COVID-19 – Facing the Pandemic
What Can a Christian Do?
Generally, I don’t write about current affairs. On the one hand, I usually take too much time to reflect on the matter, and the opportunity passes. On the other hand, what I write tends to be too theoretical, or philosophical, and I have a hard time to find practical implication to the matter.
With COVID-19, the crisis will be long, so I have time. And if this post is too theoretical, I could always come back to it later. So here I go…
Moreover I read something interesting at the end of March, and it stimulated my reflection. It’s an article from British theologian N.T. Wright, entitled “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronarivus. It’s Not Supposed To.” (1)
Intriguing, isn’t it?
Here are a few points that I’ve noted…
Lent, Silence, and Lament
Lent: The 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting. (2)
Do you observe Lent as a preparation to celebrate Easter?
I guess very few people still do it. But whatever the case is, this year a very special kind of “Lent” is imposed on us: confinement, physical distancing whenever we go out, severe regime of hand-washing… The worst is that we don’t know when it will all end.
Some will ask: “Is it a divine punishment? A warning? A sign? … Why is it happening?” We want an answer but … what if there was none?
“Rationalists (including Christian rationalists) want explanations; Romantics (including Christian romantics) want to be given a sigh of relief. But perhaps what we need more than either is to recover the biblical tradition of lament. Lament is what happens when people ask, ‘Why?’ and don’t get an answer. It’s where we get to when we move beyond our self-centered worry about our sins and failings and look more broadly at the suffering of the world. It’s bad enough facing a pandemic in New York City or London. What about a crowded refugee camp on a Greek island? What about Gaza? Or South Sudan?” (3)
There are examples of laments in many Psalms: “Have compassion on me, Lord, for I am weak. Heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.” “O Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide when I am in trouble?” “O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way?” (4) And it goes on until the end of the book. Not mentioning Psalms 88 that doesn’t offer any hope…
“The point of lament, woven thus into the fabric of the biblical tradition, is not just that it’s an outlet for our frustration, sorrow, loneliness and sheer inability to understand what is happening or why. The mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments.” (5)
The Lord was sorry — “it broke his heart”—to see the extent of human wickedness on the earth at the times of Noah. He was devastated when his bride, the people of Israel, turned away from him. Jesus cried at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. And the apostle Paul says that the Spirit groans within us awaiting for the full redemption. (6)
“It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope. New wisdom for our leaders? Now there’s a thought.” (7)
First, we must note here that the use of the words to lament and lamentation in Wright’s article doesn’t have any pejorative overtones, like someone from Quebec, for example, could think. It’s an expression of mourning, of sorrow, made to God when a sad and difficult situation overcomes us.
Then I must say that even if I find that point of view interesting, the more I think about it and the more it seems to be incomplete…
And If the Christian Was Called to Something Else? …
“But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” (8)
“All glory to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us. He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.” (9)
We, Christians, like to say that we are priests for God, on the basis of those two verses. Generally, I guess we simply refer to the fact that we have free access to the throne of God, thanks to the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. (10) (Which is a marvellous thing in itself!)
But what is a priest? What are our responsibilities as priests? What service can we be to God?
A priest is an intermediary between God and the rest of the people. If all the believers are priests, that means that we are intermediaries between God and … the world, the people around us, those we come in contact with on a regular basis. (Yes, I know: “There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.”  I believe that. But bear with me and follow my argument…)
On the one hand, a priest is responsible for talking to the people for God. (In a New Year’s post, I’ve already suggested that one of the Christian’s responsibilities is to bless the people in the name of God.) But on the other hand, he is also responsible for talking to God on behalf of the people, to plead their case before God.
Here, I think of Abraham: he pleaded before God, calling upon his justice, on behalf of the people of Sodom. (12)
I think of Moses: how many times did he have to pray, his face on the ground before the Lord, for a rebellious people? Even, I think of Aaron who had to go between the living and the dead with an incense burner, to stop a destructive plague that was killing the community. (13)
And I think again of Nehemiah: in exile, he prayed: “We have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned!” (14)
Would we be called to that in this time of crisis? To plead with God on behalf of our friends and parents? To say: “We have sinned!”? To go between the living and the dead—spiritually!—praying and calling upon the grace and the mercy of God?
I don’t believe that the coronavirus is a direct punishment of God on the world. But I do believe that it certainly is one of the consequences of our bad management of God’s creation—overexploitation of natural resources, mistreatment of animals, overconsumption and pollution, decisions based on increasing the profit of one against the welfare of the other, personal abuses of all sorts…
If the Church—the body of Christians—doesn’t take that intercessory role before God on behalf of the world, then yes, all that is left to do is to lament. On us, and on the world.
Sincerely in Jesus,
The Bellicose Monk
All Bible excerpts are from The Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013).
(1) N.T. Wright. Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronarivus. It’s Not Supposed To. TIME Ideas. Read on March 30, 2020, 2:40 PM.
(2) Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.)
(3) N.T. Wright referred above.
(4) Respectively, Book of Psalms, chapter 6, verse 2; chapter 10, verse 1; chapter 13, verse 1.
(5) N.T. Wright referred above.
(6) Respectively, Book of Genesis, chapter 6, verse 6; Book of the prophet Hosea; Gospel according to the apostle John, chapter 11, verse 35; Letter from the apostle Paul to the Romans, chapter 8, verses 22 and 23.
(7) N.T. Wright referred above.
(8) First letter from the apostle Peter, chapter 2, verse 9. (bold and italic added)
(9) Book of Revelation of the apostle John, chapter 1, second part of verse 5 and verse 6. (bold and italic added)
(10) Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 4. verses 14 to 16.
(11) First letter from the apostle Paul to Timothy, chapter 2, verse 5.
(12) Book of Genesis, chapter 18, verses 20 to 33.
(13) Book of Numbers, chapter 11 and foll.; for Aaron: chapter 16, verses 41 to 50, especially verse 48.
(14) Book of Nehemiah, chapter 1, verses 4 to 11.