Christian Faith and Coronavirus

The January-March 2021 edition of VOX is out – Issue 49.

As usual its excellent design and layout contains an informative and interesting mix of news, articles and reflections representing a wide cross-section of Christianity in Ireland.

With distribution much more difficult these days, you can order your copies(s) online here. Perhaps consider ordering multiple copies and giving some away to encourage others and help support VOX at the same time. It is produced by a talented team of volunteers.

Below is my ‘Musings’ Article from the current edition.

Christian Faith and the Coronavirus

As I write, vaccines are on the horizon, but SARS-CoV-2 has much of the world in its grip. About 1.5 million people have died and there are about 60 million cases worldwide. Beyond debates about lockdowns and economic responses, what are some distinctively Christian ways to think about the pandemic? Here are some thoughts …  

1. Is God to blame?

We could drown in deep theological waters very quickly here, but three truths need to be held together. God is good. Much that happens in this world (like a pandemic that kills people) is not. Disease and death will form no part of God’s new creation to come. Together, this points to the coronavirus being a symptom of a creation twisted by the Fall. While in itself the virus is not evil (it’s just a tiny organism without moral agency), it’s an unwelcome intruder in a creation that looks forward to liberation and renewal. If anyone is to blame, it’s human interference in the natural world.

2. Love your neighbour

An authentically Christian response to suffering and inequality begins with lament, compassion and love for those most in need. From Christianity’s earliest days, it was known as a movement of care for the poor. Such teaching is embedded in Jesus’ life and in the writings of the rest of the New Testament. This emphasis is in turn rooted in the Jewish scriptures which speak of God’s impartial love for the widow, alien and stranger. Christianity lay behind the development of hospitals and the idea that all people, made in the image of God, are worth caring for. Such love is revolutionary. In these pandemic times let the church be known for its self-giving love, not a concern for its own rights.

3. A school for faith

Eusebuis’ Ecclesiastical History describes plague in third-century Alexandria as recorded by Dionysius.

“… But now all things are filled with tears, all are mourning, and by reason of the multitudes already dead, and still dying, groans are daily resounding throughout the city… [This pestilence was] a calamity more dreadful to them [the pagans] than any dread, and more afflictive that any affliction, and which as one of their own historians has said, was of itself alone beyond all hope. To us, however, it did not wear this character, but no less than other events it was a school for exercise and probation.

Indeed, the most of our brethren, by their exceeding great love and brotherly affection, not sparing themselves, and adhering to one another, were constantly superintending the sick, ministering to their wants without fear and without cessation, and healing them in Christ, have departed most sweetly with them.” (VII, 22.7).

This is radical stuff! These early Christians really believed that death died at the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They knew it had lost its power and weren’t afraid of its sting. What a wonderful way to see these ‘strange times’ – as a school for fearless practice of faith in the service of others.

4. The illusion of control

In a recent zoom call, our home-group talked about how much we took for granted before March 2020. Now it’s a dream just to sit around a table having a cup of tea with a group of friends. As 21st century Westerners we are daily sold a story of what life ‘should’ be like: expectations of endless growth, prosperity, freedom, happiness, travel, safety, comfort, health, low infant mortality and long-life. We are cocooned in technology and medicine (especially if we have money).

The arrival of vaccines offer hope that life can go back to ‘normality’. But let’s learn lessons before rushing back to life as it was. We’re being reminded that we’re not in control – however much we like to think we are masters of events, our lives and even our bodies. The theologian Stanley Hauerwas likes to say that, in the West,

we think we have the medical technology to get out of life alive.

The trouble is life has a 100% death rate. We also have much to learn about humility and faith from brothers and sisters from other parts of the world familiar with war, famine, death and disease. They are well used to the fragility of life and have no illusions about being in control.

5. Pray

Prayer is another way of acknowledging that we’re not in control. Prayer brings us into God’s presence and re-orientates us to think, talk and act in light of the truth that God is God and we are not. It looks forward to the return of the Lord and his final victory over sin, sickness, death and evil. So let’s pray

Marana tha. Come O Lord!’ (1 Cor. 16:22).