Book Review: God and the Pandemic

Tom Wright

From the Summer House.

As I mentioned when I wrote for the Newsletter the other week I am making a habit of resorting each morning to the summer house with a mug of coffee and a book. Weather is still permitting and I have moved on to another book : Tom Wright’s ‘God and the Pandemic’. (When he writes for the likes of you and me he writes as Tom Wright; when he’s writing for fellow academics he writes as N.T. Wright.) Being a Bible scholar Tom Wright digs deeply into scripture as he thinks deeply about the coming upon us of the pandemic. The book’s subtitle is ‘A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and Its Aftermath’, and Justin Welby’s quoted comment is ‘Superbly written, utterly Bible based…don’t hesitate!’

The book came out of a short piece Tom Wright wrote for TIME magazine and the many letters he received afterwards.  In the Preface he says, ‘The aim of this book… is not to offer ‘solutions’ to the questions raised by the pandemic. … My main argument is precisely that we need to resist the knee jerk reactions that come so readily to mind’. He goes on to outline the response to disasters of both ancient and modern philosophies and considers what should be a Christian response. He looks at that of the Hebrew prophets to disasters hitting ancient Israel, among them the Babylonian exile. He engages with the point of view that sees disasters as punishment and says ‘whenever anyone tells you that coronavirus means that God is calling people to repent tell them to read the book of Job: the whole point is that that is not the point’. Wright suggests that we are simply to know that caught up in awful circumstances we are not meant to understand: we are to lament, and leave it with God.

Moving into the New Testament Wright makes the point that Jesus doesn’t look back for a hypothetical cause of trouble but looks forwards to see what God is going to do about it – see John 9 and the man born blind. He (Wright) goes on to talk at length about the significance of Jesus’ life and death .

The following chapter looks at the early Church and what Paul has to teach us; then, in the final chapter, the author looks at Where do we go from here?’ He shares with us the view of writer Rodney Stark that the way Christians behaved in the great plagues of the early centuries was a significant factor contributing to the spread of the faith, as well as referring to ‘the gritty wisdom’ of Luther in a letter dealing with Christian behaviour in a time of plague. This after he has shared with us the thought that ‘as Jesus was to Israel so the Church should be to the world’. He suggests that we should seek to be ‘sign producers’ for God’s kingdom, and goes on to discuss our distress at not being able to meet together to worship in our usual buildings.

Finally he points us to Psalms 72 and 73 and the theme of Lament, and a time of lament used as a time of prayer and hope.

Psalm 43 : 3-5

Lyn Weekley

Published SPCK    ISBN 978-O- 281-08511-8’

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