Rev. Scott's Letter June 23
Delivered By
Rev. Tom Scott
Delivered On
June 23, 2020
Attached Document
june_23.pdf
Description

 

JUNE 23

N. T. Wright, an top-drawer biblical scholar, sometime bishop of Durham, and gifted writer has published a new book, “God and the Pandemic”.  It is a short book, 74 pages, but full of substance.

 

Wright does three very good things in these few pages:

 

1) He dismisses bad Christian theology—the covid-19 pandemic is not divine judgment, Christians aren’t somehow exempt from the disease, etc.

2) He encourages a deeply biblical view of our situation now, going back to the prophets and focusing on the person and work of Jesus

3) He uses the Book of Acts especially to stake out his claim that the Church is a continuing part of God’s answer to the problems of evil and suffering. He uses the example of the prophecy of an empire-wide famine made by Agabus (Acts 11:28-30) to say that the Christian first response to disaster is to give help, not make judgments. He also takes up the research by Prof. Rodney Stark in his landmark book from the ‘90’s, The Rise of Christianity, which argues that it was the Christian commitment to caring for the sick and being generous to the needy—especially in Rome and other major cities—that made their religion compelling to people otherwise left to their fate (remember, the earliest Christians were Jews and some Gentile believers in Israel’s God—all committed to God’s care for the poor, powerless, sick, and alien).

Repeatedly, Wright insists that we not get bogged down in erroneous thinking, but instead to see that the work of the Church in this moment is to be the agent of God in our time. Good pastoral theology is practical and pragmatic: Who is going to be at special risk? What can we do to help? Whom shall we send? 

So we stay clear about a vital fact: “God always wanted to work in his world through loyal human beings. That is part of the point of being ‘made in God’s image’...we can imagine the church in Antioch figuring out prayerfully...that what God was doing, he was going to do through them. ” (p. 32).

Now, these days, the church still has its work to do, and we each have a piece of it.

We don’t give in to fear or play the “blame game”. This is a disease in our world, not a judgment for sin, and we do not condemn the sick

We continue and, as possible, expand our ministry to those who are suffering

We do our part to take precautions for ourselves and not put others at risk.

We will also do the ancient work of “lament”, the work of facing and dealing with the loss, the grief, the soul-deep pain of living in a broken, dis-ordered world in which a disease that shows no favorites reveals the injustice, unfairness, and selfishness that runs through our human societies, measured by the population distribution of the infection, the suffering, and the deaths. 

The practice of lamentation is richly displayed in the psalms and the Bible book that bears that name. Lamentation is more than dealing with loss, more than moving through the well-known “stages of grief”.  Lamentation is a confrontation with the world we have been a part of.  

For us now, every inequity in daily life is revealed in a fresh way by the indiscriminate and opportunistic plague. As we care for one another individually now, we have to face the systemic reality of inequality as we move through this time. 

Would I ask for anything more in this little book?  Yes.  An additional half page or several sentences scattered throughout saying that the Christian focus on helping in time of need (what can we do to help all those in need now?) does not exclude analyzing—perhaps at another time, if not immediately—the causes of the trouble and how, if possible, it might be avoided in future, along with redress of injury.  Without this “tip of the hat” to science, intellectual inquiry, and social justice there’s a hint of resignation to circumstance I don’t suppose many would accept—and I doubt Wright intended to imply.  I’m reminded of Archbishop Tutu’s declaration that after repeated rescues of people in danger of drowning, it becomes a duty to look upstream to learn why they keep falling in the water to begin with.

Still, Wright’s work here is very welcome.

 

 
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