Review: God and the Pandemic

Truett Seminary Dean Todd Still reviews "God and the Pandemic" by N.T. Wright.

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God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and its Aftermath

By N.T. Wright (Zondervan, SPCK)

As the pandemic known to us as COVID-19 persists, this timely volume written by British New Testament scholar and Anglican minister Nicholas Thomas “Tom” Wright holds great relevance.

Spawned by a short piece Professor Wright wrote for Time Magazine in late March, this little book offers a Christian reflection upon and response to the dangerous, deadly disease that has rendered us distanced and dreadful.

Wright begins his five-chapter “extended essay” with a well-placed question: “Where do we start?”

He notes three common responses to why crises like COVID-19 occur: “Things are as they are for a reason”—the “Stoic” response; “There is no rhyme or reason; everything is random”—the “Epicurean” response; and “Concern yourself not with the ephemeral, but with eternal”—the “Platonist” response.

Wright then contends that contemporary Christians do well to follow their forbears in the faith by not asking, “Why did this happen?” but by asking, “What might we do to alleviate, if not eradicate, such pain, suffering and disease?”

Relatedly, Wright maintains Christians do well not to seek to assign blame for the virus or to think of it as a sign of Christ’s coming, as a manifestation of God’s wrath, or even as a momentous, if fleeting, opportunity to share one’s faith.

Having identified less-than-helpful ways to interpret and less-than-helpful ways to respond to COVID-19, Wright encourages believers to turn to Scripture for guidance and sustenance in these topsy-turvy times.

Starting with the Old Testament in Chapter 2, Wright notes that fascinating library of sacred texts—and the Psalms and Job, in particular—can help us learn, not only to speak of human sin and divine judgement, but also to lament in a “time of exile,” in a world marked and marred by injustice and sickness.

Turning to Jesus and the Gospels in Chapter 3, Wright observes that the Gospels present Jesus as the culmination and re-expression of the ancient prophetic tradition and message. As such, he is the “sign” believers are to follow. Among other things, Christ-following entails praying as Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer and living as he taught us to live, not least in his sorrow and suffering.

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With respect to the rest of the New Testament writings, Wright highlights as particularly instructive for the present moment the following texts: Acts 11—how believers in Syrian Antioch responded to a severe famine by providing help for Judean Christians; Acts 17—Paul’s focus on Jesus when he appeared before the Areopagus; Revelation 1, 5 and 7—praising Jesus as Lion, Lamb and Lord; and Romans 8—reminding us we do not groan alone and are called to be God’s coworkers.

Professor Wright concludes this valuable little volume by posing and responding to a number of questions and by calling the church to grieve, though not without hope.

For those who never have read a Wright book—there now are roughly 80 of them—the time is now. For his fans—and there are not a few of them—here is one to add to your collection. For his foes—and he does indeed have some as a simple Google search will reveal—take up and read.

For us all, we do well to join “Tom” in thinking biblically, theologically and pastorally about a pandemic that has changed inalterably the course of human life and history.

Click here to see Todd Still’s interview with N.T. Wright.

Todd Still

Charles J. and Eleanor McLerran DeLancey Dean

William M. Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures

Baylor University, Truett Seminary, Waco 

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