COVID-19, the Coronavirus is an apocalyptic event. I do not mean the world is coming to an end. The word “apocalypse” comes from a Greek word that means “to reveal, or uncover.” COVID-19 is revealing a great deal about our politics, our economics, our culture (including our religion), and the state of our souls.
The emptiness of the American soul is being revealed in the presidency. The worship of power, money, and violence is incapable of a truthful, compassionate, and just response to sickness and suffering. This is the character of the current president, and this character will only be revealed more and more as we go forward. And to be clear, this emptiness is not unique to the American presidency. Across the globe governments have lied about COVID-19. As one headline put it, “Truth Has Become a Coronavirus Casualty.” (https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/09/truth-coronavirus-china-trump-pence/?utm_source=PostUp&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20219&utm_term=Flashpoints%20OC)
The Father of Lies, Satan, claimed that he could give the kingdoms of this world to Jesus. In one of his rare truthful moments Satan revealed that states are fallen creatures, reflecting our own fallen humanity as those who create and sustain states. The state will not save us even as we can urge the state to do the limited good it can do and to do that well.
The emptiness of our economic life is also being revealed. The virus came to be within the context of a market in which wild animals were being sold for human consumption. Death comes from deadly markets, organized around human wants to the neglect of the well-being of God’s creation. Just as death comes from deadly forms of political and cultural organization, so too death comes from a deadly form of markets. The virus is revealing the fragility and deadly character of a global economy premised upon cheap goods produced by cheapening human lives. Our destruction of the local, of rural communities, of small towns, of urban neighborhoods as factories have closed, is now coming back to haunt us.
We reap what we sow is being revealed. We reap cancer from farming with Monsanto. We reap wars from an imperial politics. We reap exploitation of children from a hyper-sexualized culture. We reap climate change from an economy overly dependent upon carbon fuels. Wrongdoing spreads virally unless we find ways to resist that do not replicate the wrongdoing (Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good).
These revelations also reveal the challenge to our own souls in this time. We will not be able to respond well (compassionately, justly) to this virus or to these other forms of death if we cannot tell the truth about ourselves, our economy, our politics, our culture. Will we be revealed as truth-tellers, or people who prefer to lie and be lied to?
Trump has to lie about this virus and about everything because truth would bring an end to his presidency. Biden or whoever is nominated among the Democrats will have to lie if he hopes to be elected. Our culture, our politics, our market is premised upon lying. The primal lies of Manifest Destiny, of 3/5 human beings in the Constitution, of slavery, of Jim Crow, of the atomic bombiings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of destroying a village in order to save it, of “Operation Enduring Freedom” (among others), of bailing out the banks, of building walls and caging children… Do we want the truth about our lives? Are we willing to be open to the truth?
Jesus said knowing the truth will set us free. Freedom here is the freedom to live well, to flourish, to have abundant life (John 10:10).
Now that we are in the grips of this death (with other deaths circling nearby) the challenge is to live in resistance in ways that do not replicate the lies that got us here. The lie that life is just a matter of individual survival. The lie that we need to hoard, to “take care of ourselves.” The lie that closing our borders even more will stop the virus. The lie that we should fear each other as bearers of the virus. The lie that there is nothing we can do but submit to the inevitable. The lie that is coming that we need martial law to effectively respond to this virus.
The truth is as ordinary as handwashing. The truth is as ordinary as taking legitimate precautions not to spread this virus. The truth is as ordinary as checking in with elderly neighbors, with friends who have compromised immune systems. The truth is as ordinary as refusing to hoard and to live in fear and anxiety. The truth is as ordinary as facing the truth about our own lives.
The truth is we are all vulnerable human beings who die, so we need to treat each other with love, compassion, justice. The truth is that death does come for us all, and that we are less in control than we might have thought. The truth is that life is a gift, a gracious moment. God calls us to embrace life as a gift and share it. But Satan calls us to regard life as possession. Life as a possession is something that we desperately seek to hold onto by denying we are intertwined, interdependent, and integral to each other as members of the human family.
God is on the side of truth, life, and freedom/liberation. This is the truth we need: God calls us, and loves us into seeking to be well with each other and the whole creation. God is on the side of those suffering under lies, death, and enslavement masquerading as freedom. This is the truth we learn in the life of Jesus: God is on the cross because God is in resistance to the lies. God is resurrection because lies and death do not have the last word. In this apocalyptic moment God asks us, “Will you accept each other as brothers and sisters? Will you accept that you are God’s beloved children? Will you hear and live by the truth that is being revealed?”