The coronavirus pandemic is putting everything to the test.
Almost every public institution is coming under immense pressure. Medical services, especially intensive care units, must cope with unprecedented demand. Public health officials have to monitor the spread of the virus daily and predict how the healthcare system will cope in the weeks ahead. Government advisers must recommend far-reaching decisions about social isolation in order to slow down the advance and ‘flatten the peak’ of serious infections. Ministers have to manage the overall response and keep the public informed and reassured, both vital to maintaining their trust.
Covid-19 puts every business to the test: the ones that don’t see demand fall drastically as customers stay away will still face staff shortages when employees have to self-isolate. Governments are stepping in offering to support businesses, but if that’s mostly in the form of loans it only delays the problem. Many directors must now weigh up the legal, ethical and relational demands on them as they make really tough decisions about trying to keep their business afloat.
The virus puts every household under pressure with multiple challenges. When everyone in a family has to self-isolate for one or two weeks, there’s worry about how to obtain food and basic supplies. If schools are closed, how will parents access childcare if they still go out to work? When someone loses their job, how will the household make ends meet? And with everyone in the family cooped up, there will be inevitable tensions and arguments; strained couple relationships may be pushed to breaking point.
And every individual needs to face the uncertainty of what lies ahead. Some are anxious about the medical threat to their health, especially older people or those with underlying vulnerabilities. Others worry about the economic threat to their livelihoods, and any mental health struggles will be exacerbated by weeks of social isolation. Worries about elderly relatives when physical access to them is limited or impossible adds further strain.
We are being challenged in every way; the fabric of our society, our institutions, our relationships, the quality of our leadership and strength of our characters are all being put to the test. This is a time that’s unprecedented in Europe in the post-war era, from 1945 to the present.
How are we to think biblically about all this? Well everything I’ve written so far does that – for the starting point for considering any issue from a biblical perspective is to take a long, hard look at what is actually happening. It’s not biblical to look only at what you would like to see. Nor is it biblical to use platitudes like, “Well, at least Jesus is in control!” to absolve us from thinking things through.
We must begin by naming what we feel and experience – which in the case of the Covid-19 virus probably includes anxiety, fear and a sense of bewilderment. For many there is a looming sense of grief and loss: not only bereavement for people losing a loved one to the virus, but also the imminent loss of a job, a business, savings or pension. We need to grasp how much this loss of predictable normality affects everyone, the specific challenges different people face, and the dilemmas for leaders in front line services and government.
Rather like Job’s friends, we need to sit with this for a while, listening and observing, and not rushing to make pronouncements about what God may or may not be doing through this crisis. (It was when Job’s friends started speaking that things went wrong!)
Here in Jubilee Centre, we are going to do just that – listen carefully and seek to reflect biblically on the impact of this pandemic over the coming weeks and months. We’ve identified three potential areas for reflection: the ongoing reaction and response by key decision makers; the reality for so many people of being isolated and in quarantine; and the prospects of doing things differently in the future.
The Bible offers not only encouragement for personal faith in a time of crisis, it also provides wisdom and insight to guide the Christian in a position of public leadership or influence. In these uncertain times may we study it with both these ends in mind.