Views & Reviews
A Theological Reflection on Covid-19
Covid-19 is real and it has just altered our way of living! But can you imagine there are still people who think that Covid-19 and vaccine are just scams! Yes, for a long time, approximately 100 years, the world did not experience the likes of Covid-19 pandemic.
However, pandemics are not foreign to humanity. In 430 BCE there was a pandemic, which spread through Libya, Ethiopia, and Egypt and then to Europe. It is said that this pandemic wiped out 70% of the population of Athens (Greece). The incomprehensible thought for us might be that this pandemic was suspected to be typhoid. In the same manner when illnesses such as small box (180 CE) and Cholera (1817 CE) broke out they were pandemics that took many lives. In 1350 CE the Black Death pandemic happened. It spread from Asia to Sicily and from there to other parts of the world. It accounted one-third of the world’s population. Then in 1918 CE the Spanish flu hit the globe. It was an avian borne flu that took 50 million lives worldwide. We still suffer from the pandemic of HIV/AIDS which has killed 35 million population over time and yet for the past almost 4 decades scientists have not been able to find its vaccine.
Today Covid-19 has killed 4.5+ million people in the world. In India it has taken 4 lakhs+ people and in Nagaland 631 (and counting) deaths. This is just the official number but there could be more people dying of Covid-19.
This pandemic has aroused speculations among many Christians around the world that the, “end time” has arrived. Many have also voiced out saying that, “this pandemic is caused by human sin,” and still many have asked the theodicy questions, “why is this happening? Where is God? Is God really an omnipotent God?”
1. End Time?: Many Christians in the world and most Naga Christians are knowingly or unknowingly proponents of pre-millennialism. Pre-millennialists think that this world during the “end time” will go from bad to worst until Jesus Christ rapture and takes them to heaven. Furthermore, they think that this world will become hell where the bad ones will be burned alive. However, the scripture appears to be painting a different picture. This world is God’s creation, which he said it is beautiful. However, because of the fall of human beings God entered into a project of redeeming both the humanity and his creation (the universe) first through Abraham, and his descendants Israel, and later through Jesus Christ. Jesus, in his death and resurrection, has granted us all the authority in heavens and on earth so that we can go out to the ends of the world spreading the good news and redeeming the world (Romans 8: 21-24). Then one day as recorded in Revelation 21 God will reunite both the heavens (God’s space) and the earth; and he will be our God and we will be his people and together we shall live as it were in the Garden of Eden. So this world does not seem to go from bad to worse.
There are some passages that appear to go against such theological construction, particularly the understanding of rapture (1 Thessalonians 4). However, it has to be noted that when Paul talks about rapture – humans ascending to sky to join Jesus – he is utilising Hebrew and Roman imageries. Akin to the Hebrew imagery of Moses bringing down the Ten Commandments from mount Sinai, Jesus Christ is depicted as coming down to establish his kingdom here on earth. Similarly, the Roman imagery like that of a Roman general coming back from the battle victoriously. It is said that when a Roman general returns triumphantly from war or battle the citizens would come out from the city gates carrying trumpets, drums etc and they go to meet the generalon the way and usher him into the city with great festivities. So Jesus is the general and the people going up (being raptured) are not to go somewhere up in the air but to usher in Jesus here on this earth whereby he will rule us forever.
Again some would argue that Jesus himself said, before his ascension, that he would go to make many dwelling places for us (John 14:2). But if we look at the Greek word mone – the word for dwelling place – it means a temporary resting place or a way station. So when people die they go and live with Jesus, until the resurrection when they will resurrect and rule along with Christ on this earth.
Now Jesus himself said that he does not know the time of his coming (Matthew 24:36). So how are we to know that this is the end time? Some pick the passage of how the moon will turn red and the stars will fall (Mark 13). But again Jesus here is not talking about the end time rather about the destruction of the temple, which happened in 70 AD. For the Israelites, temple is everything and its destruction is equivalent to a cataclysmic event.
While discussing about end time one should think about remaining faithful and hopeful for the Lord. Our faith should be such that, should the Lord come the next second we should be ready to spend time with him. Should he come after another 2000 years we should still be ready to remain faithful to God’s calling.
2. Human Sin?: Another theological query that has often emerged during this pandemic is: is this crisis because of our sins? Note that the scripture has two strands: Firstly, the strand of theology derived from the book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomistic theology) that says blessings for obedience and punishment for disobedience. This strand of theology is prominent in the Pentateuch, the prophetic literature and the historical writings. The Old Testament prophets were regulating under this theology and so prophets like Amos, Jeremiah etc. were talking about punishment for Israel because of their disobedience. However, there is another strand of theology namely the one we find in the book of Job and other parts of Psalms (example Psalms 44, 88, and 89). Here suffering exists not because of some one’s sin but as a natural cause. This understanding that suffering is not necessarily because of sin becomes prominent in the ministry of Jesus Christ when he tells that the man’s illness is not because of his parents’ sin or anybody’s sin (John 9:1-2). Thus, we need to be circumspect when we tend to make a blanket statement that this pandemic is because of our sin. Of course, humans are sinners and we need to repent our sins everyday. However, we also should realise that our sins are forgiven in God’s graciousness. It is just that at times the natural law in the world expresses itself in different forms and shapes of crisis. This leads us to the third point.
3. Where is God?: If God is so powerful and in control of this world, where is God? Why this suffering? The word powerful or omnipotence needs to be redefined in the light of the ministry of Jesus – the God incarnated. For humans, omnipotence is defined from our worldly experience such as being wealthy, having social status, being very healthy, capable of doing the unthinkable things. We then project such an understanding of the meaning of omnipotence on to God and think that God should be a fictional “Spiderman,” or a “Superman.” However, when we look at the person and work of Jesus, he came talking about humility, loving not just friends but enemies, being compassionate, restoring people and community through healing and finally sacrificing his own life for the underserving people. It is here that the omnipotence of God needs to be understood. For instance, God is all-powerful and therefore he sacrificed his life on the cross and defeated death so that we might have life and authority to defeat Satan’s schemes. Can any human defeat death? Here lies the power of God. God’s omnipotence comes through the process of humility and sacrifice and not in a fictional manner. Now where is God during this heart wrenching pandemic? One way of answering this question is to look at the story of Lazarus. What did Jesus do to Lazarus? Jesus brought Lazarus back to life from death. However, again, what did Jesus do before he rose Lazarus to life? Jesus wept (John 11:35). Where is God? God is with us weeping in the midst of this pandemic.
The question “where is God?” is not what the Bible wants us to ask but the question “what should we do?” is what the Scripture wants us to ponder. Jesus has empowered us in the Holy Spirit and therefore we should be asking what are we doing during this time. The early Christians when heard about a famine that was coming (Acts 11) they did not ponder on the question “why?” But rather on “what should we do?” And consequently, they acted out.
The imperative calling for us during this pandemic is to be responsible and accountable individuals by following the standard operating procedures (SOPs) strictly, getting the vaccine and prayerfully rendering services to the sick and needy of our communities. It is recorded in the medieval church history that during times like this it was Christians who stayed back and helped the sick when many rich citizens and many non-Christians ranaway up to the hills far from the pandemic. However, it was because of such selfless acts of the Christians that Christianity not just survived many persecutions and hardships but also grew exponentially. Likewise, today we are in such a predicament where greater workers are demanded for the harvest. Are we one of the workers?
M. Sashi Jamir