It appears we still prefer to stick our mammon-fattened fingers into our cloth ears, denying even the possibility that God might be saying something to us. We prefer to be told there is no explanation and no hope (outwith ourselves), rather than admit we are helpless and cry out to the God who offers both help and hope (as well as explanation).
The well-known theologian/author/ broadcaster N.T. Wright had an article in Time magazine in March in which he cautioned against ‘knee jerk’ reactions from Christians.
Amongst the ‘silly’ reactions he included arguing that the coronavirus was a sign or a punishment. He told us that rationalists look for an explanation; romantics look for relief; but that the biblical position is to lament. As with all N.T. Wright’s writings it is well written, thought provoking and stimulating.
He set me thinking about the knee jerk responses—including his own. There will be those like the worst of the American televangelists who seek to monetise every disaster by claiming that they have power over it (and please send them the money to use that power). The press can always find a pastor somewhere in the tens of thousands of churches who will solemnly pronounce that Covid-19 is because of abortion/same-sex marriage/Disney. The wackier you are, the more likely you are to get on the telly. Many evangelicals seek to avoid being cast in the same mould and inadvertently end up giving our own stock-in-trade knee jerk responses. These tend to fall into three groups.
Firstly, those who just reiterate what the government, good citizenship and common sense require. ‘Wash your hands, care for your neighbour, obey the government and be nice to everybody—and don’t forget to clap for the NHS (but don’t be political and say too much about the lack of proper protective clothing for front-line medical staff!).
Secondly, there are the apologists—‘Where is God in all of this?’ Again there is nothing wrong in giving apologetic answers, but I wonder if it is a question of timing. Maybe there is a time to be silent. Or at least not to offer the stock-in-trade theodicies that one hears after every major disaster. Sometimes it is better to observe grief rather than explain the problem of pain. To be honest, when books are rushed out—even the most excellent with the most genuine of motives—it does look a little bit like war profiteering!
Thirdly, there is the knee jerk response that N.T. Wright exemplifies in his own article. Don’t blame God—we can’t have any of that judgement and signs stuff. Just lament and remember that God is with us in our pain—but He has nothing to do with it. Wright argues that it is the Christian vocation ‘not to be able to explain’, but to lament and then new acts of kindness, new hope will come. This is a hopeless and ultimately meaningless position for any Christian to hold.