we do not make that choice based on what is best for us. We do so valuing others more than ourselves, considering their needs as well as our own (Philippians 2:3-4), loving one another as Christ has loved us (John 13:34).
At the cross, Christ Jesus willingly endured the ultimate separation from His Father in heaven to secure our eternal life with Him. With His help, we can endure a little separation to help secure our neighbor’s time of grace here on earth.
Pastor S. Piet Van Kampen