Until a few weeks ago the idea that a virus outbreak would close churches was unthinkable in this country, but now it has happened. True, many churches are now trying to meet online but there are many older churchgoers who have no internet connection, and they are the most likely to be the ones most vulnerable with underlying health conditions. The reaction of Christians to the pandemic varies according to their views with Charismatics reciting healing Scriptures, so far without great effect. There were those who claim to be prophets claiming that the epidemic would be broken at Easter/Passover whose claims were then quietly forgotten about when this did not happen. Those who are into eschatology are looking into potential end time scenarios and seeing the virus as an end-time pestilence or look at the draconian measures introduced by governments to control the virus as a prelude to persecution of Christians and the introduction of the “mark of the beast”. Though what non-Christians think of those who give the impression of being gleeful as the death toll rises because they see parallels with the Book of Revelation is a moot point.
However, the crisis has brought about great financial uncertainty which affects those who are Christians as much as the rest. Various financial measures are being drafted to help those caught up in the crisis but many of them are either loans or just deferred payments that will have to be paid back sometime. At the moment money seems to be no object for the Government here when it comes to expenditure to tackle the virus. But what will happen afterwards when the purse-strings will have to be drawn back in. Many businessmen will be saddled with debt and red-tape with little hope of recouping their lost earnings. This might affect those Christians who because of political correctness in the public sector have decided to become entrepreneurs instead. One of the consequences of this is that being in debt might result in their faith being compromised so as not to offend those they owe money to.
Short-term measures may have unexpected long-term consequences. Most people are familiar with the story of Joseph in Egypt coming from prison to being Prime Minister and the reconciliation with his brothers. But there is a postscript about Joseph’s dealings with the Egyptian peasants. The first year of the famine they paid for their food, the second they sold their livestock to the state for food and the third year they sold their land for food. To this day few Egyptian farmers own the land they farm. Instead they farmed the land for Pharaoh giving him a large percentage of the crop. Because the Hebrews were not affected by this they became the cause resentment. It would appear that when they complained to a future Pharaoh, he decided to oppress the Hebrews rather than give the peasants their land back. Was it any coincidence that when the Israelites were to enter the Promised land they were to observe the Year of Jubilee when debts were cancelled and land restored. But no Pharaoh thought to relinquish the power that ownership of the land had given them. After all there was no concept of redemption in the pagan religion of Egypt, it is only the God of the Bible who redeems. So we should not expect our secular authorities to be forgiving of our debts. This may be bad in the West but in those countries where modern slavery is a problem the situation is liable to be much worse. Several Christians charities/churches have set up funds to help those in the severest financial circumstances.
The first steps are now being made to return to normality, though there are many conflicting views as to how this can be safely done. Suffice to say there will be many twists and turns along the way.
David Rose, 2020.