“God is in our midst. We prayed through SARS and we pray now to persevere”: Infectious diseases physician Paul Tambyah
Gracia Lee // February 12, 2020, 9:01 pm
"We prayed during the SARS outbreak and we pray now that all healthcare workers, Christian and non-Christian alike, will have the courage to persevere despite the difficulties," said Dr Tambyah. Photo courtesy of Dr Paul Tambyah.
As the novel coronavirus outbreak marches on, some of us may wonder: Where is God in all of this?
While He may seem to be hidden in the panic, anxiety and physical suffering, God is working right in the midst of everything, said infectious diseases physician, Dr Paul Tambyah, who has been heavily involved in public education and research work on the coronavirus.
“There seems to be an epidemic of fear that is far greater than the actual epidemic of disease.”
He is reminded of the disciples’ question to Jesus in John 9 about the cause of a blind man’s suffering. “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2) they asked.
Jesus’ answer? “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)
Dr Tambyah, who was also in the frontlines of the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, said: “Although it seems callous to think that God would be working in the death and disease that is sweeping through China and many parts of the world, this is the reality of the world we live in.”
Having this understanding also stops him from blaming others for the spread of the virus: “Whenever I am tempted to blame a colleague or a patient for some mistake or carelessness, I am forced to remind myself that ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.”
Good News for a fallen world
Dr Tambyah, who is also a board member of the Asia Evangelistic Fellowship and chair of the nominations committee of the Lutheran Church in Singapore, added that we should not be too surprised by such a crisis, which is “first and foremost a reminder that we all live in a fallen world”.
“This is yet another manifestation of the dis-ease which affects the entire human race,” he said.
But there is Good News for a fallen world of death, disease, sadness and grief: “God came into this world to take all that sin and suffering on Himself so that we would know there is One who walks beside us – the One who died and was resurrected.”
“This is yet another manifestation of the dis-ease which affects the entire human race.”
While there are many things concerning the virus that scientists and doctors like himself are still seeking to understand, Dr Tambyah said our hope as believers is not in these circumstances.
“There seems to be an epidemic of fear that is far greater than the actual epidemic of disease. This is understandable as we hear stories of thousands of people infected in China and numerous cases popping up even in Singapore which we had always assumed would be a safe sanctuary.
“As Christians, I don’t think we are immune from fear by any means, but we can face these fears confident in the reassurance that we have a resurrected Saviour by our side,” he said, adding that faith in God’s promise of eternal life with Him in heaven is “the key to overcoming our real fear”.
Pray without ceasing
One of his most lasting memories from the SARS epidemic was when Christian doctors, nurses and allied health professionals persisted in gathering together for prayer.
“It will be a tough few weeks and months, but we can take heart that by the grace of God, this too will pass.”
In April 2003, they came together for a prayer meeting held at Revival Center Church in Moulmein Road to pray for the situation, which had seen one colleague, a young cardiology medical officer, die from the virus and a number of others hospitalised, with some in intensive care.
“We prayed then and we pray now that all healthcare workers, Christian and non-Christian alike, will have the courage to persevere despite the difficulties and disappointments,” said Dr Tambyah.
“We also pray for grace to share the goodness we have received, especially with the marginalised populations in our city, like transient and domestic workers.
“It will be a tough few weeks and months, but we can take heart that by the grace of God, this too shall pass.”