Attentiveness: Faith & Science Amid the Pandemic
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist
President & Professor of Missiology
This current pandemic has created a dilemma of knowing: What do we really know? When will this be over? Who can we trust?
Many scientists, who are not economists, seem alarmist to others. They are advising governments to make decisions that are costing jobs and seem to be destroying our economy. Some ultra-conservative preachers tell us the virus is not as bad as we are told. Some politicians want us to get back to normal socializing earlier. Others affirm the prognosis of biologists from around the world: we need to strictly enforce social distancing for another month or two or even three.
As the governor (Pilate) said to Jesus, “Quod est veritas” (What is truth?)
A recent New York Times editorial exposed the foolishness of some religious (as well as economic) ideologies. I would argue the groups addressed in the editorial, collectively labeled as the “Religious Right,” are really ideologues, more interested in protecting their religious’ kingdoms than using their sanctified minds and listening to their hearts. Unfortunately, when one marginal Christian group is exposed, all Christians are implicated.
This is a time when true Christian faith can be a lifeline for our civilization and for our local communities. False faith, rooted in ideologies and false hopes will bend toward foolishness and even death. If we put our faith in what is not true, people die. True faith, trusting what is trustworthy, is a matter of life and death.
“This is a time when true Christian faith can be a lifeline for our civilization and for our local communities.
Why do I say that true Christian faith can be a lifeline? As Christians, we believe that all truth is God’s truth. We need not be afraid of “secular” science. Granted, not all scientists agree on some issues. When scientists around the world and through time are in agreement, however, Christians ought to see them pointing to what is true. Scientists do not create truth, they discover what is true about creation. God creates. Humans discover.
This does not mean the Christian worships science, but she or he worships the God who is Lord over all truth that science discovers. The best of science simply helps us better understand what God has created, and what evil has broken and polluted from God’s beautiful creation.
Faith is related to trust, values, and holiness. Amid a pandemic, who will you trust? You trust the persons and institutions that have every reason to know what is true. Although my neighbor might tell me that the Chinese invented this awful virus to ruin other nations, I do not (in this case) trust my neighbor. I do trust those scientists who have mapped the genome sequence of covid-19 to determine that this virus is most likely from bats and had an intermediate host animal. It started in a particular market in a specific place. Independent researchers from around the world have come to the same conclusion. I trust these scientists to tell me about the virus and how I should live to prevent its spread.
However, scientists are less helpful in matters of value and virtues at a time like this. To know how to live (beyond social distancing), I need to return to Jesus. Science has its place in discovering the truth. Faith has its place in applying meaning to this truth. “What does all of this mean?“ “Who am I, and what are we becoming in this time of pandemic?” We are being shaped by a global and local emergency, but we are not mere clay in the hands of a global crisis. We are individuals made in the image of God, and we will be making decisions each day that will make us more into the likeness of Jesus, or more into the likeness of our fears, anxieties, and ideologies. Faith tells us to cling to Jesus and not be tempted by despair or cynicism. Jesus is still on the throne, and we are still to emulate his love and care for others.
“We are being shaped by a global and local emergency, but we are not mere clay in the hands of a global crisis. We are individuals made in the image of God, and we will be making decisions each day that will make us more into the likeness of Jesus, or more into the likeness of our fears, anxieties, and ideologies.
What does faith lead us to do and be? Some people who are without children are home as single people or couples, some with aging parents. We have lots of extra time now. How will we use this time? Many people will discover new online entertainment and fill their hours with diversion. Others may find this a remarkable gift of time for extra prayer, reflection, Bible reading, connecting with lonely people, and even delivering groceries to homebound older adults.
And parents (especially single parents) home alone, what will they become? Imagine a month or two of enforced family time! Tensions, cabin fever, stress will undoubtedly arise. However, it may be that families will carve out more time to connect: to talk, play games, pray, memorize Scripture, and FaceTime with their relatives across the country.
Science tells us this is real, it can be deadly, and it will not be over soon. Science also tells us it will be over in time.
Christian faith tells us to trust this science (for it is God’s truth), and it tells us how to live. We should be attentive to the needs of the elderly, healthcare workers, and young families. Do we have neighbors who have lost their jobs? Can they pay their rent? Do they need food?
We are all becoming something new and different in this time of pandemic. Each day we are making decisions that will make us more attentive, kind, and patient, or that will make us more self-absorbed and anxious.
Good science and deep faith. It is a time to pray.
“Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved….” (Psalm 80:3, 7, 19)
Scott W. Sunquist, the new President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, writes a weekly blog, “Attentiveness” which is posted each Monday morning on the Gordon-Conwell web site. He welcomes comments, responses and good ideas.