What a strange seven weeks

Lent and the COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus Disease COVID-19

It’s time to catch up after the Lent blogs, and so much has happened it feels like we’re in a different world. At the beginning of lent there had been no reported deaths from COVID-19 in the UK and the Cheif Medical Officer was maintaining, despite reported cases in the UK since 31st January, that there was ‘minimal risk’ to the public. Less than two weeks into Lent we had been told to isolate the vulnerable, not visit bars and restaurants and to maintain social distancing. A week later the country was in lockdown, due to people flocking to the seaside, the Peak District and other places on Mothers’ Day. BBC economics editor Faisal Islam tweeted on March 23rd:

Everyone’s focussed on London, but the geographical spread of cases, eg fair number in shires/ Home Counties might also fit the Italian ski holiday half term thesis.

I never realised just how much I’d be giving up for Lent.

It became all too real to me when two weeks after lockdown, on 6th April, my father was taken into hospital and the test came in positive for COVID two days later.

Whilst all this has been going on several things have been happening as far as Christian spirituality is concerned. First is the repeated message of “Do not be afraid, ” which I believe was a message from God as it was being heard long before the outbreak got serious.

The rest I am not so happy about:

When you see a quote from scripture you have to look at who it was originally written for, and from that context ask, was it being said to everybody? If not, who is this passage for? Only then can you ask the question, “Is this for me?” Be careful how you use Scripture, especially if you are a leader: God will hold you responsible for its effects on the people.

Let’s look at two of these:

Passage 1.

For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11 NIV UK

Who was it written for?

It was written to people who were going to be exiled and enslaved in Babylon for 70 years. These people and their children were unlikely to see their homeland again and if they did they would be very old. It was the grandchildren and great-grandchildren not yet born who would return to run businesses and farm the land back in their own country. It was not a message to individuals, they would be treated as slaves and more than likely die in exile. This was a message of hope to the nation that God had not forgotten them.

Who was it not written for?

It was not for individuals. But there was another group who said, If we stay in the land God will bless us. These people had their false prophets who Jeremiah stood up to, and as a result, Jeremiah was treated very badly. You have to be discerning as to whether what you are saying is coming from the Holy Spirit, and not from your own wishful thinking.

My conclusion

Jeremiah was advising people to connect to the Babylonian exile, everything they had was about to go. This was a verse of preparation to a people about to suffer. I believe this message is from God to people now. We are going through an exile, churches have closed over Holy Week and Easter. Some people, including Christians, are going to die or be bereaved, but God is saying he has plans to prosper the church. The church has retreated online, but people reading online prayer plans such as the Church of England DailyPrayer app have increased, even to people who do not usually go to church. God is using this bad thing of a pandemic, and it is a very bad thing, to teach us to pray again. God as not forgotten us.

But it is up to you, do not take my word for it, I am not a great theologian. Look at the passage quoted above and prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to show you what she is saying to you through this.

Passage 2

You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
Psalm 91:5–6

I have seen this used in a context that says that this Coronavirus pandemic will not strike at Christians. I disagree: Here’s why …

Who is it written for?

Psalm 91 is part of Book IV of the Psalms, Psalms 90–106the psalms of exile. The first three psalms in this book run is a sequence 90—91—92, A lament about living a vulnerable existence (Psalm 90) — words of protection (Psalm 91) — gratitude to God (Psalm 92).

There is a danger here when taking a few words out of context from Psalm 91 of falling into the True Scotsman logical fallacy:

“A true Scotsman never wears anything under the kilt.”
“Oor Angus wears underpants under the kilt.”
“Then Angus is not a true Scotsman.”

If a preacher were to use Psalm 91:6, or similar verses, to say that Christians with faith will not be touched by coronavirus and then tell those who contracted the disease that they did not have faith then this is worse than being a logical fallacy but also spiritual abuse. It is logical and spiritual phallusy.

The terror of night, the arrow that flies by day, the pestilence that stalks in the darkness and the plague that destroys at midday are attributes of different Babylonian gods. The psalm is one of protection against false gods or demons, though the Old Testament writers play the demonology aspect down. This passage promises protection from spiritual powers in the original context. Some of the original singers of this psalm, although they had God’s protection, still died in captivity.

My conclusion

We are not promised protection from disease by Psalm 91, but we are promised like those in exile, that God will be with us through it. Over time our laments are changed into songs of praise, but we are in the middle, part of a process.

Again, I am not a theologian. Look at the passage quoted above and prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to show you what she is saying to you through this.

Tell me what you think

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