As often quoted in the media, “These are extraordinary times, and we need extraordinary measures to beat this extraordinary virus.” People have suggested various pre-cautionary measures to fight the virus. We have seen that COVID-19 is an extraordinary global pandemic that began initially as a crisis only in Wuhan, China. Yet when the world watched China fight the virus, it was slowly creeping into the rest of the world.
The virus has turned the whole world upside down, forcing people to remain indoors. For once, the world came to a halt – facing economic, medical, food, and legal crisis. Though the term “crisis” sounds negative, it has both good and bad connotations. It is understood that the Chinese have an interesting lesson in the two characters which combine to convey the word crisis. One character is danger and the other is opportunity. Perhaps in every situation both elements are present. So a crisis could be a dangerous situation presenting an opportunity. Yet the outcome is at bay – it all depends on our attitude and how we react to the situation.
Taking COVID-19 positively while not forgetting how people are suffering, this article aims to present a theological reflection on the pandemic. COVID-19 is spreading globally, leaving trails of death in the thousands, showing no mercy to the weak, young, or old. It is like someone who has a cold sneezed in a closed environment, leaving everyone in the room in danger of catching the cold. The size and persistence of the virus’s impact is unfathomable, economically and medically. Though we want it to be over, no one can be sure when that may be. Medical studies are showing that COVID-19 is “less deadly but more transmissible than SARS.” Older people are at higher risk, not forgetting infants too. Though all human beings die at some point, this pandemic is a reminder of human frailty and limitations. It is an indication that we live in a fallen world where our fragile human body is susceptible to death, sickness, and pain – regardless of medical advancement and technological abilities.
I want to draw out some lessons from the story of Noah. Noah, the righteous man, faced a global crisis in the form of a flood. God’s voice came to Noah asking him to make an ark. Noah thought God was joking, but the specifications of the height, length, width and types of wood to be used in making the ark convinced Noah that God was serious. Noah swung into action and was preparing for the flood to come. What Noah did was different than what many of us are doing. Noah listened to God’s voice and was obedient to what God said to him, while others in his time nagged, mocked, and criticized him. These criticisms did not prevent him from building the Ark. The rain came pouring down and Noah was “locked down” in the Ark for 371 days. His situation was no better than ours, but he persisted, and the story has a happy ending with God making a covenant with Noah.
Prior to the flood, God regretted creating human beings and detested fallen human ways. We see the condition of the earth in Genesis 6:1-7. The earth was filled with wickedness, sexual immorality, corruption, and rebellion against God (disobedience). The flood was a direct judgment from God for human wickedness. I do not label this pandemic as a judgment from God, but let us not overlook the wickedness of our times. Yes, we are living in the age of grace, but that does not rule out God’s judgment. God’s judgment doesn’t always end up in destruction, sometimes its goal is to redeem humanity.
The boundaries of sexual morality and what is seen to be acceptable in society has moved significantly over the years. Views about what is the acceptable moral norm range from one extreme to the other. Some would accept without question the current value system of the society one lives in, while others would consider current societal norms verging on insanity. Definitions of sexuality are in flux, changing at different rates across nations and continents. The interpretation of God’s parameters for sexual conduct is also a changing one, which represents a challenge for some.
We remain, in these issues as in many more, possibly sinful before God. The concern of many that evil is being both condoned and justified is an issue of morality. The ability to discern wisely and compassionately what God’s message is in these times is a significant challenge for leaders, as cultures across the world adapt, expand, and issue challenges for those in leadership as well as those who follow.
Meantime, God said that He will never destroy the earth again. Genesis 8:21 says, “The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, ‘I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.’ God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth’” (Genesis 9:17). The rainbow became a sign of the covenant God made with Noah and the earth. What a comfort! Many people have made conclusive statements about the impact of COVID-19 and have said this is the end of the world. But we still have the rainbow appearing.
The lockdowns experienced across the world have been different in extent, in duration, and in compliance from people. The relative peace and space to think has offered us the opportunity to consider the place of science and technology, amongst other issues, including creation, sexuality, and society. The increasing complexity of balancing our rights with our responsibilities has challenged people of faith of all kinds as well as people of none.
For some, we have come uncomfortably close to believing we can ‘play God’ as a result of our medicine, sciences, and technologies. The rise of a new atheism and humanism creates significant challenges, as they embrace the opportunities offered by wider exposure through media channels. The opportunity to embrace a simplicity in life has come under serious challenge from commercialism and globalism, with people chasing after new gods of time and money, believing that these pursuits can define them and offer greater meaning and success.
In the midst of money saving, valuing time, and the mad rush for success conundrum, the pandemic restricted or closed many working places. People felt uncomfortable to visit public places, schools, and colleges as these remained closed and many social activities were minimized. The pandemic has affected our lifestyle, our attitude toward visiting people, of people visiting us, and much more. Besides that, the loss of jobs and non-payment of salary has become a reality for many. The price of commodities increased due to less supply, and buying groceries became a challenge. Comparatively in Nagaland, India, the pandemic was not severe, but the fear psychosis and rumors resulted in more shocks and chills.
Beginning from the month of February 2020, the Churches in Nagaland responded positively to the crisis of the pandemic. The Kohima Baptist Pastors Fellowship (KBPF) took charge of catering food and arranging shelter for the people in Quarantine Centres. In Dimapur, the Nagaland Missionary Movement (NMM) reached out to the people in need. The NBCC Convention Centre was utilized by the government as a kitchen for catering food to different Quarantine Centres. Likewise, many churches opened their church, guest house, dormitories, and other facilities to the people in need. Some schools and seminaries were turned into Quarantine Centres. Several churches organized chains of prayer for the frontline workers and caregivers and online counselling was offered via phone calls to those in distress.
On a positive note, I consider this pandemic a time for us to come back to our senses and acknowledge that there is a God, alive and active in our history. This pandemic is a sign from God that we need to mend our evil ways and turn to God for repentance. It is a time for us to remember that simple things in life can bring so much happiness, such as spending time with family and with oneself, eating organic leaves, planting vegetables, appreciating life in the village and farming, feeling the pinch of scarcity, and cooking food in our homes instead of invading food courts and stalls in the malls. By locking our doors but opening our food stores for the needy and by covering our mouth and not feeling suffocated, some of us have started to like our own breath. Walking miles without cars, sweating, and enjoying the roadside pavement. Less travel has created more quality time with family, etc. It is not a time to celebrate, but we have hope that God will show us the rainbow. For now, let us pray for the rain to stop, so that the flood of COVID-19 will recede.
For Reflection and Discussion
- How has the pandemic been a danger to your ministry?
- How has the pandemic been an opportunity in your ministry?
- Just as God showed his faithfulness to Noah during the flood, how have you seen God’s faithfulness during the pandemic?