• Josfin Raj, Academic Dean, NLBS

CHRISTIAN THEOLOGICAL TALK IN THE MIDST OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Updated: Apr 25

A Call for Planetarian Spirituality


It is for sure that the questions like ‘where is God in the time of crisis?’, ‘does God cause Coronavirus’ and so on available out there. At the same time ready-made answers for these queries are also available for buying. Some argued that Christianity offers no answer to Covid 19, but to lament over the situation. It is true to some extent that, Christianity does not exist to answer all the puzzles in the world. Meanwhile, Christian faith can ‘respond’ to this situation more authentically and sincerely. There were many theological scholars already responded to this serious situation brought by Novel Coronavirus (Covid 19) world widely. For a concise categorization of such responses is found in one of my friend Rei Lemuel Crizaldo’s article.[1] However, it is another theological response from a third world country - India.

This theological talk must continue as a series of discourses which would help the community of faith (and no faith) to modulate their life in the post-covid 19 world.

Theological Talk!?

When the whole world is under panic, is it necessary to have a theological talk like this? Feels like a sadist attitude? Never! Our theological talk would regulate our action and response to this particular context. For instance, those who believe their hyper-faith will help them to get-away with Coronavirus will surely conduct the regular Church service with full quorum.[2] N. T. Wright, an acclaimed evangelical scholar, writes in an article to lament over the situation and affirms Christianity has no answer to Covid 19.[3] Responding to him, Andy Davis remarks in his article that Christian faith can offer hope in the midst of uncertainties.[4] Surely there must be a healthy theological talk now. When I say theological talk, I mean, “it is a human attempt reflect upon the relation between God, human and the world/ cosmos.” This reelection will remain as a contextual talk.

Cosmic Talk

There were many ‘virus’ available in the world such as Ebola, influenza, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and so on. But the Novel Coronavirus is considered to be a pandemic in this generation. World Health Organization (WHO) narrates it in this way: “We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus.”[5] They call people to not give up by this pandemic situation. WHO warns us, “Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”[6] The statistics of current situation of world at the time of writing this article is 1914916 confirmed cases and 123010 deaths, and mostly affected by the global north.[7] The situation alert us because of two reasons as Bill Gates observes: “First, it can kill healthy adults in addition to elderly people with existing health problems….Second, Covid-19 is transmitted quite efficiently.”[8]

It is a lesson to learn that we cannot mistreat or take advantage of even a tiny particle of our planet earth. It can react violently. This critical situation teaches that human is no more the center of attraction in this great universe. Whenever we held such view, we exploited the nature and its resources that separated us from nature. Our development and sustainability is not counted on the healthy atmosphere and nature, but on the basis of ‘profit’. Nature has its equal share in this world, therefore in our theological talk, priority must to listen the voices of the cosmos. It demands us to humble and have a spirituality that must be planetarian in nature, which must encompass from the microcosm to the macrocosm by understanding nature is a gift of God.

It is a lesson to learn that we cannot mistreat or take advantage of even a tiny particle of our planet earth.

Human Talk

Human beings were talkative from past to present. The gap between the talk and action was so wide. In the recent past, the talk was on political campaign, power, economy and development. It was derived out of pride of human progression and development. They have secluded people based on their nation, region, religion, caste, class, color, gender and identity in their talk. We were so fast, even could not hear the groaning of our planet. ‘Rest in peace while we are alive’ was timely prophetic voice raised early of this year.[9] The death by pandemic is not discriminating people of a region or religion. It is approaching to everyone. In present talks, we understand the fragility of humanity in the planet earth. We strive hard to sustain the existence of human life.


From my observation, humanity, irrespective of virus affected and non-affected, should take complete responsibility of this situation. The transmitters or carriers of the virus were humans across the globe. Sometime, we can blame globalization for this worse situation, but not now. Since the sole responsibility is upon human for this wide spreading of virus and death, we cannot blame God for this.


We also must be careful about present talks, particularly political talks. We understand from recent news, first case is reported from Wuhan in China. Many tried to suppress the news and situation over there. Some leaders demand weird postures and actions such as clapping hands or banging utensils, lit the candle or lamp in the corridor, to cast out Coronavirus, as if it fearfully flee away.[10] And conducted media conference with sportsmen of the nation to discuss the pandemic situation is another strange situation. Such political hangama is not helpful, but affect negatively even to raise blind beliefs and so on. An economic package to confront the reality and immediate medical boost are the expected deeds from a responsible prime minister in this crucial hour than merely appreciating and encouraging (that can be done at the end).


In the end, our future talk must be about nurturing planeterian spirituality. We must reduce extravagant decorations in our words, deed and lifestyle.


From my observation, humanity, irrespective of virus affected and non-affected, should take complete responsibility of this situation.

Divine Talk

There were questions popup in the social media asking “where is God?” in the pandemic situation as elsewhere mentioned. God is with us in the ‘virus’ affected world. Another title used for Jesus is Emmanuel, which means God is with us. It is used in the context of Gnostic teaching which claimed the matter is evil. The incarnation of Jesus to the world of evil witnesses and affirms that ‘God is with us’ in the ‘virus’ affected world.

Then why God is silent? As the Novel Coronavirus has its origin from nature and its solution remains in nature. It is the responsibility of human beings to find the solution to the problem created by human interactions. The scientists and medical researchers would find out a remedy at a god-moment.

