Miroslav Volf’s thoughts on COVID-19
I received this email and decided to share it with everyone. I think it’s an important message.
The entire world lives today under a menacing cloud of a pandemic.
As a response to COVID-19, I am publishing a podcast series with my colleagues at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. We’re calling it “For the Life of the World.” I’ve released the first episode today. Next week it will be available wherever you listen to podcasts. I’d be honored if you would subscribe and think along with us about what true life might mean in the time of COVID-19. We will release a new episode every Saturday. Thanks for reading and listening — I’m excited to share our future conversations with you.
The battle against the pandemic is mostly carried out by scientists (vaccine and cure), epidemiologists (tracking distribution and working to control the spread), medical doctors and nurses (trying to help the sick), politicians (implementing required measures and keep the country running), economists and business people (making sure that basic goods are produced and distributed), etc.
Christian faith — and theology — seems to have little to contribute to these efforts, except to support them. Most of us are called upon to stay at home, stay safe ourselves — and make sure not to endanger others: which boils down to personal hygiene and social distancing.
For us the pandemic seem to be a major interruption in life as usual. Life as usual, is the key phrase, for though our lives have been severely disrupted, they have not been interrupted. For the truth is that our life goes on, and cannot be interrupted; you cannot put life on pause — as you may pause a Netflix movie because something has come up, and then return to it and press the play button.
The question for all of us is how do we live with the disruption and with the menacing cloud over us? And the Christian faith — and theology — has something to say to this question.
For the central question of the Christian faith is what kind of life is worthy of our humanity? How are we to live our lives as the creatures of the God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the savior who suffered on the mission to free us from the power of evil that destroys life and to make true life — life abundant, flourishing life — possible.
In the Christian tradition, the question of the true life was never an armchair question — a question that those whose needs have been met and whose life is not endangered have the luxury of asking.
The Christmas story describes the coming of Christ into the world as “light shining into darkness” — darkness of imperial oppression, darkness of destitution, darkness of incurable diseases, darkness of hunger, darkness of vulnerability and precarity of our fragile lives. (And what better to underscore the fragility of our lives than a pandemic!)
The question about the true, flourishing life for Christian faith was always a question about how we can live a true life surrounded by false life. Flourishing life in the midst of languishing — or to express it with the Psalmist, “how to sing the Lord’s song in the strange land.”
The current pandemic is just such strange land.
Can we sing in it, and can what we sing be the Lord’s song?
Can we overcome our fears so as to act with courage?
Can we let go of our excessive self-concern which endangerment tends to produce in us, and open ourselves to help others?
Can we live well with loneliness and isolation that the pandemic imposes on some of us, above all on the elderly?
Can we learn how to live confined in small spaces, how to manage well inevitable tensions?
Can we do better than to experience time of confinement as “empty” time, time that just needs to be filled so as to forestall the boredom: Netflix, snacks, and more Netflix and snacks?
In a phrase: Can we live a true life under a cloud that seeks to make our life false?
Christian faith has important resources to help us live as exiles in our own homes and our empty cities and towns.
This is the time to ask the fundamental question: What is this brief life of ours all about?
How can we live so as not to betray our own humanity, and the humanity of our loved ones and our neighbors as we live under conditions the pandemic has imposed on us.
The key question we will be considering in this series of conversations is: What does it mean to say at this time that the God of Jesus Christ, the healer of the sick, the critic of powers, and the crucified and resurrected Savior, is our God?
Peace to you during this challenging time, and we look forward to sharing these with you.
Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology, Yale Divinity School
Director, Yale Center for Faith & Culture