Theology of Coronavirus-by Georg Scriba

KZNCC ecumenical response to covid-19

A.  Challenges:

  1. The Covid-19 pandemic is a world-wide disaster and therefore has to be fought on a world-wide, global scale.
  2. The Covid-19 pandemic has probably only started in South Africa and more disaster frameworks will have to be implemented immediately:
  3. Seeing and listening to the news from other countries we need to be ready for all eventualities and worst-case scenarios:
  4. As someone quipped sarcastically: at least no one is again contemplating to flee or emigrate from our country, the trouble seems to be similar around the whole world

The Medical Challenge:

What we would wish and pray for from a purely human point of view of medical expectations:

  1. That the medical world fraternity discovers a working vaccine against the Covid-19 virus;
  2. That other medication (as against Ebola and SARS) can quickly be adapted as a possible cure and made widely available;
  3. That the antibodies of those who have survived the Covid-19 could be developed into a vaccine or medication to assist those who are ill;
  4. That those who survived Covid-19 could assist with the care of those who are ill;
  5. That the government quickly erects new hospitals: e.g. negotiating with SAA to use some of their (now) empty hangars for make-shift hospitals;
  6. That retired/ retrenched or private doctors and nurses and available helpers be trained to man these hospitals;
  7. That a large number of respirators or ventilators be imported from exporting countries; OR

That if this is not possible, car manufacturing and assembly plants may quickly change to produce such medical machinery;

  1. That a large number of protective clothing and masks be imported; OR

That if this is not possible, textile workers and similar manufacturers produce millions of face masks for protection of medical staff and the general public;

  1. That sanitizers, water and soap can become available for the general public

Summary of other Challenges

The complete lock-down is to implement a break so that the virus can not spread rapidly through society, but make the curve of contamination more gradual and therefore more manageable.

Instead of “social distancing” we should rather speak of “physical distancing”, as the vast communication by technological means is not “social distancing” but rather “social interaction and communication”.

Many citizens are able to survive in the lock-down status in their own homes, old-age homes and institutions.

Others do not have or see this possibility, because they live on the streets, in squatter camps, shacks and squalid housing facilities.

The outbreak of fear, frustration and violence can therefore be expected.

Policing and the firm maintenance of law and order by the defence force might be inevitable.

The same might occur due to the deteriorating economic situation as small and medium businesses have to close down and even big businesses are in dire straits.

Financial assistance by the government and  will hardly be able to be enough to break the cycle of poverty, of need, for a longer period of time.

B. Our general possibilities

  1. Government might have implemented the lock-down in time to hinder the virus from spreading too fast;
  2. As the global interaction of different countries (e.g. through world-wide travel) is one of the causes for the rapid spread of the virus, so global interaction of information, of progress in medical research to combat the virus, in giving good (and not false) advice, of common decision throughout the world can be a chance for overcoming the pandemic. It is a sign of our committed fight against it that even otherwise opposing political parties can work together and pull the yoke of this danger together.

