The church and coronavirus
As the numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19 exceeds 1 million worldwide, the coronavirus outbreak continues to raise profound existential questions. Many have blamed this situation on the rebellious and liberal nature of the world, some directing it at the western world for their apostasy and pride. While among the poor of places in developing countries like Nigeria there is a conscious belief that the pandemic is punishment for the wickedness of the politicians who refuses to take care of the poor and improve the facilities for health care and social needs of the people.
The apocalyptic interpretation of this pandemic reveals how the people of God see evil: “Why would an all-powerful God allow this Coronavirus pandemic?” Is this a sign of the end times judgment of God for mankind’s sinfulness and disobedience? Is this, as some believe, the work of Satan that needs to be defeated by prayer and repentance? How can a just and loving God allow the innocent to suffer with the guilty? Whatever your denomination and theological beliefs, the question remains: why doesn’t God intervene in times such as these?
As humans, we need to give meaning to our human experiences to help us through this troubled life. It is natural to seek divine explanations for afflictions and trauma. The Fatherhood of God is that humanity is one and should be kind in the use of worldly resources but the responsibility of sharing this common wealth from the father has been abused and destroyed by avaricious and covetousness. In that situation the worst will come upon both on the rich and the poor. So the understanding here is not that of evil but judgment that will result to great revival and Change in the public life.
This they have compared with David and his political miscalculation of taking census against God’s Plan (2 Samuel 24). The leaders have been selfish and arrogant and this behaviour has brought evil in to the Land. Therefore, in a way COVID-19 is an agent allowed by God for a purpose. For others the virus is from Satan and must be cast out through prayers and fasting. Since God is good and has promised his children protection from evil therefore the virus is an agent of evil which must be resisted through religious practices.
These religious practices unfortunately have been stopped as a result of closure of many worship centres in the Nigeria. The question is then can such practices take place only in a gathering. And so, how can churches do their work? Is there a meaningful way to worship as a gathered community? These were the sort of questions the Jews asked and reflected on during their period of exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC. Away from the Temple in Jerusalem and their religious and cultural practices, they had to find another way of worshipping and being Jewish.
There is power in gathering and fellowship as most rituals requires witness and participation of religious people. The Church is a group of people called out for a purpose which includes according to the baptism vow to fight against, the flesh, the world and the devil. And Jesus said where two or three are gathered in his name he would be in their midst.
As movement has been restricted, church leaders and their pastoral teams have put even more emphasis calling the elderly, visiting the sick and the frail in their neighbourhood to check on their wellbeing and provide support. Many churches and faith groups across the country have raised money to sent packages containing rice, tomatoes, palm oil, beans and other essential foodstuff to help the least able and vulnerable members and non-members of their parishes and communities. Another church leader says his church is taking no collection for as long as the situation persist.
The leader believes that the church leadership must deny themselves and adjust and send money to the needy. His staff have taken a pay cut and given a sum of money to be shared to the needy member of the Church to help them through this crisis. The call of the prophetic eschaton is the voice of hope and change driven by the understanding that God is Almighty and has spoken in his Son in these last days about the finite nature of humankind in all his endeavours and about His judgment upon the universe. This pandemic may be interpreted as like the biblical call of Amos to the Israelites “Israel prepare to meet thy God.”
God’s character hasn’t changed. God does not cause suffering; he remains merciful and just. For us Christians God’s purposes and answers are seen in Jesus Christ. Jesus reveals the justice and mercy of God at the same time. Judgment and mercy are at the heart of the cross. God judges mankind but he also heals and does deliver us from trials and tribulations. Christian salvation is a theme that comes out of every calamity. The pain and evils of life will result in the final deliverance and liberation from the control of the frailties of the body and limitations of wisdom.
For most Christians Covid-19 reveals the nearness of this salvation in Christ as absolute and sure. Many may die as a result of this plague and the world economy may meltdown, yet salvation belongs to our God and his people. God is at the centre of the history of the world at this time. This Easter passion week is a reminder that God is here with us. He is suffering with us. But ultimately we will be triumphant with him. His presence is revealed in the good works of people who pray for us, bring comfort, food and material needs to others and who shine the light of hope into the darkness of this world.
Rev. Jaiye is an Anglican priest in London, United Kingdom while Rev. Ngoka is the Archdeacon of Diocese of Owerri, Nigeria.