Luther on Self-Quarantining

Luther on Self-Quarantining March 19, 2020

Luther is getting a lot of good attention in these coronavirus days for his wise advice on how we should conduct ourselves in time of plagues.  I have blogged about this here and here.  I am glad to see that the Lutheran Witness has posted on its website Luther’s tract Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.

It’s worth reading in its entirety and also re-reading, as Luther addresses the different issues that arise over the whole course of an  epidemic.  When I first posted about it, the coronavirus epidemic was in its infancy and was more of a theoretical concern than anything that was affecting most Americans.  Now the whole nation is impacted, not just by the virus–the number of infections is still relatively low–but by the economic fall-out, with the stock market collapsing, businesses closing, workers having to stay home, and whole industries threatened.  Many communities are in a state of near total lock-down, shutting down schools, restaurants, and worship services, with all residents being told to “self-quarantine” at home for the next two weeks.  And Luther talks about that!

Luther is addressing different reactions that Christians were having.  Some were saying, This is God’s punishment, so we should just accept the plague accordingly and not try to do anything about it.  Others were approaching the plague fatalistically, saying, Well, if it’s my time to die, God will take me, so I won’t try to do anything about it.  Others were saying, God will protect me, so I won’t try to do anything about it.  Others were rejecting medical care, such as it was then, turning to superstitious remedies.  Others were in a state of abject panic, trying to protect themselves by running away.

Luther, as he was so good at doing, corrects the false piety.  He also deals with the over-reactions, the escapism, and the lack of prudence.  I was struck by what he said about self-quarantining (our word, not his; my bolds):

Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body?

You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy [Satan] has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.

See also LCMS President Matthew Harrison’s words on the epidemic  and the wealth of resources the LCMS is offering to churches in order to help them deal with this crisis.

Also, CPH is offering some outstanding free resources for streaming worship services, offering online Bible studies, having personal devotions, etc.


Image by Alexey Hulsov from Pixabay

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