Pastor’s Friday Comments (04.09.21)

N. T. Wright is perhaps the most popular biblical scholar writing in English today. He has written a small book entitled God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and Its Aftermath. It is only 79 pages, so it can be read in a couple of sittings and I highly recommend it to you.

In this treatise Wright is not particularly concerned with how we let this disaster get so far out of hand but with what the Christian response should now be. He dismisses assumptions that the pandemic is a sign of the end times, nor does he draw facile conclusions about “God trying to teach us something.” He refuses to join in the chorus of blame and condemnation.

Instead, he addresses the issue of what our response should be as Christians. He analyzes both Hebrew and New Testament Scriptures and, most extensively, the lessons that can be learned from the life and teachings of Jesus. All of this is very helpful in getting a perspective on a global event that has affected us all and that will have repercussions far into our future.

One scriptural parallel that had not occurred to me but that I thought very applicable is from the Book of Acts. When a famine struck most of Asia Minor the Christians at Antioch considered how, as the followers of Christ, they should respond to the needs around them. 

Wright observes: “So what do the Antioch Jesus-followers say? They do not say either ‘This must be a sign that the Lord is coming back soon!’ or ‘This must mean that we have sinned and need to repent’ – or even ‘this will give us a great opportunity to tell the wider world that everyone has sinned and needs to repent’. Nor do they start a blame-game, looking round at the civic authorities in Syria, or the wider region, or even the Roman empire, to see whose ill-treatment of the eco-system, or whose tampering with food distribution networks might have contributed to this dangerous situation. They ask three simple questions: Who is going to be at special risk when this happens? What can we do to help? And who shall we send?”

Despite his disappointing use of the nominative case in that last sentence, I think Wright has outlined the comprehensive approach that we should take as individuals, a congregation, and the Church at large in our long-term response to this pandemic. We should look around us and pay special attention to the most vulnerable among us. Through prayer and the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we should determine what we can do to help those in need. And we should consider how we can support those who are most capable of alleviating the situation.

The Christians at Antioch became most concerned about their fellow believers in Jerusalem, who were not only experiencing the famine but were also being persecuted for their faith. They direct their concern and charity toward the Holy City. Wright notes one factor in this relationship that challenges us ethnocentric Christians in the United States: “Notice, by the way, one feature of the early Church in this story. Never before in world history had a multi-cultural group in one city felt under any fraternal obligation to a mono-cultural group in another city three hundred miles away….As we face our own questions about how to help, this example should be regularly before our eyes. Whatever the ‘Christian response’ to Covid-19 should be, it should be one in which all Christians can join.”

Though we in the United States have handled this pandemic as poorly as almost anyone, especially given our tremendous resources, we will be very fortunate in that we will be among the first countries to have universal accessibility to the various vaccines. (Whether or not we take advantage of this accessibility is an open question.)

The challenge will be to look beyond ourselves and determine how we can best meet the needs of the rest of the world, both as US citizens and as Christians. Just one consideration for those of us at Parkway is our relationship with our friends at the House of Hope in Bolivia. The city of Cochabamba has had the highest number of deaths of any city in the country. As of Monday of this week, only about 48,000 people in the city had received at least one dose of a vaccine (either the Russian or AstraZenica type) out of a population of over 633,000. The current infection rate is rated at the highest level by the World Health Organization.

At this point, I have no specific answers as to how we should respond, either to Bolivia or in our own neighborhood. I do know that it is time now for us to look beyond ourselves and ask God how we can help. The evangelical churches of the United States have a lot of reputational repair work to do after the insistence of so many congregations to carry on with business as usual while the fires of pandemic raged. Joining the fight to alleviate the sufferings of others caused by this disaster would be a helpful way of repairing the damage.