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What Do I Make of "God and the Pandemic?"

By Zach Nerison

On March 29th, 2020, just as the Corona-virus frenzy had begun to envelope the world, Time Magazine published a brief article by Biblical Scholar N.T. Wright. This article caused quite a stir as many did not read past its rather provocative title: “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Corona-virus. It's Not Supposed To.” Wrights central idea in this article is that in response to the pandemic, “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.”[1] In response to the buzz that this article generated Wright wrote and shortly thereafter published a book called, God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and its Aftermath. After reading this book, I have found it to be thoroughly biblical, a challenge to think deeply about one's response to the pandemic, and an excellent case for the church embracing lament in the coming months.

What is in the book?

God and the Pandemic is all about critically examining how Christians should respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Wright challenges the conspiracies and common responses to the pandemic currently on offer. His method for accomplishing this is really quite simple, yet its impact should not be underestimated. Wright takes the reader through the bible and highlights those sections which are most relevant to our present circumstance.

What are some of the important lessons?

There were many great lessons in God and the Pandemic, here are two of them. The first comes in Wright’s survey of the Old Testament. Here he focuses mainly upon the book of Lamentations, the Psalms of Lament, and the book of Job. One of the observations that Wright makes from this survey is that a “dark power” is at work within the world trying to destroy Gods good work. He argues that the response we find modeled for us is not that we should not become preoccupied with trying to understand this “dark power.” Instead he writes, “We are simply to know that when we are caught up in awful circumstances, apparent gross injustices, terrible plagues – or when we are accused of wicked things of which we are innocent, suffering strange sicknesses with no apparent reason, let alone cure – at those points we are to lament, we are to complain, we are to state the case, and leave it with God.”[2] In this survey of the Old Testament, Wright makes it clear that lament is a big part of how God wants us to respond to events like the present pandemic.

A second lesson from God and the Pandemic: Jesus is the ultimate sign. Wright points out that there is a real temptation amidst everything that is happening in the world to start trying to interpret events saying things like, “Look! these are clearly signs to help us avoid judgment,” or “these events are a unique message from God meant to call us to repent of our sin.” Wright makes the powerful observation that those who are making these claims have “… gone to sleep on the job.”[3]

Why does Wright say this? He says these individuals are asleep on the Job because Jesus is the ultimate sign. Wright explains, “Jesus himself is the reason why people should turn from idolatry, injustice and all wickedness. The cross is where all the world’s sufferings and horrors have been heaped up and dealt with. The resurrection is the launch of God’s new creation, of his sovereign saving rule on earth – starting with the physical body of Jesus himself. Those events are now the summons to repent and the clue to what God is doing in the world. Trying to jump from an earthquake, a tsunami, a pandemic or anything else to a conclusion about ‘what God is saying here’ without going through the Gospel story is to make the basic theological mistake of trying to deduce something about God while going behind Jesus’ back.”[4] Wright’s point here is that Jesus is the ultimate and final sign of God. One of the practical applications of this is that we should call others to repent not because of the corona-virus but because God has called us to do so through the saving work of his son Jesus Christ.

Why should I read this book?

You should read God and the Pandemic because Wright offers a thoroughly biblical response to this pandemic. His response will challenge you to think deeply about your own response and the many responses of those around you. Ultimately, you will be challenged to practice lament in your own life and to see it practiced in your church community.

[1] Wright, N.T., et al. “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus.” Time, Time, 29 Mar. 2020, time.com/5808495/coronavirus-christianity [2] Wright, N. T. God and the Pandemic. Zondervan. Kindle Edition. (p. 14) [3] ibid, 19. [4] ibid, 21-22.

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