One of my favourite television characters is David Suchet’s wonderful portrayal of Agatha Christie’s detective Hercule Poirot. The plot of these stories is that, faced with some complex mystery, Poirot assembles all the key characters and then pronounces, to the astonishment of everybody (and the surprise of the guilty party), exactly what happened and why. All the loose ends get tied up and everything is explained: it’s all very satisfying.
Many people seem to want something similar for COVID-19. Is man, nature or God responsible? If it’s God, what is he doing and why? Is it a judgement? A warning? A test? A shaking up of the world? Is there a Poirot to tell us exactly what’s going on and why?
Every society, whether religious or not, has experts; people who can assess and discern, whether in politics, economics, biology or whatever. Who are the seers for the coronavirus pandemic?
I believe God is sovereign and controls the universe and is certainly in charge of matters. I believe that this pandemic is an alarm call over our beliefs and behaviour, our attitudes and actions. I believe that God can give the wisdom to a scientist to find the vaccination or to just totally eradicate the virus. I believe God wants to get our attention and wants us to repent of our sins, starting with the church – we have rejected God and ignored his commandments.
I also wonder if it might be a good reminder to look again at some of the Old Testament verses – until very recently much ridiculed – that say things like ‘Thou shalt not eat bats’ (Leviticus 11:19).
I have been pondering the passage in John 13 where, on the evening before the crucifixion, Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. There, when Jesus, taking the role of a servant, begins to start washing, Peter protests, only to receive the reply, ‘You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will’ (John 13:7 NLT). Here, I suggest, are three helpful truths.
The first truth is that we must accept that we may not be given answers to our questions now. Jesus didn’t answer Peter’s curiosity and left him short of an answer. In fact, I think God frequently does that. We often turn to him and ask for answers, but the fact is God wants to be known as our heavenly Father, not simply as the answer to everything that puzzles us. He is God, not Google. Faith is trusting God when he speaks and when he doesn’t.
A second truth here is that we can be confident that, ultimately, we will be given answers. Jesus promises Peter that someday he will know why he is washing the disciples’ feet. In our instant age, patience is not exactly a popular virtue, but it’s what we need. St Paul, whose towering intellect must have found unanswered questions frustrating, could write, ‘For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known’ (1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV).
One day we will get answers!
The third truth is that we mustn’t let questions distract us from doing what we need to do. As Jesus talks about what he is doing for the disciples, he says, ‘I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you’ (John 13:15 NIV). In other words, don’t get hung up about ‘why?’ but instead, do your duty. At times like this our priority should not be questions but actions.
So yes, there are major questions over COVID-19. At the moment we have no clear answers but we can be reassured that, one day, we will be given them. What is far more important than getting answers about this global crisis is the opportunity for us, while we are still alive, to repent and get right with God, and to put things right by taking him and his commandments seriously. Let us do what we are instructed to do in Micah 6:8: ‘The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God’ (NLT).
Revd Canon J.John