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Pietro Bolognesi

Coronavirus emergency: Twelve things that should make us think

Our point of reference has to remain the Lord and not coronavirus. It’s necessary to affirm God’s control over the whole situation and the need to repent before Him.

FEATURES 10 DE ABRIL DE 2020 12:00 h
Photo: Hugo Fergusson. Unsplash (CC0).

Here are twelve brief reflections on things that this emergency brings to our attention.

1. It is something absolutely new. Nothing of its kind has ever happened before in today’s society. The cities seem surreal and even spectral to our eyes, and it’s something that calls into question our long-established habits. It would be very naive to say that a time like this has happened before.

It’s impossible not to notice that something is happening (cfr. Matthew 24:39), even though it’s difficult to “interpret” the “signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3). We are forced to take a pause in the vertiginous frenzy of our daily lives and recognise our great limits: a pause that doesn’t only challenge small personal matters, but also wider and deeper issues.

2. It questions our scheduled plans. Everything we had intended doing has to be changed in a profoundly different context. Many things we took for granted and with a certain “arrogance” considered normal, have had to come to terms with a change of paradigm (e.g. James 4:13-16).

It is definitely good for us to have a greater awareness of the fragility and uncertainty of our usual ways of thinking and planning, and also to question those certainties that seem so obvious.

It’s not sufficient to be content with reassuring messages. It’s not enough to say to others and oneself “everything will be fine”. A world that feeds on optimism has no assurance when faced with negativity.

It’s not enough to say to others and oneself “let’s stand together”. A self-referential world is a world that has but little hope. It’s therefore worth reconsidering this trivial approach to life.

3. It brings anxiety. Anxiety over a virus is understandable. It’s right to feel a certain sense of apprehension about it, but the question can be asked if we shouldn’t feel anxiety for other matters that are equally if not more serious.

Why not ask ourselves about the meaning of our life and our alienation from the Covenant God? “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25).

Are we sure that we look at reality with adequate paradigms? Are we sure that the way we see the structuring of the world is really coherent and sound? It’s not improper to think there can be imbalances fraught with emotional consequences.

4. It indicates the powerlessness of science. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to science and its continual progress.

We must admire those doctors, nurses, members of the disaster relief organisations and local authorities who have carried out and still carry out their task with sacrifice and self-denial.

On the other hand, we can’t help noticing that at times science believes it is omnipotent. The present situation helps to underline how wrong it is to have an unconditional trust in medicine.

The statistics tell us how many people are positive, how many have recovered and …. how many died. This event, therefore, rightly shakes our confidence in the certainties our society claims to offer with its technology and control, because there are in fact objective limits.

5. It highlights the problematic nature of authority. We have experienced first hand the fact of the more or less rigid control of the State over individuals and society.

So many rights that have been established over the years (of assembly, of association, of enterprise, of family, of education, of public worship) have been cancelled, but if a right depends on the discretion of the authority it is a questionable right.

Whatever the prudential reasons given by the authority to face the emergency, the solutions give us food for thought. It’s difficult to remain indifferent to the divinisation of the world and to such a significant reduction of man’s role as a social being.

6. It points to the unpredictability of the consequences. We are well aware that there are not only health consequences, but also for the economy and geo-politics. It is only right to be concerned that there can be economic speculation and lasting damage to the real economy.

It’s also legitimate to worry that certain countries will suffer when consolidated power relations are modified impacting therefore the geo-political stability. It’s obvious that certain power shifts also have a spiritual importance.

A realistic analysis of reality shouldn’t ignore this fact. Who can argue that this brief period that is affecting the economy and politics is more important than the spiritual dimension?

7. It raises the issue whether or not this pandemic is God’s punishment. Attributing to God the responsibility of wanting to punish society and relationships with illness, death, financial and economic difficulties, is quite vague and no real answer, but neither is there any sense in thinking that God is indifferent to a problem like this.

Our point of reference has to remain the Lord and not coronavirus. “The Lord kills and brings to life” (1 Samuel 2:6). As human life is an act of worship to God it’s necessary to affirm his control over the whole situation and the need to repent before Him.

What could human life ever be without God’s providential action towards each one of us?

8. It makes us think about silence. It seems that the noisiness that usually characterises the rhythm of our lives has now faded away. Everyday things have disappeared without making a noise. We must ask ourselves if it’s possible to learn from silence.

Kierkegaard, under the name of Johannes de Silentio, recalled the silent decisions of Abraham when he wrote: “No man with a guilty conscience can endure silence” (Fear and trembling).

It was in “the sound of a low whisper” that the prophet Elijah listened to the Word of God (1 Kings 19:12) instead of in the previous clamour, and it was there that he found the strength, energy and wisdom he needed. Who knows whether it might not do us good to stay on our own in the restlessness of solitude.

9. It disrupts our relationships. All of a sudden we’ve had to keep a distance from each other. The emergency seems to have thrown everyone back into a small self-seeking world where we are deprived of brothers, sisters and friends.

But human life is not meant for solitude. We can rejoice over the new opportunities that exist for Christians and churches to be connected to each other, but technology can’t solve the problem of relationships.

We need to repent and ask forgiveness for all those times we weren’t fully aware of the usual gifts and privileges of community life and of the unity of the true people of God.

10. It gives an opportunity for personal devotion. The Word of God teaches that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). It’s an extraordinary thing to become aware once again of the blessings inherent in the closeness of community relationships, but also to hear the invitation of God: “Be still …” (Psalm 46:10).

Living at a slower pace on a personal level has given us more time to meditate on God’s Word, to read a book, to pray, to listen once again to an overlooked sermon. And what a blessing!

We’ve been able to take up again projects that for some time had been left aside. This pause is an opportunity to “consider well” and re-establish priorities. For people who fear God His judgments always result in encouragement (Revelation 5-6).

11. It encourages our gospel witness. Sometimes it’s difficult to find common topics that are important enough to create useful conversations. Our communication seems to have an artificial element to it.

This is an extraordinary opportunity. We can interact with banalities, passing on the latest news about government policies or numbers, or we can look for something more significant.

The church can proclaim a different word, a word with a different view of the world. Talking without understanding God’s timing is pure rhetoric. Even though it isn’t for Christians to know what times we’re living in, there are moments in which God allows us to link his word to the events of the moment. “This is what was uttered…” (Acts 2:16).

It’s impossible to claim we can discern the divine plan. We need the Holy Spirit to inspire, guide and confer a freshness of character from on high so that we do not answer dramatic questions with weak answers.

12. It showcases different forms of religious beliefs. Some think that any form of spirituality reflects the same preoccupation and in itself deserves to be taken into consideration.

The search for transcendence would be a way to give meaning to human precariousness and any form would be acceptable. Instead of being content with such a hasty and superficial judgment, if we question ourselves more seriously we will easily realize that certain forms are just superstition, while what we need is revelation.

Praying to an image of the Madonna or following some special itinerary is different from placing ourselves under the authority of Biblical revelation. Either the idols or God.

There is no possible synthesis between the two. If this emergency is used to clarify the distinction between superstition and true devotion, then God can be glorified even more.

Pietro Bolognesi is President and professor of systematic theology at Istituto di Formazione Evangelica e Documentazione, Padova (Italy) and pastor of the reformed baptist church in Padova. Author of several books, he is editor of the Italian edition of Francis Turretin’s Institute of Elenctic Theology.




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