Two brainy books for you to think about. Please don’t get the idea that I have slammed through these in a week so that I can bring you full and balanced reviews on them all. I haven’t. I have been reading these on and off for a few weeks now and they do take a bit more effort than your Agatha Christie (not that Agatha Christie isn’t beautifully written and constructed but her stuff is a bit more of a page-turner). I have been challenged/convicted (do we say convicted anymore?) by my lack of attention span so I thought I might pep it up a bit and learn something useful at the same time.
Here are two books on Covid 19. (First thing that I learnt – there are lots of Coronaviruses – this particular one is called Covid-19. You are welcome). Has anyone come up to you in the last six months and said: “Where is God when this is happening?” “Why is this happening?” Have they? Really? I think you must have more of a deeply spiritual profile among your friends and the neighbours then. No one has asked me anything of the sort. There are two main approaches to this as far as I can see. One is that Covid is a scientific anomaly – just one of those things, just one of those crazy flings and we have to get on with it. The second is that we have messed about with the world so much either through environmental misuse, our treatment of animals and the natural world included or that we have behaved like money-grabbing baboons with little or no moral compass and this is what you get. You know, if we were all shaking our fist at God and shouting “Whyyyyyyy?” he could probably unravel a list as long as his mighty arm to justify why he decided to give us a bit of a kicking – if that is what he had decided to do. (Possibly a theologically unsound opinion)
For more theology and less ranting, you may want to look at these books. The smaller one of the two is by John C Lennox who is very clever and very good at hard sums. No, he is really. He is Emeritus Professor at Mathematics at Oxford University. Can you imagine being made to do Maths for a living? Did I ever tell you that when I passed my Maths O level, my teacher phoned my mum and told her that in fifteen years of teaching that my passing was the biggest miracle he has witnessed? Charming. (Anyway, I don’t think he was much of a teacher – the only thing I remember about him was that in one lesson he took his vest off without undoing his shirt). Professor Lennox’s book is small, succinct and well thought out. It doesn’t assume knowledge – either about virulent diseases or religion. If someone is genuinely interested, I would definitely feel happy giving this to them.
God and the Pandemic by Tom Wright. (Professor Wright is a Research Professor at the University of St Andrews and Senior Research Fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.) This book is longer, perhaps more directed towards Christians and doesn’t really seem to spend much time addressing “Why?” at all. There seems to be a lot more geared towards – these things have happened many, many times before so, therefore (1) what took you so long? and (2) how should the church react?
There is a lot here but let me tell you what I have taken away from the book. Firstly, he has little time for Christian “Leaders” who are telling us that this is judgement in people for being too worldly, too gay, too fond of a drink or not voting the way you are told to. There were pandemics as Christianity first spread across the world and the early Christians reaction was to heal the sick, feed the hungry and hold the hands of the dying – much to the annoyance of the Romans. He backs this us with lots of historical accounts involving people called things like Plinny and Claudius Lucundus. (I may have made those names up)
The first thing he calls for is a return to Lament. To Lament is, to be sorry, to empathise and complain always should be the first reaction. We should be honest about the way things are and that they are awful before we can react positively rub down our knees and get up and be helpful.
Then he deconstructs what will be a troubling verse for many people at this time
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God,18 to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8 28
Now, he takes the verse apart and, let me be frank, I had to read it a few times to sort of get it, but he breaks the verse down and what he comes back with is more in line with the Good News Translation
“We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose.” Romans 8 28
This makes more sense to me. I remember when I was ill, a very well-meaning lady shouting “Be strong because this is all working together for your good.” under the church toilet door at me. But it didn’t feel like that. All things? Really? Well maybe. But for me, the promise that God will work for good with us in the most difficult of circumstances is not only more in line with my learned wisdom but is an equally important promise.
There’s another little telling phrase that he uses almost as a throwaway at the end of a chapter. Actions have consequences. So does inaction. These are books by cerebral men but the responses they are calling for is practical and positive and definitely worth the extra thought that reading them demands