When the plague came to Wittenberg
March 25th, 2020
The bubonic plague struck Wittenberg, Germany, in August of 1527. This disease was especially horrific: in just one day, an infected person could show signs of delirium, fever, speech disorders, and loss of consciousness. Soon after, they would break out in large boils that infected the bloodstream and rapidly led to their death.
Martin Luther and his wife Katharina, who was pregnant at the time, were urged to flee the city. However, they chose to stay in order to minister to the sick and dying.
When asked by Christians in another city for advice, Luther wrote a pamphlet that is as remarkable today as when he produced it. Titled “Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague,” it combines realism and faith in a way that is powerfully relevant to our crisis.
Luther counseled his readers to utilize medicine and intelligence “to guard and to take good care of the body so that we can live in good health.” As a result, he stated, “I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it.” He also practiced what we call social distancing: “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.”
With this caveat: “If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely.” He understood the urgency of sharing the gospel so as to lead the sick to saving faith before they died and to minister to believers in their final days.
“Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die”
As it turned out, Martin and Katharina Luther were spared from the plague. But they did not know this when they chose to stay behind to care for the sick of their community.
They could risk their lives to serve others because they were not afraid to die. Their hope was in proper procedures and medical treatments, but even more, it was in Christ. They trusted their Lord to protect them in life and to bring them to heaven in death, whenever it came.
My point is not that we should refuse the urgent calls to social distancing that are absolutely crucial to slowing the spread of the pandemic. To the contrary, as one primary care physician notes, we must adopt such critical measures immediately.
My point is that choosing to hope in God as the Luthers did sustains us as nothing else can. It reminds us that the worst that can happen to us leads to the best that can happen to us. The moment we close our eyes on this diseased, fallen planet, we open them in God’s perfect paradise. When we take our last breath here, we take our first breath there.
Source: The Daily Article by Dr Jim Denison: https://www.denisonforum.org/columns/daily-article/st-patricks-courage-and-martin-luthers-hope-how-to-make-god-our-mighty-fortress-today/