There have been encouraging signs over the past few weeks. We are hearing reports that trials with vaccines are having some successes. Meanwhile, we appear to be over the peak here in the UK and cases of COVID-19 have continued to decline even as society has started to open up again.
However we continue to hear the words of caution. The virus is still present. It is still highly possible that a vaccine will not be found just as we have failed so far to find vaccines for SARS and AIDs.
What then? What if we never find a vaccine or a cure? What if the virus never goes away?
I think that some have been working on the assumption that either the social distancing measures would kill off the pandemic completely or at least hold it off long enough for the cure to arrive. That, I fear is a misunderstanding. Remember that even the harshest of lockdown measures were designed not to stop the virus but to flatten a curve in order to protect hospital capacity.
So whilst we of course hope for the best, what does it mean for believers to prepare for the worst? What does it mean for us to continue life with a deadly disease present?
First, I think it means that we need to know our faith history and geography better. It has in fact been a unique comfort for the late 20th early 21st century Western church to enjoy freedom from fear of all kinds of sufferings. We have had freedom from persecution. We have enjoyed relative prosperity and we have not lived with the daily presence of plague and shadow of death. This pandemic is not so much bringing in a new normal as it is returning us to the old normal. Let’s give thanks to God for the times of comfort and freedom he has given us. Let’s take time to reflect on how we have used that opportunity.
Secondly we will need to adapt. We want to be good witnesses and we want to love our neighbours. Coronavirus will help us to think again about what is really essential and timeless to how we do church and what was appropriate for one context but not all.
Thirdly we will need to teach more about facing sickness and death. I worry at times that we live ill equipped to face these things. Yet many have always lived in the shadow of these fears. Let’s learn to talk openly and Biblically about them. Perhaps a coronavirus church will have a stronger grasp on hope as we look forward to the day of resurrection.
Finally we will need to live with greater faith. We cannot lock ourselves in our homes or distance ourselves forever. Outside in the wider world we see people overcoming their fears for things of greater importance to them: work, education, shopping and recreation. We also see that they recognise that standing against injustice as with #BLM trumps fear of a disease every time. We have faith in the Lord of life who conquered death. How will we live as witnesses to that during this time.
I hope that a vaccine and/or a cure comes quickly but we need to be ready in case not. However I think these thoughts are relevant even if the cure comes. Let’s not just slip back into a complacent forgetful comfort.