C. Our Christian Response

  1. The biggest challenge is that of fear. Fear can have a protective function (that we either flee from or stand firm and fight a situation). At present it is being used world-wide to promote the strict adherence to the law or laws that are implemented by most of the different governments and leaders of the world. The protective function of the law is to save lives, but also to educate people who cannot see the direct effect of a virus and cannot understand its possibility of spreading throughout a country’s population.
  2. Fear and the law can at present unite the different factions in society to a combined and unified response to the danger within our midst. Coravid-19 is not only a concern of the Chinese or Italian, it is not a matter of only the ANC or the DA or the EFF, it is not only a temptation of the faith for Christians or Muslims or Jews alone. The disaster spans the rainbow nation in our country of races, creeds, of gender, of rich and poor, in that sense it is an “equaliser” (as someone quoted).
  3. However fear and the law can also be destructive in letting us give up, become desperate and despondent, depressed, without hope, wishing for an end and therefore contemplating death. As no one knows how the corona pandemic will play itself out it leads to much uncertainty, depression and destruction of hope, faith and love.
  4. In this time of trials, temptations, of troubles and even utter distress, the call “Do not be afraid – do not fear” is one of hope, of standing up again, of inspiration and vision. It is a frequent call in Scripture by God, Jesus, angels, prophets and apostles, witnesses and messengers. Someone counted its occurrence in the (KJV?) Bible as 365 times, once per day during the year. And Karl Barth is said to have maintained it to be the gospel in its shortest form.
  5. Most Christians and other Religious leaders are generally giving their support to the government for its attempt to break the increasing spread of the virus among their communicants by cancelling church services and other church activities for the coming month or a certain period which will be determined by the spread or containment of the virus.
  6. Churches as other faiths are determined not to defy the regulations and orders given by the government as it needs a combined effort of all to stand firm against this pandemic.
  7. This decision makes it so difficult for believers of all faiths, because they all stress that God has created the world and everything in it and so is in charge of the world (and therefore also of the virus). Some would however prefer to see the expansion of this deadly virus as the work of the devil/ Satan which has to be opposed with signs of steadfast faith by those who may be called “onward Christian soldiers”.
  8. Most religious communities emphasize signs of greeting, of heartfelt acceptance, of welcoming the stranger, of a spiritual and pastoral community which extends empathy to all. Its spiritual message of unconditional acceptance is not only spoken, taught and preached but also shown through signs of love, by shaking hands and hugs, blessing those who are being married, the confirmed, the laying on of hands on the sick. It belongs to our Christian culture to participate in funerals and other rites of life including not only the closest family, but the community at large, also with physical and not only spiritual signs.
  9. The president’s call for restriction is especially difficult in that one of the greatest festivals of Christians (and Jews) falls into this period of absolute restraint, Easter. Here we celebrate the victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, overcoming the destructive powers on earth. And in contrast, our participation in this restraint, of cancelled church services, can be viewed as that of fearful Christians, hiding behind closed walls, afraid to sing their songs of praise and jubilation, but rather remaining in the sombre lamentation experience of Good Friday.
  10. It is Christian to care about our neighbours and therefore we must, as Christians, lead by example, take up our cross and avoid contact with others. So we might have to sacrifice some of our greatest gifts, eg of letting our light shine in the darkness of the world, by finding new ways of doing that, not only by trying to save the lives of other Christians but for the whole of humanity. Christian churches and congregations will discover ways and means of celebrating their faith, hope and love without compromising the safety of others.
  11. It is a time to contemplate our role on South African life, of praying and supporting all those who have to carry the burden of public responsibility, be that in governing our country, in keeping up law and order, in maintaining safety for travellers on roads, air and sea, for doctors, medical staff and carers, who have to bear the extra load of caring and put themselves at risk of infection in such a fear-driven environment with empathy and health consideration.
  12. In the forefront of Christian prayer and support should be the families, single parents and communities that are called to look after children and learners at home, those who are now home-employed and also those who have to remain in the public domain to safeguard the general running of life in our country in this time of trials and temptations.
  13. Although we can worship together even if we are not in the immediate contact with each other, many forms of communication exist and make combined worship possible even if new ways of doing this have to be discovered. Let us not panic but thank God for what we have. Thankful people who do not stress, are generally healthier than those who worry and fear excessively.
  14. In consultation among themselves and other churches, Christians and congregations may discover new ways of praising God, of celebrating together and preparing liturgies and written sermons for services held in the houses like the early Christians. This might be a time to discover anew the priesthood of all believers. People can then share some thoughts on the sermon at home, something they usually cannot do on Sunday.
  15. It might be a good time to practise Lent – letting go of certain so well-known and traditional rites (e.g. for Easter) and meditate on Christ’s way of suffering for us and having quality time with close people. The experience of Easter in the darkness of death and fear, of the hope and faith in a new life might be better remembered than what we always experienced at Easter in the past.
  16. On the internet, on facebook, whatsapp and other media encouraging words, Bible verses, paradigms, psalms, hymns, music and even encouraging humour and jokes have been spread in a motion of defiance against the fears of our times

 

D Call by the As KwaZulu Natal Christian Council and the ecumenical movement;

–        We encourage our people not to be afraid but rather to take necessary precautions as outlined by the Department of Health.

