SYDNEY (Christian News Network) — A ministry director in Australia who served as a pastor in Scotland for 27 years is lamenting that many Christian leaders seem to be leaving the call to repentance from sin out of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In this recent Covid-19 crisis, it has struck me how the knee-jerk reactions of many Christian leaders have managed to leave out the whole question of repentance,” writes David Robertson in a recent blog post. “It is clear that when the economies of the world can be stopped and the idols of our culture be torn down by a tiny virus, the response of humanity and our rulers should not be, ‘We are great; we can fix this,’ but rather humility and repentance.”
Robertson’s post was written in response to an article from Anglican theologian N.T. Wright published in TIME magazine, in which Wright opined that Christians are not supposed to have an explanation for all the hardships in the world, such as the novel coronavirus, but to simply lament.
“No doubt the usual silly suspects will tell us why God is doing this to us. A punishment? A warning? A sign? These are knee-jerk would-be Christian reactions in a culture which, generations back, embraced rationalism: everything must have an explanation. But supposing it doesn’t?” Wright asserted.
“Rationalists (including Christian rationalists) want explanations; Romantics (including Christian romantics) want to be given a sigh of relief. But perhaps what we need more than either is to recover the biblical tradition of lament,” he stated.
“Lament is what happens when people ask, ‘Why?’ and don’t get an answer. It’s where we get to when we move beyond our self-centered worry about our sins and failings and look more broadly at the suffering of the world,” Wright continued.
While noting that God Himself laments, being grieved in the Scriptures over the wickedness of man and the unfaithfulness of Israel, he still concluded that “[i]t is no part of the Christian vocation … to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain — and to lament instead.”
While Robertson found Wright’s article to be thought-provoking, as he agreed that there are indeed various knee-jerk reactions that rise to the surface — some being bizarre and others being more reasoned, he also opined that Wright’s view was similarly problematic in that it seemed to dismiss the possibility of God’s hand in the situation, thereby eliminating any need to call for repentance.
Wright is basically saying, “Don’t blame God; we can’t have any of that judgment and signs stuff. Just lament and remember that God is with us in our pain — but He has nothing to do with it,” Robertson sorrowed.
He said that while not every disaster is to be automatically labeled a judgment from God, at the same time, God is not absent nor is He so helpless that all He can do is weep.
“Wright talks about how in the story of Noah God was grieved that He had made humanity. But he misses out [on] the fact that we are told that this is an explanation — an explanation as to why the Earth was flooded. God was so grieved at humanity that He judged it by destroying people,” Robertson wrote.
“When Jesus was asked about the 18 people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them, did He say, ‘I feel your pain; all we can do is lament’? No,” he continued. “He was emphatic, answering both those who believe only in an impotent weeping God and those who believe in a judgmental, unforgiving God. ‘I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’”
Robertson additionally pointed to Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8:37-40:
“If there be in the land famine, if there be pestilence, blasting, mildew, locust, or if there be caterpillar, if their enemy besiege them in the land of their cities, whatsoever plague, whatsoever sickness there be, what prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all Thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house, then hear Thou in Heaven, Thy dwelling place, and forgive …”
Likewise, humility, prayer and repentance should be the Christian reaction to calamity, he said.
“But it appears we still prefer to stick our mammon-fattened fingers into our cloth ears, denying even the possibility that God might be saying something to us,” Robertson wrote. “We prefer to be told there is no explanation and no hope (outwith ourselves), rather than admit we are helpless and cry out to the God who offers both help and hope (as well as explanation).”
“We do not need a knee jerk reaction seeking to justify the ways of God to men, but rather a knee fall reaction — kneeling in prayer and crying out the to Lord to save us in His mercy,” he concluded. “And let it begin with us — the Church and especially those of us who are church leaders. Of all people, we are the ones who most need to repent.”