As COVID-19 continues to rampage our world and as our collective humanity tries different measures in order to survive, I have been reflecting theologically on what Coronavirus evokes in us as God’s people. Some of these theological responses are not particular to people of faith, but common to us all (faith or no faith). But perhaps because viewed through the lens of faith gives a different meaning to the themes covered. These six responses are not also an exhaustive list because there will be other responses besides these six. The six responses are Ontological, Sabbatical, Ecological, Ecclesiological, Missiological and Eschatological.
Ontological: Coronavirus is causing us to ask the big questions such as what is the meaning of life? what is our existence and why are we here? Amidst multiple deaths in different countries on different continents, these forces us to reflect on life itself. Brexit was our major concern before in the UK, but with this new threat no one is really talking about Brexiteers and Remainers, but how can we survive COVID-19 together?
Sabbatical: With different government applying different measures that restrict our movement, Coronavirus is forcing on us an extended kind of sabbath. Now our understanding of sabbath is rest, however this enforced sabbatical is not necessarily encouraging us to rest because we are pre-occupied with how we are going to survive whether that be going out to buy food when we run out, or self-isolating because someone has COVID-19 or someone in our household has it. Has the measures and restrictions COVID-19 requires disturbs us mentally, spiritually, pyschologically and physically, we still have to yield to this enforced extended sabbatical if we are going to survive this together. Everyone playing their part in not going out unless absolutely necessary must be viewed as a positive sabbatical if we are to combat COVID-19.
Ecological: Before Coronavirus outbreak, one of the dominant global discourses was the subject of climate change. Greta Thunberg’s cause now feels like ages ago in the light of what is emerging. But what is however interesting and crucial as a result of Coronavirus is that as we have less cars on the road and planes flying, it begs the question whether this is reducing our carbon emissions? If I may dare pose the question, is Coronavirus then good for climate change? This is a difficult question to answer, but I couldnt but help wonder to think how less cars and planes flying is good for the environment at this critical time.
Ecclesiological: COVID-19 is forcing us to rethink how we do church and what church actually means. The situation is bringing about the true meaning of the church as expressed in the Greek words Kuriakon (belonging to the Lord) and Ekklesia (the community of called out ones or believers). Although the meaning of Kuriakon later changed to be used in the sense of church building, but the original meaning was people belonging to the Lord. The fact that we cannot physically gathered together because of a threat to our existence is pushing us back to understand that our life is not our own and that we belong to the Lord as a community of called out ones as we meet online. More than ever before the church is cherishing its community of people more than the building which in some cases dominate our mission. Countless articles have been written on how the mission of the church is more about maintenance than mission. Pastoral care also takes on a new meaning as we do this through social media or good old fashion phone call on the landline to congregants who are not on social media or have a mobile. We are rediscovering what church community really means.
Missiological: Following on from rethinking how we do church is how we do mission. Now there is something within the church that we call Fresh Expressions of church which is the attempt of the church to be incarnational in doing church for the un-churched. This expression of the church allows for creative thinking as we consider discipleship and mission in a post-Christendom context. While there are some genuinely Fresh Expressions of church such as churches planted in housing estate areas, cafe churches, messy church and so on, one of the problems within this movement of church is that some of the initiatives are not actually expressing anything fresh because they are only putting the tag “Fresh Expression” on old ways of doing church! However, with the current Corona-climate, we are beginning to see authentic Fresh Expressions of church emerge online. Christians ( and non-Christians) are reaching out to their neighbours by getting to know them and helping them with food provisions. The various online platforms for streaming Sunday services is reaching beyond the church walls and perhaps for the first time we have a chance in this post-modern, post-church context to reach people we could not reach before.
Eschatological: The last theological response is how Coronavirus is forcing us to ask the question, is this the end? Here is a question being asked by people of faith as well as people of no faith. For people of faith, particularly Christians, some of us are examining the apocalyptic texts in the Bible such as the book of Zechariah, Revelation and the popular Jesus discourse in Matthew 24 in the light of recent world events. Anyone reading Matthew 24 will almost want to conclude that Jesus is living in our time as they are very spot on on recent global events. All the millennial theories and rapture theories (if you are a dispensationalist) are being examined in the light of Ebola outbreak, Syrian refugee crisis, Presidency of Donald Trump, climate change, Brexit and Coronavirus. Is this indeed the end of the world as prophesied in scripture? Is Coronavirus the new Anti-christ? There are no easy answers and only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, we are definitely living in uncertain times as we confront Coronavirus. Whether we believe that this world will be destroyed and a new one created or the current one will be renewed, it is my prayer that God will prepare us for the second coming of Jesus!