Background: On March 29, 2020, The Times published an article entitled Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To, written by N.T.Wright.
N.T. Wright, one of the most important New Testament scholars in the 20th century and the author of over 80 books, writes, “Rationalists (including Christian rationalists) want explanations; Romantics (including Christian romantics) want to be given a sigh of relief. But perhaps what we need more than either is to recover the biblical tradition of lament...
God was grieved to his heart, Genesis declares, over the violent wickedness of his human creatures. He was devastated when his own bride, the people of Israel, turned away from him. And when God came back to his people in the form of a person—the story of Jesus is meaningless unless that’s what it’s about—he wept at the tomb of his friend. St. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit “groaning” within us, as we ourselves groan in the pain of the whole creation. The ancient doctrine of the Trinity teaches us to recognize the One God in the tears of Jesus and the anguish of the Spirit.”
The professor concludes, "It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain — and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that, there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope."
If N.T.Wright is right - Christianity offers no answers about the coronavirus and it’s not supposed to - then what can it bring to people under the pandemic?
Christian Times, a Shanghai-based Christian newspaper, interviewed three church workers on the topic of Christianity’s contributions to this unprecedented disaster.
Brother L is a member of a community fellowship in a second-tier city in eastern China and was born in the 1980s. Brother X is a millennial campus fellowship leader in a fourth-tier city in eastern China. Brother M is a church pastor in central China and is in his thirties.
Christian Times: What do you think of N.T. Wright’s opinion that “Christianity offers no answers about the coronavirus and it’s not supposed to”? Do you agree or disagree?
Brother X: I hold that there is no answer. Christians should accompany people.
Brother L: Since the coronavirus outbreak, many people have been asking, “Why God allowed such a thing to happen?” Many Christians offer an answer that disasters result from humankind’s sins and God’s judgment.
Brother X: You cannot just state it is wrong, but the answer is very simple and rude. For happy people, you can say that, but the answer is too cruel for miserable people.
Christian Times: When a disaster happens, many churches explain it with the “God’s judgment” rhetoric. That causes many controversies.
Brother X: It’s impossible to avoid most disaster topics. The whole Bible interprets it. Churches explain it as “God's judgment”, regardless of whether people like it or not. However, it's a wrong impression that many churches do so. In fact, just a few churches use this rhetoric and their voices are not the mainstream, but the label is stuck on all churches.
There are many worldly sins and misconducts, but churches do not speak aloud to them as they themselves are vulnerable groups.
Christian Times: Do you mean that under this social condition, churches speak little about public topics?
Brother X: Yes. Churches have been pushed out from public topics. They can’t speak because their voices will be scolded as was the case with the anti-Christian movement in the 1920s.
Many places encounter similar dilemmas. For example, Christianity should be “politically correct” in some European and American countries.
Christian Times: Why does that phenomena exist?
Brother L: It demonstrates that there is no room for traditional Christianity. The perspectives, ways, and focus of traditional Christianity on public topics have broken away from public views.
We live in a world filled with entertainment, secularism, and hope, but traditional Christianity advocates pessimism and horrible eschatology. We’re in an era which is very different from the Roman Empire period or the Middle Age full of disasters and poverty.
Christianity can pay attention to many areas, but not it only concerns dark and negative problems. Actually, the gospel can bring positive energy to the world but it has become a negative force.
Facing a man born blind, Jesus’ disciples asked him who sinned, the man or his parents, that he was born blind. Jesus answered, “Neither this man or his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Our focus should reflect the light of God in the darkness in the society, rather than be darkness and amplify it. Today Christians neglect the way of Jesus, they take tooth for tooth.
Brother X: Where did we take tooth for tooth?
Brother L: Churches always care about darkness and social sins, claiming that since plagues happen, we should repent because of sins.
I regard it as a solution offered by religion. It leads people to a religion, not bringing man to God as Jesus did.
Jesus’ solution was to inspire people to see God's grace amid the darkness. He did not say that God was a sharp sword that pierced people more even though they were in pain and then they should have repented.
Brother X: There are many healing cases by Jesus in the Bible. You should not cite that one alone.
Brother L: My point is that we need to see this world in a positive perspective.
Brother X: I agree that we should not analyze things in a fixed pattern. It is wrong to say that every person who is in misery has committed some sin. Some people just have bad luck. But we should not avoid the sin issue, either.
Brother M: This complicated issue is not simple. The “God’s judgment” rhetoric simplifies complex issues too much. It holds that once people repent, the plague disappears. According to this simple idea, don’t we need to put control measures and be quarantined?
Could we use the Deuteronomic formula that you are blessed if you obey commandments and vice versa in today’s world? I don’t think so. The Deuteronomic idea is simple - this world is either black or white.
However, common sense tells us the world is complicated. You cannot explain everything with a simple spiritual formula. For example, earlier, the United States held a national prayer movement for the pandemic, but the situation got worse.
We need to consider again and again in the face of many complicated things.
Christian Times: In ancient times when medicine and technology were not advanced, people at that time regarded life and death as the issues of God. But today we can protect our lives with much medical technology. Therefore, we cannot directly apply biblical principles to our times.
Brother L: The Bible and our faith are right. It is wrong that we are too “mechanical”.
Christian Times: Then what can Christianity offer to people during this pandemic?
Brother L: When Jesus was sailing with his disciples, he slept peacefully while they encountered storms and cried out to him. It reveals to us that facing a disaster, we should have peace like Jesus so that we can calm down. We can be examples of faith to people.
We believe in God who is in charge of everything, while we ought to do what we can. We do not panic or become scared, but take measures to protect ourselves and be involved in disease control.
Brother X: Yes. Christianity offers us inner faith, courage, and peace to better deal with the conditions. Wright claims there is no answer for COVID-19. So do I.
As God's son painfully cried out “Abba father” on the cross and God did not respond, it is normal for Christians to receive no answer for disasters. Jesus never promises us answers, but promises empathy and compassion. He is with us as he also went through storms, disasters, and death.
It is very painful to be infected with the virus and to suffer alone, so I approve of Italian priests who stayed with patients in hospitals. Those priests were infected and dozens of them died. I am unable to do that, but I respect them. Though we are limited, it’s good to make a call to others.
Brother M: We are different from Italy where Catholics are the majority. Italian priests have heavy tasks in caring for the sick. But the Christian percentage is low in China. Of course, it is necessary to keep patients company whether they are Christians or not.
- Translated by Karen Luo