–        We encourage Church leaders to be specific in guiding their congregations to prevent Corona Virus infections as outlined by the Department of Health.

–        We encourage our congregations in all the church rituals and pastoral activities to be hygienic in ways to stop the spread the Corona Virus.

–        We discourage any form of stigma that may arise out of the Corona Virus pandemic.

The grace of God is abundant to take us through this pandemic.

We encourage all churches to pray for all the affected and the infected.

Isaiah 41:10 “… Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand…”

Remember in John 16:33 Jesus says: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment (self-discipline) – 2 Timothy 1:7. As Christians, we are called to be wise and spread good precautionary practises.

  1. Anthology of Thoughts of Encouragement

The art of small steps (A prayer by  Antoine de Saint Exupery ) (written in the Plural)

We do not ask for miracles and visions, Lord, but strength for every day. Teach us the art of small steps: Make us sensitive for the right use of our time.

Grant us sensitivity to find out what has to come first, what second. Let us realize that dreams do not profit, neither about the past nor the future.

Help us to do the next thing as well as possible and to realize the present hour to be the most important one.

Keep us from the naïve belief that everything ought to go smoothly in life.

Give us the sober judgement that difficulties, failures, defeats, setbacks are an obvious part of life, by which we grow and mature.

Remind us that the heart often goes on strike against reason. Send us someone at the right moment who has the courage to tell us the truth in love.

We know that a lot of problems cannot be solved quickly. Give us patience.

Grant us  the necessary imagination to deliver a parcel of kindness at the right place, with or without words.

Keep us  from the fear we could miss life. Don’t give us what we want but what we need.

Teach us  the art of small steps. Amen.

Supporting our government in Prayer:

We should support all those in leadership, as they ask us to do. On 16 September 2019 at Grace Bible Church President Ramaphosa sang: “If you believe and I believe and we together pray the Holy Spirit must come down And Africa will be saved”. He closed his announcements with the “Thuma Mina” “Send me Lord” and the country’s national anthem: “Nkosi sikelel I’Afrika”.

The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971).

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.

Prayers to help medical staff

Besides pastoral and faith support for the general public, we  may include also prayers for staff and patients, including prayers and support which they might use for the dying.

For that we are proposing to go along the 7 Words of Jesus on the cross:

  1. Forgiveness and freedom from the past: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”:
  2. Salvation and God’s unconditional acceptance against all expectations: “Today you will be with me in Paradise”;
  3. The invaluable support of family and friends: “See, your mother! See your son!”
  4. Being nearest to the Saviour, when we experience God’s silence and distance:”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
  5. Supporting small signs of physical or spiritual assistance:”I am thirsty”;
  6. Letting the Saviour complete what is left behind as broken, shattered (life, work, relationship):”It is accomplished”;
  7. Handing over our lives into God’s hands: “Father into your hands I commit my life”.

We may not have a strong faith in God  but we might have a feeble, insecure faith in a strong God – that is enough!

During the plague in the time of the middle ages

Luther’s Letter on “Whether one may flee from the deadly plague or from dying” of 1527/8 may be helpful also in understanding the situation of fear and anxiety we are living in in our present time.

Maybe very fitting is the advice Luther gave: “Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbour does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others.” (I remembered that we used the whole Luther booklet in the time of HIV-AIDS pandemic at the LTI and the then School of Religion and Theology, and how our students used it to “deal” with our situation of fear and anxiety. I summarised the booklet and the responses of the students in an article in the Journal of Theology in SA (No. 126, 2006).

Although the pandemics of the Plague – HIV/AIDS – Coravid-19 are all different, yet some basic advice Luther gave can be transported into our situation.

I do wish you God’s assistance and support:

that the seed of hope may grow in the light of God’s promise,

that the seed of faith may break through hardened soil day by day to bring its harvest,

and that the seed of love may be implanted into the people of this country and the world so that its fruit will grow and be plentiful for everyone.

 

Georg Scriba 31.3.2020