Disease, Decay, and the Promise of a New Creation
This topic needs no introduction. The pandemic that is COVID-19 (meaning coronavirus disease 2019, also commonly referred to simply as “coronavirus,” which is the term that will be used hereafter in this article) is impacting every facet of life in the Western World. At the time of writing, the number of worldwide cases has just reached one million, and the United States today is reporting its first daily death toll of over 1,000 coronavirus-related deaths.
As we all know, daily life has been hit even harder for most by the secondary effects of the virus, which stem from the preventative measures being practiced by people and governments around the world in attempts to slow and contain its spread: Governments across the Western world are, at least, strongly encouraging their citizens to stay home, while many of us are currently living under strictly enforced “lockdown” or “stay-at-home” orders. Places of business and leisure are indefinitely shuttered, jobs are being lost, and we are to be physically distanced from non-household members by at least six feet (or two meters) at all times.
Over the last few weeks, I have said and heard countless people say that this situation in which we find ourselves “doesn’t feel real,” but like the stuff of a bad dream or a disaster movie. But I would argue that we have it backward. It is we, in our relatively comfortable Western society, who have essentially been in a dream, a sort of false Eden which we have built for ourselves, and this coronavirus moment has forced us at a societal level to all wake up at the same time and see the reality of this world for what it is: A world in bondage to the powers of death and darkness.
It is here that the Christian faith comes alongside the rest of society and affirms its discontent with a resounding “YES!” and offers an alternative vision forward in the face of the fear and uncertainty which is crippling so many in this moment. To look forward to where we should go from here, we must first look backwards and root ourselves in the Christian understanding
of the world.
The opening page of the Bible shows God creating a “very good” world, which he gave to the first human beings to rule over (Genesis 1:26-31). These first humans lived in a perfect state of unity with God in a place called “the garden of Eden” (Genesis 2:15). But the humans quickly decided that they wanted to be like God, and define “good and evil” on their own terms, and so they disobeyed God (Genesis 3:1-7). The humans were then banished from the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:22-24) and since this moment, humanity and creation have been under the curse of the power of death.
On this note, the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Christian community in first-century Rome: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:19-23 NIV).
The Apostle is saying that the created world around us is waiting to be freed from our present reality of death, from its bondage to decay. But in order for this to happen, another event must happen first, which is the moment of the “adoption to sonship, (and) the redemption of our bodies” for those who trust in Christ.
Paul and the other writers of the Christian Scripture believed that the ultimate Christian hope does not lie in escaping this physical world of death and living forever in a disembodied, spiritual existence. Instead, the great hope for humanity and the Bible is that God will restore this fallen creation to its former status and those who trust in Him will be adopted as His children, raised from the dead, and live and rule with Him forever in a restored and redeemed creation. Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection, defeated the powers of sin and death, and shows us a new way of being human and living in harmony with the will of God. And if we trust in Jesus, we will share in the redemption of the entire cosmos with Jesus, who is, as Paul tells the Roman Christians, “…the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Romans 8:29 NIV).
From almost the very beginning, humanity has tried to create their own versions of Eden and do what is right in their own eyes. Our comfortable, affluent and pleasure-driven Western world is often unknowingly mistaken to be Eden; we forget the messy realities of life and push things like death far from our minds until tragedy strikes and forces us, for at least a moment, to come back to reality.
The person who trusts in Jesus looks in the face of illness, death, and uncertainty, and prays “Holy Father, may your reign come on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10) and hopes in the promise of “a new heaven and a new earth,” wherein “God himself will be with them and be their God,” and God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1, 3b-4). Those who trust in the Lord know that this reality cannot be accomplished by human will, but by God alone.
So, just like the people of Israel lived through an in-between stage between their slavery in Egypt and settling in the land which God had promised for them (referred to in the Bible as “the wilderness”), Christians today are also living in an in-between stage: We have been rescued from the power of sin and death, but we are still waiting for the “promised land” of God’s New Creation to come in its fullness.
While we are in this in-between stage, it is the duty of Christians to follow the example of their Lord and model, as he did, what this New Creation life looks like, so others may “come and see” the power of God for themselves (Psalm 66:5). Let us seize this rare moment we are now in, where the realities of the brokenness of this world are at the forefront of all people’s minds, and pray that the Spirit of God leads us into modeling New Creation lives of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
I invite you to pray this prayer for yourself, for me, and for the Church Universal as we aim to become vessels of healing and hope in a societal moment of death and despair.
Peace Prayer of Saint Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
COVID-19 Map – Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center – http://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map
Countries that are on lockdown because of coronavirus – Business Insider – https://www.businessinsider.com/countries-on-lockdown-coronavirus-italy-2020-3
Map: 90% of Americans under stay-at-home orders – track states, cities – Business Insider – https://www.businessinsider.com/us-map-stay-at-home-orders-lockdowns-2020-3
U.S. Coronavirus deaths top 1,000 in single day, White House expected to recommend everyone wear masks – The Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/coronavirus-1000-deaths-us-masks/2020/04/02/b401402c-7487-11ea-87da-77a8136c1a6d_story.html
Peace Prayer of Saint Francis – https://www.loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/prayer/traditional-catholic-prayers/saints-prayers/peace-prayer-of-saint-francis