Coronavirus: Is this the start of the end times?
IS the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world a sign of the last days?
Or is it part of a global conspiracy which will force us to to take the 'mark of the beast' be it a vaccine chip or the like?
Christians and churches around the world prohibited from meeting are taking to social media to share what they think coronavirus is really all about.
The spectrum of opinions is as broad as the church itself.
Some believe that it is God's punishment on a wayward generation that has allowed everything from abortion to homosexuality to flourish.
Then there are the more moderate views which argue that the pandemic is a health issue - but one which God will use to bring people closer to together, to restore families and to ensure people get their priorities right.
One of the posts doing the rounds right now is said to be a passage from C.S. Lewis in 1942 in Screwtape Letters.
"Satan: I will cause anxiety, fear and panic. I will shut down business, schools, places of worship, and sports events. I will cause economic turmoil.
"Jesus: I will bring together neighbours, restore the family unit, I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table. I will help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters. I will teach my children to rely on me and not the world. I will teach my children to trust me and not their money and material resources."
But according to a factcheck from Snopes, C.S. Lewis didn't write the above. It was apparently first shared by a Catholic priest in March this year.
Some Christians believe coronavirus could be one of the 'plagues' that Revelations refers to as coming in the last days.
The Jehovah's Witnesses certainly believe we are living in such times.
On their website, they have posted numerous articles referring to coronavirus and the end times.
"The Bible describes events and conditions that would mark "the conclusion of the [current] system of things," or "the end of the world."
"The Bible calls this time period "the last days" and the "time of the end," or "end times."
Some of the features of the end days, according to the Bible, include:
- War on a large scale
- Great earthquakes
- Epidemics of terrible diseases
- Increasing crime
- Breakdown of families
- Displays of religious hypocrisy
- Global preaching of the gospel
- Apathy towards warnings of the end
Jesus himself said of the end times in Matthew 24: "Don't let anyone mislead you. For many will come announcing themselves as the Messiah, and saying, 'The time has come.' But don't believe them! And when you hear of wars and insurrections beginning, don't panic. True, wars must come, but the end won't follow immediately- for nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and famines in many lands, and epidemics, and terrifying things happening in the heavens."
In Revelation, there are four horses which are meant to symbolise four stages of the end times. The rider of the pale horse in Relevation 6 talks of food shortages and a deadly plague.
Of course, coronavirus is not the first plague to hit the world.
Soon after 1914, the Spanish flu killed tens of millions. Possibly some 500 million people were infected, about 1 out of every 3 humans living at the time.
And there have been hundreds of millions who died from smallpox, while the lives of millions were cut short by AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
What is undoubtedly different from past epidemics is our almost instant knowledge of what is happening around the world.
Technology from video streaming to social media platforms has meant that shocking stories of coronavirus are delivered to us in moments.
Talk about pumping up the fear factor.
Contrast that with the Spanish flu when many would not have fully understood the scale of what was happening.
Many Christian leaders are now taking to social media themselves to encourage people to have faith in God, rather than fear, while still using wisdom to follow the precautions being advised by authorities.
Best selling author and Bible teacher Max Lucado has been very active on social media urging people to find the calm in the storm.
He says Christians should turn their eyes to the Lord for help, rather than focusing so much on what is happening around them.
"Do not meditate on the mess. You gain nothing by setting your eyes on the problem. You gain everything by setting your eyes on the Lord,'' he posted in a recent opinion piece.
"Is God sovereign over your circumstances? Is he mightier than your problem? Does he have answers to your questions? According to the Bible the answer is yes, yes, and yes."
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As we learn to take anxiety out of our head, we have a vacant space and God calls upon us to fill that vacant space by meditating on good things. You can be the air traffic controller of your mental airport. If you'd like to learn more about our free online Bible study, Anxious for Nothing, visit: www.FaithGateway.com/OBS
Others are asking what is God trying to teach us through the coronavirus crisis.
Mark Owen, the pastor of the Chiesa Evangelica Neapolis in Naples, Italy, writes that he believes the crisis will teach us about our own fragility, the difference between fear and faith, the need for hope, our need to pray, and the vanity of so much of our modern lives.
In the end, ultimately how we respond to crisis depends on ourselves.
Certainly, having spent the past couple of weeks working from home, I've already seen good come out of it.
More time with family. More special moments and laugh shares. A greater focus on what really matters. More prayer and reading of passages like the Psalms which can provide great comfort in a time of great anxiety.
Many Christians believe that while God doesn't bring calamity, He will use all things for good, including coronavirus. Let's hope so.
Mark Furler is New Regional Media's group digital editor and has been working in media for more than three decades.