COVID19: A REFLECTION

Roger Daniel

March 27, 2020

Disclaimer: The fluidity of this situation makes it impossible to know or accurately predict the current impact and aftermath of COVID-19 on country, culture, and church, so my thoughts, while based on historical precedent and established, observable patterns of human response, are still speculative and a matter of opinion. Only time will tell if they are accurate. 

In a way we never expected, Corona has infected more than our health; it has infected our economy, business, industries, families, entertainment, recreation, education, social structure, the church … in fact, every aspect of life as we have known it. Such a drastic upheaval will alter, and is already altering, the landscape of America and the world for a long time.

The “stay at home for two weeks to flatten the curve” directive has unintentionally fostered the false expectation that this crisis would be over, or at least contained, within 14 days and America and the world can return to normal. This is not the case and the worst are yet to come.

As a disaster relief chaplain, I was trained to know the six phases of a disaster. While this is usually thought of in terms of a natural disaster such as a hurricane or flood, it is not irrelevant to Corona, which is, in fact, a disaster, albeit of a different breed. I charted this out in our Disaster Chaplain Training Manual:

Several things draw my attention.

STAGE ONE: there was little, if any, pre-disaster warning. At the first of the year there emerged many different prophesies concerning the year 2020. Most of them prophesied a year of “favor, blessings, overflow, abundance, etc. Not one word of a pandemic, to my knowledg

Were there any credible prophetic warnings from a credible voice, not only to warn us of what was coming but also to give direction as to how we should prepare and be ready to respond? Not that I am aware of, and I’m not sure there IS a credible prophetic voice in America. 

Jack Deere says the prophetic is expressed in three phases: 

  • REVELATION (what did the prophet see/hear?)
  • INTERPRETATION (what does it mean?)
  • APPLICATION (what should we do?). 

From my vantage point, all three of these are missing. 

At this point it would be perfectly valid for anyone to ask of me: “Why didn’t YOU see it coming?” I didn’t, so I have no fingers to point, except to “point out” the situation as it is, while joining the club of the prophetically clueless as a charter member. 

Caught by surprise, at this early stage we have been totally preoccupied with keeping the ship afloat; scrambling to find ways to connect; to do church in a different way; to buy “broadcast” equipment previously unnecessary; deal with the absence of that equipment because Best Buy is closed and the Amazon shipment won’t arrive until April 21st; how to record and edit video files; checking on the elderly; arranging for alternative ways for people to give, while reassessing budgets in anticipation of the inevitable economic decline. And more, ad nauseam. 

All of this has shoved INTERPRETATION (what does it mean?) to the back burner, but that is already starting to change. 

Theological questions, previously unasked, are starting to surface. For example: 

  • Why is this happening? 
  • Is this God or the devil? 
  • Is this an act of judgment? 
  • Why doesn’t God stop it? 
  • Why are Christians and pastors catching it? 
  • How can it be that Christians are dying of this? 
  • If this is judgment, why is God judging the righteous with the wicked? 
  • How is the related to our eschatology? 

How will the church address this? What answer will we give? You can be sure that there will not be a single, coherent answer.

Predictably, the Internet is filled with prophetic “words” ranging from the dubious to the fanciful, to the totally irrational. In the cacophony on conflicted voices, the prophetic camp once again gives an “uncertain sound” as they contradict themselves and misinterpret their proof-texted scriptures. It reminds me of Acts 19:32: “Some were yelling one thing, some another. Most of them had no idea what was going on or why they were there” (MSG). 

And without clear REVELATION and INTERPRETATION, any wise, practical response (APPLICATION) is likely to be uncertain or escape us altogether. At this point and especially in the future, WISDOM will probably be the most essential gift. Please Lord, may it be graciously given, generously without upbraiding.

STAGES 2-4 can be annexed. In the impact stage, where we are now, we are seeing “heroics” as Americans step up to do extraordinary, self-sacrificing things to help their neighbors and fellow citizens. In the “honeymoon” stage there is, in fact, a strong sense of coming together, cohesion, and bonding — which is extraordinary considering we are physically separated. “We will get through this together” has become the national mantra.

What’s coming next is a matter of great concern, because looming ominously on the horizon is STAGE 5 when the honeymoon passes and disillusionment sets in. As this pandemic continues and worsens, America’s social disposition will change dramatically, and not for the better. Expect a drastic decline in morale with an equally drastic rise in frustration, anger, depression, anxiety, questioning, and fear. The false expectations of quick reprieve will aggravate this response even more. Get ready, the real crisis lies ahead.

The extent of STAGE 6 cannot be predicted because we do not know the unforeseen consequences of this disaster. That is, we don’t know how long it will take to move beyond Corona to a more “normal” time. Its severity and duration will determine much of this. 

2 Chronicles 15, my message two Sundays ago, gives the remedy for the pandemic, seen in the actions of King Asa who: 1) v. 8 he removed the abominable (repentance); 2) v. 8, he restored the altar (prayer); 3) vv. 10-11 he responded in adoration (worship). I asked this question: “Would it make a difference if America, as a nation, would bow her knees in humble confession and turn from her wicked ways, cry out to God in genuine repentance and once again honor and worship the true and living God?” 

But an apostate nation of reprobate mind, will mock such a suggestion. America is in no mood to repent. Her prayers are for treatment, not transformation; a cure, not confession. We’re waiting for a remedy to cure the sickness, not repentance to cleanse the soul. 

If COVID-19 is soon behind us, so will be the newly aroused spiritual interest. We rubbed the lamp; the genie-god appeared and fixed the problem; now he goes back into the lamp until the next tragedy, and we return to business as usual – hopefully in time for college football. That modus operandi dates all the way back to the Old Testament and can be seen most recently in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks.

If COVID19 lingers, intensifies, and suffering escalates, there may be national repentance. But at this point, America is in no mood to repent. 

In my opinion the real question is: Will the church repent? 

Will I?