A Redemptive Theology Of The Pandemic

“When the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” — Mark 15:39

I was recently at a conference on Veterans’ mental health, when I remembered some post-Vietnam theology that said, “Soldiers die for our sins”. In its stark words, we can see the beginning of a redemption of sorts. Just as Jesus died on the cross – for no reason and without blame, –carrying the sins of society — soldiers offered us the same chance for redemption if only we take it. If we take the suffering that didn’t have to happen — because of our sin — and make sure it doesn’t happen again, we can redeem that suffering and somehow make it holy.

The ancient Greeks saw time in two ways, “Chronos” — the time on a clock or hourglass, and  Kairos – time as it is felt. The moment you meet the love of your life, hours that pass as minutes, or a minute waiting for a test result that feels like an hour – these are all Kairos moments. It is at times like this we pay attention. The pandemic presents its starkness as “reality, only more so” – It is a Kairos moment in that way. The pandemic we’re living through has brought moral and physical reality to the fore, and we are paying attention. While we are paying attention is a teachable moment, and since we all have more time to think than we know what to do with, this is a time to learn.

So, this COVID-19 era calls us to reflect. How did we get here, to this place where between 100,000 and 250,000 people will die? For years and years now, we have been taking care of “the little people” less and less, so the population of people that society doesn’t even see grows larger and larger. This morning’s news featured a “homeless shelter” on the sidewalks of Las Vegas, with CDC guidelines of 6 feet between each sleeping bag laid out on the sidewalk. It’s not bad enough that they were homeless, which they have been for years. Even the shelter they had was taken away from them. They are thousands of miles away from where I am writing this, so I don’t know who they are personally, but they are somebody’s child in whatever stage of “grown-up” they have managed. They were our responsibility before. Now, they are more so.  How many of them will die because we didn’t care about them? Will they die because they have sinned? Perhaps their immune systems are compromised because they have lived a rough life, but they are also compromised because they didn’t have a place to live. Studies have shown that the stress of being homeless itself causes mental difficulties that weren’t previously there. In any case, the virus isn’t selective in killing, and God isn’t selective in loving.

            If we make it through this pandemic, (and clearly, we all won’t), then, in order to redeem our country, we must try to understand and fix what made us not care for them in the first place. Furthermore, we must fix the way we didn’t care for them, so that we never dispose of a life unnecessarily again.

            The same thing is true of the elderly and the poor. Someone on Twitter pointed out that March 1 – March 3 is the time of the month when WIC and welfare checks come out. The elderly already go into the store at an earlier hour to avoid contact with others. From the 1st to the 3rd of every month, there will be a lot of people who need to buy for their families and will have the means to do it. Social distancing could easily be dismissed by crowds of people who need food for their children and families. They, too, will be more at risk for catching the virus. God cares about them, as well. Meanwhile, the government had been threatening to take food stamps away from them. More poor, more hungry means more crowded stores means more illness gets spread. Perhaps we should have been supporting the poor instead of taking from them. Perhaps we should be taking money who have unimaginable amounts of it, instead of giving them more than they know what to do with. If a handful of people own more wealth than the other 90%, made their “mad rush” to get food, they will always get fed, probably with no effects Perhaps we should do things differently now that we know what caused this problem.

Moving to the more straightforward medical issues caused by the virus, we can see, writ large, failures as a society. The military budget has never had a problem getting enough, because that’s where our priorities lie. Ditto, corporate budgets. Our science budgets – the need for a pandemic team at the CDC, for example – was destroyed, so that corporations could have tax cuts. Within the field of healthcare itself, owners and corporate profiteering has led to fewer beds, and fewer rural hospitals which could have been used now.

Even now, doctors and hospitals are fighting over supplies because, in our capitalistic society, demand for an item creates its price. High demand leads to price gouging. Price gouging and haggling over items leads to more deaths that don’t have to happen. In cheerier times, people see corporate raiders as a sort of hero. Times like this prove otherwise.

Finally, truth has been under fire for some time, especially during the Trump era, but well before that as well. One of the reasons that we are in this mess in the first place – one of the reasons many people will die that didn’t have to – is that our leaders and some in media didn’t tell the truth about what they knew. No knowledge meant to no preparation. Political propaganda put out as facts led to thousands of beach goers and people across the country getting sick and ultimately dying of the virus. Truth, however, will not be ignored. It has its own way of getting our attention. The virus is nothing if not truth and harsh reality.

In order to redeem the soul of our country and our selves, we must consider the innocents that didn’t have to die as the full human beings that they were, we must say to their memories, “these, truly, were children of God”, even as we come to terms with what is happening in front of us. We must grieve, we must review what we lost, and we must redeem it for future generations. If we do this, God’s redemptive power can happen and we can save ourselves. If not, things will only continue to get worse. These are our choices in this Kairos moment. Let us choose for God and redemption.

Resisting in peace,

John

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