Camus, COVID-19, and Christian Hope

March 16, 2020

In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

 

Peter 3:15–16

 

 

I can remember a friend asking me to pray with her during a time of national fear and upheaval my senior year of high school. I had scarcely followed Jesus 2 years at that point, but I became known for my identification with him. I was born again and baptized, but I was also immature and undiscipled. Even so, our prayer pair became an intercession and supplication circle, most of our class joining us, including the agnostics and the practical pagans. So it goes in times of trial and uncertainty. 

 

We find ourselves in somewhat uncharted waters, unfamiliar with extended school shutdowns and suggested social distancing. 

 

What shall we make of such a thing?

 

Near the mid-point of the twentieth century, Albert Camus published the novel, The Plague. In his story, a sickness comes to an unremarkable town in northern Africa. While the townspeople went about their humdrum lives prior to the plague, never seeking anything out of the norm, the quarantine to stop the spread of the plague leads them to desire something outside reaches of their home.

 

They watch one another suffer and die. As authorities and doctors seek a remedy to their plight, the local priest, Father Paneloux, enters the scene. In his initial reaction to the plague, he rebukes the people for their hardness toward God, but his tune later changes upon witnessing the suffering of a child. After encountering suffering firsthand, he descends into a staunch fatalistic irrationalism, and he himself also dies. His befuddled speech into the tragedy of the plague leaves a somewhat bewildered people, and his confused communication leaves a legacy of indifference in the town. 

 

While COVID-19 is not Camus’s plague, its effects on the aged and immunocompromised are severe. Cases for these men and women could be fatal. For those outside these categories, the coronavirus brings social and economic disruption. The question remains, what shall we say and do at this time?

 

Will we cultivate confusion as Father Paneloux? The way of Christ has not taught us timidity, nor has it encouraged smugness in his disciples. He has not given us a spirit of fear, and he has not encouraged macho bloviating over how stupid everything is. We observe both reactions in children and remark to one another how they must mature out of such childishness, but we often fail to recognize these foolish practices in our adult selves because we express them in multisyllabic words. 

 

What has Christ promised? What is this hope you have, Christian?

 

In Matthew 28:20, we see he promises his presence. 

 

In John 14:16, he declared the Father would send the Helper, the Holy Spirit to remain with us.

 

In Romans 8:26–27, the Christian finds the Holy Spirit has spoken when our words fail us in weakness, and he speaks on our behalf according to God’s will.

 

In Hebrews 7:25, we discover the sinless and sympathetic Christ Jesus also speaking on our behalf. 

 

These we have in Christ, and more than these things.

 

Daniel 7 speaks of the Ancient of Days taking his seat on the throne. As majestic as he shows himself and with all his might displayed, still the voice of objection and self-exaltation rise before him until he puts it away. In that time, the Son of Man comes before him and he receives all authority, and all nations, peoples, and languages bow in service to him and serve in his eternal kingdom. Those who embrace the Son of Man receive judgment passed in their favor. 

 

No contagion, disease, or plague will own the last word. The binding verdict belongs to no scientist or epidemiologist. Indeed, the final say does not even rest on a prayerful prediction of the saints. No, the ultimate declaration belongs to the Ancient of Days who has declared the Son of Man possessor of all authority. No room remains for timidity in the face of crisis because we rely on the pen of the author of history. No need exists for bluster—who could speak a greater word than the Son of Man presented before the Ancient of Days? Will we fear with this sort of sovereign, and will we dare pontificate in the echo of his thunderous pronouncement? 

 

We do not search the coronavirus for meaning. COVID-19 has nothing to say to us. 

 

We look to our rootedness as branches in the vine. We actively take our comfort in the word of Christ, counting all things as loss for his sake. We seek to exalt him over all others and to reveal his tender care to our neighbors and friends. 

 

May we praise him as the psalmist does.

 

Psalm 113 

 

Praise the LORD!
Praise, O servants of the 
LORD,
    praise the name of the 
LORD!

Blessed be the name of the LORD
    from this time forth and forevermore!

From the rising of the sun to its setting,
    the name of the 
LORD is to be praised!

The LORD is high above all nations,
    and his glory above the heavens!

Who is like the LORD our God,
    who is seated on high, who looks far down
    on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap,

to make them sit with princes,
    with the princes of his people.

He gives the barren woman a home,
    making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the 
LORD!

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