How do we as disciples of Christ respond to COVID-19?
Our former President John Weaver poses a number of questions for us to consider
As the number of cases of COVID-19 and the number of deaths rise relentlessly, people are responding with fear and anxiety; concern for vulnerable family members; social distancing and self isolation. There is concern about the effects on individual freedom from State control of our leisure activities. Many minds are turning to thoughts about death and life after death.
We are seeing some really positive community responses: community care groups; clapping for the NHS; looking after elderly neighbours; League Football Clubs working in the community; people generally being obedient to the requests and advice of Government; and Christians lighting a candle to affirm the light of Christ in a dark situation.
But negatively there has been hoarding and stock-piling of goods that are thought to be in short supply, and some antisocial behaviour – my grandson who was serving in a local Co-op was attacked by a customer when he refused to let him buy five rather than the maximum two cans of beans. There is a growing sense of community; altruism and sacrifice; but also selfishness and self-centredness.
The political response has gathered pace with some really interesting measures, for example a Conservative Government in the UK acting like a Socialist Government nationalising transport and encouraging large supermarkets to cooperate rather than compete. There has been the rapid construction of emergency hospital space in London, Manchester, Cardiff and Birmingham. And scientists across the world are collaborating in the search for a vaccine against the virus.
The reports of mutual concern, support and communities pulling together have too soon given way to the ‘blame game’. Seasoned commentators have started to invite the opposition to suggest that the Government was unprepared, too slow to react, and all as the result of ten years of austerity.
At the beginning, in Donald Trump’s eyes, it is the fault of the Chinese and those who want to destroy the US; or alternatively it is a move by the Democrats to close down society and ruin the economy before the November election.
In church a member of the congregation where I was preaching on 15 March told me with great certainty that the coronavirus was sent by Satan to turn us away from God! But people often speak in apocalyptic terms in any crisis and the words of Jesus provide an answer: When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come (Mark 13:7); And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:20)
So how do we as disciples of Christ respond to COVID-19?
We can wonder where God is in these events, some feeling that God is near and others that God is rather distant or absent.
We can ask each other: How have these events affected our faith? What scripture gives us help or comfort or challenge at this time? Equally we can ask this question of hymns, poetry, fiction, science, and art. For God is also speaking through such areas.
We can challenge each other by asking what is God expecting of his people?
Can we offer a prophetic voice? How do we witness to the hope in which we live?
In a way the answer is the same whatever the situation. Where is God? - God is working through us; and God’s concern is for everyone; God is, God is as God is revealed in Jesus, so we can trust and hope.
One significant question we can pose is: what will the Church be preaching when the crisis is over and people return to Church?
As a warning, it was said that the First World War was a challenge to which the Church had no answer when the troops returned, with the result that people turned away from churches. But it maybe too early to answer such questions, yet we need to be asking these questions now so that we may have answers when the crisis has run its course.
In the meantime we pray for leaders, medical staff, scientists and those who are isolated, ill or bereaved. We may be isolated from each other for a time, but we are never isolated from God.
Image | visuals | Unsplash
The Revd Dr John Weaver is Vice President of the John Ray Initiative: connecting environment, science and Christianity. He was President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain 2008-9. He served as Principal of South Wales Baptist College from 2001-2011.