Facts, Faith and Covid-19

Covid 19 confronts us with a barrage of fear inducing facts. How are we as Christians to come to terms with the impact of these numerous pieces of frightful information? This has been the subject of much discussion with some decrying the failure of “Christians” to acknowledge the facts of science. Some Christians clap back with comments ranging from references to God’s sovereignty to Apocalyptic prophecies. This article isn’t about the details of who is right or wrong in these arguments. It is a [rather lengthy] piece for Christians who want to figure out what role their faith plays in relation to alarming facts in crisis such as this one.

Concept Of Covid-19 In Red BackgroundFacts within a specific context are what constitutes one’s reality. Some facts will only apply within a given context while others do not. For example mangoes in our village fall on the ground under the pull of gravity. That might be true all over the earth but it is a different matter on the NASA space station four hundred kilometers above the earth. The behaviour of a mango on the space station does not necessarily negate the laws of gravity but it just means the facts apply differently in that different context. The fact of gravity is the same but these are two different realities as experienced by the people in those places.

It follows, therefore, that someone else’s fact, in a different context may not constitute our reality. For example, a person without previous an infection of chickenpox will likely respond differently to exposure than one who has had it. One important point, however, and this is the point of this post, is that different people process the same fact differently based on the resources they have to process their reality. In other words, the same reality, with the same facts and the same context, will evoke different responses. The range of responses is wide. Some responses are more informed by faith while others are less informed by faith. Other factors such as fear, pain, and so on also influence people’s response. How then are we as Christians to address the information we have about covid-19?

Person Holding Laboratory FlaskFact, scientific or otherwise, helps us know with some certainty what the measurable, verifiable elements of our reality are. Religion, however, is what should guide us in coming to terms with this reality. My faith as a Christian helps me make sense of what we know so far about our situation. Should the situation change, my faith will also help me find understanding and purpose. I return to this shortly. From a Christian perspective, it is possible to be aware of particular facts about a reality but miss the mark in making sense of them. I illustrate this with a well known Biblical account in Numbers 13 and 14.

Israel came out of Egypt with a promise for a bright future. Their long and winding journey in the wilderness brought them to the promised land. When they arrived at its threshold, Moses, their trusted leader sent spies to bring back a report. Twelve men went out with specific instructions to gather information – facts, about the land. At the end of six weeks brought back the same facts. The land was productive, but unlike Israel, the people lived in large fortified cities and had considerable military might. This where the commonality of perspective among the spies ended.

Ten spies looked at the facts and concluded, according to their interpretation, that the promised land was a no-go zone. In their words, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” In the same way many of us with potentially useful morsels of info share [on social media], the spies took it upon themselves to present the facts, and their assessment to the people. The result of their introspection was a riot and possibly mass hysteria among a travel-weary, poor, fearful and anxious Israel. “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder,” Israel complained to Moses.

Photo of Person Peeking through the HoleJoshua and Caleb, the remaining two spies, encountered the same facts, acknowledged them but saw greater purpose. They did not dismiss the negative, potentially overwhelming downsides of Canaan. They instead chose to see the whole picture. Their assessment of the facts led them to conclude that the land presented an opportunity for Israel. They accepted that Canaanites had great military might but this was no match for God’s promise to Israel. It was not lost on them that there would be a struggle, but they gave meaning and context to the facts by putting God in the picture.

Similarly, Covid 19 presents us with the opportunity to assess the facts of post-corona-virus life. Our Christian assessment should be honest about what the situation on the ground is. We should also be aware of who God is and what he intends for us.

Let us be clear here that hope does not mean dishonesty about the truth. A harsh indictment is given for those who deny the truth about a dire situation. Such unwise people (the prophet uses stronger words) put themselves on a collision course with God when they “whitewash” the truth with false claims. (Ezekiel 13:3-12) While the temptation is great to bend the facts to give hope to a desperate people, such hope must be rooted in the actual situation. Covid-19 is a serious disease that has caused widespread suffering, and death. Every presentation of hope needs to make sure it is not “whitewashing” this fact.

We also must understand that a message of hope in Christ that does not acknowledge God’s sovereignty over human frailty also attracts God’s displeasure, as we have seen in the Numbers narrative. Our Christian faith response cannot be despondent and despairing, even with harsh facts – this is not the vision we see of our God in scripture. Our faith furnishes us with the resources to accept both the severity of our situation, and appreciate God’s sovereignty over it.

Man Holding His FaceI can see three responses that we can adopt as we process meaning behind the facts of our Covid-19 situation. The first is a retreat into lament. (See N.T.Wright’s reflection on this Here.) Christian faith teaches us that there is a place for a quiet weeping over our state. A solemn, soul-searching moment that invites us to grieve over our weak physical and spiritual condition, as God would, and does. Jeremiah in his eponymous book, and the book he wrote of Lamentations gives us excellent lessons on this. Many Psalms also do a great job modelling this, and giving us the vocabulary for lament. In our lives lament involves prayer, meditative readings and even music that puts us in touch with the feelings of grief, loss and sense of utter dependence on God in our lamentable circumstances.

This grief cannot be perpetual but must give way to a resolute dependence on God. Such a dependence recognizes the seriousness of the situation but also acknowledges that God can bring deliverance in any form to the afflicted. It challenges our one-track view of modern medicine, and causes us to consider other avenues of God’s miraculous intervention, whether by medical or other means. This dependence is so fervent that even if God did not heal in the way we desire, we still remain devoted to him. (See Habbakuk 3:17) This dependence prioritizes seeking after God in His Word. (See Hosea 6:1-4) It also highlights spiritual disciplines such as community worship [in whichever form available], prayer and fasting.

Brown Concrete Cross Near a Palm TreeFinally, a third Christian response to our difficult realities should inspire an outward orientation. The alarming facts of Covid-19 must re-sensitize us to the most vulnerable in our midst and how severely they are affected. It should drive us to care for them by considering their livelihoods as well as their health. It will require those with means to give generously to safeguard the well-being of the vulnerable. Christian employers, landlords and other people of means – must think outside the box to find humane solutions to the difficult dilemmas of life, especially in cities and towns. A Christian response to Covid-19 realities is a call to reach deep into our Christian experience, to cultivate a sense of purpose and hope at a time when the facts tempt us to fear. In the face of the hopelessness of skepticism towards God, our Christian faith invites us back to the Cross, to cling on to God with even more devotion.

One Response to “Facts, Faith and Covid-19”

  1. oh wow! such deep insights! such deep lessons to ponder upon! Thanks Pastor Kyama for this. I will take on the 3 responses even more seriously. i have been at the place of prayer, full of more worship and more of praises to my Saviour even as i acknowldge that i carry His Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead. Am blessed. I have the full cover of the blood of Christ on me!
    May God bless you indeed Pastor Kyama

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