By the time you read this, some of our colleagues may have been infected with the coronavirus, and some will have been quarantined or chosen to live in self-isolation. The world is facing the grim reality that, in spite of technological advances, something new can just show up and threaten to wipe the human race off the face of the earth. Many are asking, “What is going on?” I choose to ask, “What time is it?”
As a Christian scholar, how would you explain these things to a world that is asking for meaning? It took the world by surprise; and from all indications, it took the church by surprise too. But it certainly did not take God by surprise.
I am certain that the devil does not have the capacity or permission to shut down the earth when the Holy Spirit is still here. Isaiah 26:20 tells us that pestilences and quarantines are not new:
Go, my people, enter your rooms
and shut the doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
until his wrath has passed by.
Pestilences can come from God, but according to Amos 3:7, “the Lord God does nothing unless he reveals his secret to his servants the prophets.” The problem, however, is whether we have space in our theology to hear the voice of God and understand this plague. Can this generation hear when God calls, “Samuel … Samuel”? What is God telling his church today? Are we spiritually and mentally prepared to guide our communities both in the present circumstances and in the post-virus world?
COVID-19 is a wind blowing across the globe and lifting the undergarments of our civilizations and theologies, exposing our nakedness. It is telling us to enter our closets and seek God. It is reminding us of our mortality and that we are not almighty, and it is teaching us that those in Buckingham Palace and those in the streets of Nigeria breathe the same air. After COVID-19, our world may never be the same again, but our missionary mandate will remain. We will all realize more deeply that the church is not a building but a people. Rather than investing in massive buildings, we will invest in building the ecclesia, the community of true love.
What time is it? It is time to pray, think, and listen.