These days, it would be shocking to come across someone who does not have the word coronavirus indelibly stamped upon their mind. It comes knocking at the door of our thoughts in one form or another just about every waking moment — as we turn on the radio; as we scroll through social media; as we click and read the plethora of articles being written on the virus and its devastating impact on our world.
What might not come as such a shock, however, is that those who have not delved into the etymology (origin) of the word coronavirus may perhaps outnumber those who have. This is to be expected. Word-geeks such as myself (and a few others I know!) are a rarer breed these days. Notwithstanding, as a Christian I must lament the lack of discussion on the etymology of the word coronavirus. This should not be so!
The term coronavirus was first coined by June Almeida and David Tyrrell* — two virologists of Scottish and British stock, respectively. Almeida and Tyrrell were pioneers in the study of this newly discovered human virus strain. The reason for the name was found in the appearance of bulging spikes projecting outward from the virion when observed under the microscope. In other words, the virus appeared to be wearing a crown! The Latin “corona” is borrowed from the Greek “korṓnē”, meaning crown (i.e., garland or wreath). Almeida and Tyrrell had discovered and named the CROWN-VIRUS!
Now, I am not one to find a message from God under every rock and in every cloud. At the same time, I am. Every child of God must be! The heavens declare the glory of God! His own handiwork (Ps. 19:1)! It is the unbelieving who “do not regard the works of the LORD, nor the operations of His hands” (Ps. 28:5). In the eloquent words of Charles Spurgeon:
Every flower is waiting to teach you … every living thing offers itself for your instruction. There is a voice in every [windstorm], and a lesson in every grain of dust it bears … A forest is a library, a cornfield … a volume of philosophy, the rock is a history … Go … and find lessons of wisdom everywhere, in heaven above, in the earth beneath, and in the waters under the earth.
And might I add viruses under the microscope to the list? Heavenly Father, I have found a virus that appears to be wearing a crown! And what does our Heavenly Father say in reply? Does He not not send us back to His own Word — inspired, infallible, and inerrant — a testimony sure to make wise the simple; to rejoice the believing heart; to enlighten dim eyes (Ps. 19:7-8)? He does! The coronavirus leads us back to our Bibles. And the Bible is not silent when it comes to crowns. In fact, the Bible is filled with talk of crowns. Here are just three examples.
A CROWN THAT WAS LOST
In the beginning, the eternal and unchanging God made from nothing all that now exists (Gen. 1:1; Heb. 11:3). The crowning jewel of God’s creation was mankind, created in His own image and likeness, and given dominion over the works of His hands. Adam was given a crown to reflect the dominion that belonged to him and his descendants as God’s own image bearers. Not absolute, total, sovereign dominion. That was God’s and His alone. But relative, derived, and accountable dominion. What a dominion that was! The crowning jewel was in place, and “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen. 1:31)!
But along came the serpent — Satan — and with him, the deception and murder that are his strong suits. He saw Adam and Eve exercising their God-given dominion in paradise and couldn’t stand the sight. He went in for the kill and the bite was fatal. God’s image bearers were deceived by the one who had grasped for God’s own crown in heaven. Adam and Eve now stood exposed — naked and ashamed — under the gaze of their offended Creator.
They had grasped what was not theirs to grasp, reaching out for the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Their dominion was shattered. From bountiful riches in Eden to tattered rags in exile. From princes to paupers. From dominion to deadly viruses. The coronavirus reminds us that we have lost our creational crown. We now stand under the curse:
Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.Genesis 3:17-19
A CROWN THAT WAS REGAINED
To be sure, mankind’s dominion was not fully abolished when Adam sinned and fell. King David revelled in the dominion that still belonged to God’s image bearers, even as they toiled under the curse:
What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.Psalm 8:4-6
Reflecting on the words of Psalm 25, the writer to the Hebrews helps us appreciate that King David was ultimately prophetically pointing beyond himself to the One who would come and establish the Kingdom of God on earth, regaining the crown that Adam had forfeited:
For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.Hebrews 2:8-9
Yes, King Jesus has regained the crown! And when He returns in glory to fully and finally establish His Kingdom, it won’t be a crown of thorns resting on His blessed head — it will be the crown of victory and conquest, by which every knee will be compelled to bend and pay homage to the King of kings. The coronavirus reminds us that the King has yet to return. He stands at the door. But of that precise day and hour no man knows. And only when the King returns will the curse be lifted.
The coronavirus also reminds us that the real curse is sin. It is not disease. It is not economic fallout. It is not global disruption on a scale the likes of which most of us could never have anticipated. And the only cure for sin against a Holy God is judgment. So, once again the coronavirus leads us back to the One who Himself bore that accursed judgment so that blessing could come to His people. He suffered so that we might be set free from the curse. He rose so that we might live forever with Him. He’ll return so that we might reign forever with Him. It has been decreed! God has spoken:
“I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me,Psalm 2:7-12
‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron;
You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ ”
Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.
A CROWN TO BE RECEIVED
Those who have kissed the Son and put their trust in Him for salvation are waiting for the Day when they too will rule and reign with King Jesus Himself. A crown is waiting to be placed upon their heads. To be sure, a crown of grace that we will be compelled to cast at the feet of Him who earned it for us. But a beautiful and precious crown nonetheless.
The coronavirus teaches us Christians that the pathway to glory is paved with suffering. We might contract COVID-19. We might not. Both Christians and non-Christians have fallen prey to this deadly disease. Others have no doubt suffered collateral damage. But even if God spares us here, something else will befall us. Something else will be God’s appointed chariot that carries us into eternity.
We cannot escape suffering. We cannot escape death. But for the believer in Jesus Christ, all suffering carries redemptive significance. No, we do not contribute to our redemption by suffering in this world! Nevertheless, for us who are in Christ, our suffering in this world is sanctified by a God who is no longer against us as a Judge, but for us as a loving Heavenly Father. But suffer we must if we are to reign in glory. Medieval morbidity? No, rather Biblical basics:
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.Romans 8:16-17
We don’t go chasing suffering. That is foolish. But it will come. And when it comes, we must endure – reminding ourselves of what lies in store: “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12). Yes, glory is preceded by suffering. And suffering is to be patiently endured. But for us who are in Jesus Christ, we know that the patient enduring of suffering is what our Master has called us to in this life. It was the pathway He Himself trod. It was the way of the cross. And because of His cross, we are now waiting (patiently!) for a crown:
There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.2 Timothy 4:8
Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.James 1:12
Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life …. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.Revelation 2:10; 3:11
Oh, to think upon that crown that Jesus Himself will one day place upon our heads! Death finally abolished. Dominion fully restored. No more grief. No more tears. No more coronavirus. No more curse!
And as I look at the coronavirus under the microscope – in the light of God’s Word – I see the crowns. The crown that was lost by Adam. The crown that was regained by King Jesus. And the crown that the King Himself is waiting to place upon His peoples’ heads when they enter their eternal rest. Thank you, Father, that even through this awful pandemic we can be reminded of your goodness and grace in Jesus Christ. Amen.
*Tyrrell & Fielder (2002). Cold Wars: The Fight Against the Common Cold. Oxford University Press. p. 96. “We looked more closely at the appearance of the new viruses and noticed that they had a kind of halo surrounding them. Recourse to a dictionary produced the Latin equivalent, corona, and so the name coronavirus was born.”
*Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations taken from the New King James Version (NKJV). Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
*C. H. Spurgeon citation taken from Lectures to My Students (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth), 212.