However, conservative Christians like me cannot stop without explaining our hope in the Lord Jesus. We understand it as the signs of second coming of Jesus Christ. It alerts all Christians and non-Christians to away from sins and prepare for His coming. It, however, does not make us lethargic towards human responsibility. We earnestly pray and work hard to prevent the spread of coronavirus as faithful citizens. The first century early church grew in the epidemic crisis of Roman community, who can give comfort and consolation, providing treatment.[11] The guidelines lay by government and respective authorities must be kept. Though such conditions like social distance, self-isolation etc. may bring many traumas in which clinical pastorate can handle the situation effectively.


There must be some scriptural reflections to the current situation as divine talk. It is true that the Bible doesn’t talk about Covid -19, but narrates similar incidents or situations and how people of God responded to it. It is similar with two incidents in the scripture. First is from Old Testament, the story of Job. Job’s incident teaches us to ‘persevere’ in the adverse situation and wait upon the Lord for a glorious culmination. And the second one is from New Testament where Jesus’ mention about the death of eighteen by the collapse of tower in Siloam. ‘Tower collapse’ incident calls us to repent from our sins. Since it is a ‘natural’ suffering,[12] we can depend upon the God who is the creator and sustainer of this cosmos.

Though such conditions like social distance, self-isolation etc. may bring many traumas in which clinical pastorate can handle the situation effectively.

Practical Talk

Let me conclude my theological talk with some pragmatic words. As Christians cherish hope in the imminent return of Jesus Christ, which should give believers (and non-believers) comfort and strength to face the Covid -19 situations courageously. We should continue to respond to the situations by learning lessons from this Covid 19 pandemic brought to us.


Representing third world or majority countries, it was a time to digitalize our faith. Christian ministers maximized their knowledge in technology to do their pastoral responsibility efficiently. At the same time, we should not neglect the pastors who do not have such technical knowledge. Digital should not divide, but needs to find out alternative ways to help them.


For me, it is lesson to develop a spirituality beyond religion, aiming at the value of human life and respecting the nature and it’s groaning – A planetary spirituality!

Seeing the current context, secular universities, immediately jump into ‘online mode’ and continues their education without any disruption. Theological institutions, whereas, are still in coma stage to realize and understand the possibilities available in the digital world.


Finance matters! Christian ministers who depend upon their weekly offerings, believers who go for daily wage and other people are in financial crisis. People who support and sponsors are running their business at very low. There must be talks and action on the financial stability of the common people from government and church authorities.

This panic period also teaches us valuable lessons and demands us to cherish them in the post-covid 19 world such as – equal value for human life; we can slow down and deal tenderly with the nature; learn to be in home; meaningful spirituality and the list goes on. Our faith is not limited in the four walls of the church. For me, it is lesson to develop a spirituality beyond religion, aiming at the value of human life and respecting the nature and it’s groaning – A planetary spirituality!


This theological talk must continue as a series of discourses which would help the community of faith (and no faith) to modulate their life in the post-covid 19 world.

Nb: This article will appear shortly in New Life Theological Journal [ISSN: 2455-0027]

About the Contributor



Josfin Raj S. B, M.Th. (Christian Theology) M.A. (English Litt.& Christian Studies) currently serves as the Academic Dean at New Life Biblical Seminary, Kerala, India. He authored Inclusive Christ and Broken People: Towards a Dalit Christology in the Light of the Early Church Faith Confession (CWI, 2018) and Pauline Corpus: A Paradigm for the Effective Christian Journalism in Contemporary India (ISPCK, 2013), and co-edited Pentecostalism: Polyphonic Discourses. (ISPCK/NLBS, 2019). He has contributed several articles for various theological journals and magazines, and presented papers in international forums like ATA Theological Consultation Manila, Philippians. He is married with Ross and has three-year-old son Jeevan. Reach him at josfinraj@gmail.com.


NOTES


[1] Rei Lemuel Crizaldo, “Thinking of Theodicies?” Every Square Inch (6 April 2020) https://www.facebook.com/notes/every-square-inch/thinking-of-theodicies/2846024218850710/ [2] Jason Wilson , “The rightwing Christian preachers in deep denial over Covid-19's danger,” The Guardian (4 Apr 2020) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/apr/04/america-rightwing-christian-preachers-virus-hoax [3] N.T. Wright, “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It's Not Supposed To,” Time (29March, 2020) https://time.com/5808495/coronavirus-christianity/ [4] Andy Davis, “Surprised by Hopelessness: A Response to N. T. Wright,” The Gospel Coalition (April 1, 2020) https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/coronavirus-response-to-nt-wright/ [5] “WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 11 March 2020” https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19---11-march-2020 [6] “WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 11 March 2020” [7] “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report – 85” WHO (15 April 2020) https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200415-sitrep-86-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=c615ea20_4 [8] Bill Gates, Handling coronavirus, How to respond to COVID-19 And prepare for the next epidemic, too,” (28 February, 2020) https://www.gatesnotes.com/Health/How-to-respond-to-COVID-19 [9] Josfin Raj, “Rest in Peace (RIP) when You are Alive.” Christian Trends 5, no.9, (December–January 2020): 32-33. [10] “Making people clap, shining torches not enough to fight Covid-19: Rahul Gandhi.” India Today (April 4, 2020) https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/congress-rahul-gandhi-on-clapping-torches-pm-modi-coronavirus-india-1663325-2020-04-04 [11] Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (New Jersey: Princiton University Press, 1996), 73-94. [12] It is a ‘natural’ suffering is suffering from illnesses or natural disasters, but moral evil differs from it. ‘Moral evil’ in which suffering flows from the actions of individuals like Hitler or similar). James Martin, “Where Is God in a Pandemic? The honest answer is: We don’t know. But even non-Christians may find understanding in the life of Jesus.” The New York Times (March 22, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/22/opinion/coronavirus-religion.html

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