Contributed by Jonathan Numada, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies, Northwest Baptist Seminary; Junior Fellow, John William Wevers Institute for Septuagint Studies.
A couple of months ago I was the victim of a random assault. I was innocently playing with my phone and minding my own business when, out of nowhere, someone came up to me with an object that looked soft on the outside but was not soft on the inside. The individual in question swung the object at me and struck my left jaw. They cruelly laughed and ran away.
That day and the next I was fine, but the day after found my mouth in excruciating pain. At wits end, I experimented with self-medicating. Once I got the cocktail of painkillers just right I was able to live life pain-free for three or four hours at a time, but those painkillers became an important part of my routine.
In spite of all this, it did not take me so much as an instant to forgive my three-year old son for hitting Daddy with the robotic peek-a-boo teddy bear from his grandparents. What struck me most about this incident (pun not intended) is that something so minor created so much trouble. It was probably never more than a bruise, but it changed my priorities, at least for a few days.
I serve as a professor at Northwest Seminary and College, and the pandemic has had its impact on the daily rhythms of teaching and administration. I am relatively new to my job, so before the pandemic struck my schedule was hectic due to meetings and the demands of settling in. Working from home shifted virtually all my work to email and Zoom. I live ten minutes from campus, but this still has resulted in significant time savings and greater productivity. Research and publication projects that have been in the pipe for quite some time finally came to completion, and course preparation gets done much more quickly. In this respect, the pandemic has brought some blessings.
On the teaching front, the shift to online teaching has not been too difficult because our institution has been live streaming lectures for years. The pandemic and its restrictions have transformed participation in Zoom rooms and Moodle discussion boards from an obligation into a reunion between friends. People miss having coffee together, but the current situation has given the theological disciplines renewed relevance because of the existential implications of the coronavirus. I have seen a renewed sense of urgency among students about the chance to engage life’s deepest issues. Many “academic” topics do not seem so academic anymore.
Being cooped-up all the time has driven positive changes to my family’s lifestyle. I used to go to the gym once a week for a couple of hours to blow off steam. Now I exercise every day because the lockdowns motivated us to purchase exercise equipment. Working at home means I am always near the fridge, so it is easier to cook healthy meals for lunches. We replaced my son’s playgroups and preschool with daily walks and time at the sports field to channel his young energy. I would say that these recent changes to my life are generally positive.
I am not being naïve or selective in saying this. The pandemic clearly is not minor. My family lives next door to our town’s COVID-19 drive-through testing center. Every time we leave our building, we see the lines of cars filled with anxious people who are getting tested by nurses in layers of Personal Protective Equipment. Once in a while, there are TV news crews filming the scene. The grocery store we frequent is next to one of British Columbia’s hardest-hit care homes.
Then there are the economic implications. Some of our students have lost their jobs. At the end of March, other students had to ask for extensions for term papers because they needed to drive across the country to hurry home before provincial borders closed. Some of our non-Canadian students returned to their overseas home countries to be with family. Many churches have had to lay off staff, and my church now lives on as a YouTube channel. Seminaries and Bible colleges are by no means immune to the added economic fallout of Covid-19. There are daily reminders of the economic fear and uncertainty that this virus has brought to our world, even to those who are perfectly healthy.
COVID-19 endangers our everyday identities and routines, be it by undermining our job security and material well-being, the ability of donors to keep our churches running in the manner we are accustomed to, or endangering the lives of our neighbors and loved ones. The disruptive nature of the coronavirus pandemic is in many ways an agent of disorder because it challenges our everyday perceptions of who and what we are, let alone the exponential toll it is exacting on human life.
This reminds me of the Genesis creation account, especially when contrasted against competing worldviews such as those reflected in the Enuma Elish, a Mesopotamian creation myth. According to the Enuma Elish, creation is the end-product of a brutal conflict among capricious gods, and humans are created to run the temples and serve the gods by feeding them (tablets 2 to 5). In contrast, Genesis maintains that creation is the result of a good and intentional God who asserts order over chaos. God creates stability for living things because he desires fellowship with the humans that he creates. Humans participate in this mandate of propagating order and stability by acting as stewards and governors over his garden-temple. The New Testament presents Jesus as the pinnacle: a creating being who is the means and purpose of creation (for example, John 1:3; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16), in addition to being its redeemer.
COVID-19 is a dangerous challenge to the safety and stability of our home, way of life, and relationships. Yet, part of our mandate as created beings is to challenge this threat, subdue it, and continue caring for our home. Eventually humanity will bring some sense of order to this unruly virus by imitating the positive creative attributes of our God. This may take the form of using the scientific method to develop vaccines and treatments, or through working together creating systems that will enable us to live with and manage the virus. Either way, we will follow and participate in God’s creative and ordering character for positive ends.
It is vital to remember that, when the pandemic is over, God will “recreate” our lives and the Holy Spirit will chart paths forward for new and exciting initiatives. While the church has not stopped being the church and the church has not gone anywhere, there remains a sense where God will re-create his Body. He will grant his Body a renewed vigor and provide it with new ministry opportunities. Bruises heal, and one day we will again feel grounded in our daily lives and relationships. Perhaps as it did in my own life, the virus will be the occasion for the church to embrace some positive changes. Since God’s creative act is good, this is something that we can take some solace in, even if for the present time we are too aware that circumstances are beyond our control.