Before 2019 the term coronavirus was not well known outside of science and medical circles, however, today it is the most searched term across the world. A simple virus has literally shaken the core of modern times, leaving many people with divergent, and strong, views on what is the best way to tackle the covid pandemic. This month we briefly review two Christian reflections on the pandemic.
Since early in the covid pandemic, Christian writers have wrestled with the questions that covid has invoked. A quick search on the site amazon reveals a plethora of Christian books for sale around the theme of the pandemic. Looking at their publish dates may raise a few eyebrows, after all, there is a legitimate question around whether we are yet able to reflect fully on our current circumstance. Hindsight is 2020, in years to come our Christian response and the questions the pandemic raised will certainly be better understood and their answers more fruitful. However, answers in the future do not help our questions today, which is exactly what two well known scholars attempt to wrestle with in their books:
Both John Lennox and Tom Wright are well respected Christian British scholars who regularly feature in public discourse. Lennox, professor of Mathematics at Oxford University (emeritus), is an “internationally renowned speaker and author of several books on the interface of science, philosophy and religion.”(1) Wright is “Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews and Senior Research Fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.” (2) The two books represent different approaches in examining the pandemic.
Lennox seeks to unpack the question ‘Where is God in a Coronavirus world?’ In reaction to the unsettling nature of the pandemic, Lennox hones in on the problem of pain and suffering. Finding Atheism lacking in its docile acceptance of the world as it is what it is: “hard and unfeeling, caring nothing for whether we live or die”(p26), Lennox considers whether there is convincing evidence that the character of God can be trusted whatever situation we might find ourselves in. (p44) The answer is found primarily in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus offers ‘a way’ that does not solve the problem of suffering but offers a love rooted in God who has suffered for them (p47). It is this love that should be the Christian response to the pandemic and the promise of a real eternal hope to cling to.
In such a short book, it is unsurprising that Lennox has left a lot of questions unanswered. In our community, the question of suffering has been less prominent, instead, the more immediate question has been how should the Christian community respond to the virus? It is this question that, in my opinion, Tom Wright more effectively, and thoroughly, deals with.
Wright begins with the caveat that:
“the aim of [his] book … is not to offer solutions to the questions raised by the pandemic … [His] main argument is precisely that we need to resist the knee-jerk reactions that come so readily to mind”(xi)
Wright reflects on a modern tendency to reach for easy answers. (p5) He does not exclude Christians in his critique, observing the perpetuation of Christian conspiracy theories, where “some people think they know exactly what’s gone wrong and what God is trying to say through it all.”(p5) Wright says, “whenever anyone tells you that coronavirus means that God is calling people to repent, tell them to read Job. The whole point is that that is not the point.”(p12) Considering the Old Testament, the more appropriate response, when we are caught up in awful circumstances with no apparent reason why, is to leave it with God through prayerful lament.(p14) Rather than looking back to debate what might or might not have happened, we should look forward to what God is doing.
“That translates directly into what… Jesus, is going to do about it. For he is the light of the world.” (p17)
Christian’s, rather than exclaiming ‘look here, look there’ (and over-interpreting world events), should be pointing to Jesus saying: “This is what it looks like.” (p21) It is not dependent on plagues or earthquakes but on the significance of Jesus’ life and death.
So where do we go from here?
“The secret of God’s saving power is the self-giving love of the incarnate son” (p25)
Wright suggests that God’s people are to be the answer to the question What? What needs to be done? How can we help? God works in all things with and through those who love him. (p35) Circling back to lament, Wright highlights that grief is a significant part of love. (p53) A response in love is admitting that we may not have answers, and it is realising that the way Christians behave is a significant factor in pointing towards the actual signs of God, of new life, of new creation: Bringing healing to the world, bread to the hungry and sight to the blind.(p60)
Wright, like many writers, highlights accounts of Christian responses during previous great plagues. These Christians in their acts of love became beacons of God’s Kingdom in a time of distress and uncertainty.
“The early Christians would pitch in and nurse people, sometimes saving lives, sometimes dying themselves… The way Christians behaved in the great plagues of the early centuries was a significant factor in contributing to the spread of faith” (p61)
As I finish this review I can’t help but be reminded of when recently I went to the church building and there was stickered on the wall by our door a note saying “coronavirus is not real.” I prefer to think that I do not know who put this sticker there, because as I consider all those who I know personally who have been tragically affected by the virus, I cannot see how such denial is a reasonable or loving response. Certainly, there are no easy answers. A news article I was reading today highlighted the prevalence of relationships between families and friends that have fractured due to disagreements over how we ought to respond to the virus. Tom Wright’s suggested response of mourning with those who mourn and serving where we can in acts of love is compelling and honest. His book is challenging and treats the topic with in more depth than Lennox. His book is certainly timely but is also worth sitting on the shelf to pull out during any time of uncertainty not just covid19.
If you would like to borrow either of these books, simply contact Anthony and he will add you to the list.
Before 2019 the term coronavirus was not well known outside of science and medical circles, however, today it is the most searched term across the world. A simple virus has literally shaken the core of modern times, leaving many people with divergent, and strong, views on what is the best way to tackle the covid pandemic. This month we briefly review two Christian reflections on the pandemic.Read more
As we have been drawing our Choose Your King series to a close, we have reflected on the importance of aligning our hearts with God.Read more
If you could have known how 2020 was going to be what would you have planned differently?Read more
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