As the global crisis surrounding the COVID-19 coronavirus has ground on over the last two months, I like everyone else have been consuming more news about it than is probably good for me. A phrase which has come up over and over again amidst this massive deluge of news is “pre-existing conditions” meaning physical health problems that people have which makes them more vulnerable to the disease than they otherwise would be.
Some of the pre-existing conditions are things people have no control over, such as simply being at an age when their bodies are weaker than when they were younger and thus less able to heal and fight off diseases. But many of the “pre-existing conditions” that make a person more vulnerable to this disease are self-inflicted, including smoking cigarettes, being overweight, etc. Diabetes, which can be congenital but can also be exacerbated by a poor diet, is somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.
But that’s just one aspect of this crisis.
One Middle East analysts, John Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington DC, said that COVID-19 is dangerous for PEOPLE with pre-existing conditions, but it’s also very dangerous for REGIONS with pre-existing conditions.
He was speaking about the dysfunctional governments, environmental degradation, failing economies, chronic violence and the tensions along ethnic, religious, national and cultural fault lines which have long plagued the Middle East. But he could have been talking about many other regions of the world as well.
In the US, a “pre-existing condition” which has massively complicated the COVID-19 epidemic is a chronic lack of trust in the government (at all levels) as well as other institutions which are supposed to respond to disasters. Government debt (again, at all levels) has also limited the options that officials have to respond to the crisis. There are many other long-standing issues which are making it more difficult than it should be for the US and many other countries to respond to this crisis.
This has produced some lines of thought for me and I’d like to share the results of my contemplations with you.
In John 16:33b Jesus tells His followers (including us) that “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
If someone doesn’t want to take Jesus’ word for it, they don’t have to because tribulation, trials, problems, crises, wars, famines, pandemics, etc. have been and are a regular feature of life on this planet going back thousands of years. It is inevitable, for the life of an individual or a nation, that these trials and tribulations will come, sooner or later. No one has any control over any of that.
What we DO have control over is how prepared we are. What “pre-existing” conditions will the inevitable crises we face catch us suffering from? Some of them we won’t be able to control, but others we will.
Speaking on an individual level, one’s physical health is to a very large degree under our control. Leaving aside the genetic conditions that some people are born with, most people have the ability to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and otherwise take care of our physical health and fitness. It takes a certain amount of discipline and sacrificing of other things that we might like to do (such as eating junk and not exercising) but it might help to remember that God has COMMANDED us to take care of our bodies.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body”
It’s reasonable to guess that one of the reasons God wants us to keep our bodies in good physical condition is that we’ll be able to handle the many tribulations that inevitably come our way, including disease, with as few complicating “pre-existing conditions” as possible. Don’t wait till “a good time” to address these issues, because if you do, the bad times that WILL come might get to you first and then it’ll be too late.
Of course, the same is true of our spiritual lives. This area also requires daily maintenance analogous to a healthy diet and exercise. Reading the Word of God daily is how we feed our spirit, and prayer is analogous to exercise. If I really want to stretch the metaphor regular fellowship with other Believers can be compared to sunshine and fresh air, which any doctor will tell you is also important to maintain good physical health.
As for the “pre-existing conditions” our larger society is suffering from, I think they are partly an outcome of the Church failing to fulfill it’s God-appointed functions in society. But frankly, the Church can only start to perform these functions again if and when individual church members and congregations get healthy themselves.
I hope reading this blog has given some people some ideas about how they can go about taking care of the pre-existing conditions in their own lives so that they can begin to be part of taking care of the larger pre-existing conditions in the lives of their communities and countries.