The Coronavirus and the COVID-19 crisis overshadow the current year 2020 in many respects. People sometimes voice the critical question: Why does the (Lutheran) Church have so little or nothing to say about it?
Actually, many of our pastors have addressed the topic, and articles dedicated to it have been and are being published in the FELSISA Witness.
Now a short book on the subject has been published by Drs. Jacob Corzine and John Pless, two well-known Lutheran theologians from our American sister church, entitled Faith in the Shadow of a Pandemic. The book is written in a way that is easy for laypeople to understand. Its stated aim is to shed light on Christian life in the congregation and in the world under the impact of personal and social catastrophes such as COVID-19 and to do so from a Lutheran Christian perspective. The authors speak about the Christian understanding of catastrophes and how to deal with them.
It needs to be said from the outset that this book is not about identifying the “real” cause of the COVID-19 illness in a secular sense or about uncovering any political manoeuvrings behind its spread, but simply about how Christians deal with the virus and the associated restrictions in congregational and communal life – a reality that we all face. What does love for God and for our neighbour look like under the present circumstances?
For this reason, the book can easily be read in light of other epidemics or social crises. For thousands of years, Christians have had to face crises and difficult situations. Dr. Martin Luther himself experienced an outbreak of the plague in Wittenberg in 1527 and
personally had to deal with the pandemic it triggered – his home was even used as a hospital at the time. It does us good to hear how he and other faithful Christians before and after him dealt with such phenomena, and what the Holy Scriptures have to say about the role of God in such difficult times.
The book is by no means “only” about Martin Luther; it is about his Lord Jesus Christ. Where is the Lord Christ in times of crisis? Answer: All God’s promises find their Yes and Amen in Jesus Christ, to the glory of God. He is there for you, even in times of crisis – and through you, he comes near to others. When you serve your neighbour, you serve the Lord Christ in the person of your neighbour. The Lord calls us to serve our neighbour even and especially when it is a costly exercise.
The book speaks to difficult questions:
- Does love for one’s neighbour have limits?
- What are the special temptations of this time?
- In times of tribulation, what do I fear more than God?
- What does it mean to tempt God in the present circumstances?
- Does science have anything to say to us Christians at all?
- How do we Christians apply technology correctly when we cannot attend church – what is permissible, what isn’t?
- Where is God when I suffer?
- What resources are available to me if I cannot go to church?
- How do we care for the dying when we are not allowed to visit them in the hospital?
- How do we mourn when we cannot attend funerals?
To these and other questions, Faith in the Shadow of a Pandemic provides tangible answers and practical guidelines. It points out that we expect and receive all good things from our Lord, and that we live in this confidence. At the same time, the authors warn against abusing the crisis, for example by using it to fuel our already existing anger or to vent our dissatisfaction with God’s actions in the world. The mouth speaks what the heart is full of, says the Lord (Matthew 12:34). What do we speak about in times of crisis? Among other things, the Lord God sends us crises for the purpose of
calling us to repentance.
The book speaks cautiously about the relationship between the Christian faith and science in light of an important distinction: Science informs us about the existing reality in this world – but it cannot advise us how to deal with it. How we should deal with reality is something we learn only from God’s eternal Word. The Christian faith, therefore, has much to say about how to deal with crises.
At this point I would have appreciated the mention of the contradictions within the framework of science – e.g. are masked truly helpful and effective or not? The Corona crisis shows that scientists are often not in agreement in their findings; this means that in times of need one often cannot rely on science to define the problem and effective solutions unambiguously and unanimously. In any case, the book points out the limits of what science can say, and I am grateful for that.
Faith in the Shadow of a Pandemic directs our eyes to Christ as the centre of all life by way of reconciliation through his death on the cross and his resurrection. Life can change in the twinkling of an eye; death awaits us all. We are growing aware of this again in completely new ways. But Jesus Christ remains the same; he is there for us, and his word remains forever. He is and remains Lord of all and directs all things well. This book emphasizes the value of the Holy Scriptures in providing model prayers for every situation (even for times of lament!) and as a helpful recommendation also and especially in times of crisis.
Faith in the Shadow of a Pandemic gives sound insights and helpful recommendations for concerned Christians, struggling Christians, searching Christians, for disoriented Christians.
I highly recommend this short book to anyone looking for solid Lutheran answers to pandemics in general and the COVID-19 crisis in particular.
Reviewed by Rev. Dr. Karl Böhmer, Kirchdorf