The poet T. S. Eliot famously said that humankind cannot bear very much reality. What he meant by this has provoked endless discussion, but it is surely true that one of the realities men and women try and deny is death. And one suspects that another – especially in modern society – is recognition and acknowledgment of the reality of God. Whose inconvenient truths interfere with the more immediate and pressing satisfaction of ‘unholy’ desire.
But now, faced with the coronavirus pandemic, we are all of us having to confront these realities, and it’s leading to some strange changes of approach. On the one hand, for example, there’s mass panic, with normally rational people shopping like there’s no tomorrow – sweeping through supermarkets like engorged locusts to strip the shelves of everything in sight. But on the other, people who wouldn’t normally set foot in a church, are suddenly joining online prayer groups and streamed services – and asking God, whose existence they’ve trenchantly denied up to now, for help.
Let us be clear, God has not caused this virus. Indeed, if rumours are to be believed, it may be the result of a deliberate man-made biological weapon. After all, many have pointed out the proximity of China’s biological weapons facility to Wuhan, where the virus first started, and the number of identified genetic changes to the original virus have apparently aroused concern. But, however it originated, the existence of the virus is an aberration.
There are many things in existence that cause fear and alarm – and many things from which the Lord, in His mercy, undoubtedly shields us. But sometimes by our own actions we repudiate that help, or even – where there is sin – cause the Lord to withhold His protection. The good news is that, alarming though our current situation is – and irrespective of whether the virus is natural or deliberately enhanced – the Lord can still intervene. Indeed, He could halt this infection in its tracks.
Yet even more amazing is the fact that God actively wants to help. All that is needed is for us to repent the ways we have deliberately flouted and disobeyed His laws, and then to ask.
Strange as it may seem, there is blessing in this crisis, and there is hope. For a start we have seen levels of pollution across the globe dramatically reduced, and we have seen hugely impressive and selfless care for the sick by medical professionals, who in the process have put themselves at risk. Then we have seen little, repeated acts of kindness – that mean so much to the lonely and alone, and will in time surely strengthen community.
Jesus said to his disciples that in the world we shall have trouble. But amazingly, it’s the trouble – the challenges – that actually breed character, revealing hidden depths of strength, understanding and compassion. So in these challenging times, let’s not be afraid, but let us use the opportunities given to grow and maybe even learn or discover new skills. In particular, let us keep balance in our response – after all, health experts keep repeating that 80% of those who fall victim will have only a mild form of illness. Instead let us stand ready to help, without panic, seeing in this time of enforced isolation an opportunity to do the things for which normally we have no time. Perhaps then a gift from God – to take time out and reassess our lives before it’s too late!