God is our refuge: Thoughts on Covid-19

This is the text of an email sent to The Pollinator mailing list on March 15. Please feel free to share and/or republish with a link back to this post.

March 15, 2020

Dear Friend,

In the last regular edition of The Pollinator, we explored the Covid-19 virus and some of its implications for creation care and climate change. How things have changed in two weeks. At the beginning of March there were 87,200 cases reported around the world. Today, as I write to you, the number stands at 167,457, and that number has risen by almost 40,000 since I started this letter two days ago. (The Johns Hopkins Covid-19 Dashboard appears to be one of the best source for statistics like this.)

These numbers are likely a fraction of the true extent of the disease, and only hint at what is happening all around us.  Borders are closing. Travel is coming to a halt. Conferences and other events (including our Creation Care conferences) cancelled or postponed. Church buildings are empty. Sports and entertainment industries are silent. In my own area, we have jumped from 1 to 33 cases in two weeks. Financial markets around the world are in chaos. Many are consumed with fear. I have lived through almost seven decades (tomorrow being my 67th birthday) and I have never seen anything like this in my entire life.

What can we in the creation care movement say about this situation?

Let’s start where we have to, with God. My mind has been drawn repeatedly to Psalm 46, a song that might have been written for us at this time:God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

The image is of an earthquake, and that is a good way to describe what is happening in our world today: a massive, global shaking of society that brings down the rich and powerful even more than the poor and helpless. That fact is itself frightening – if the rich can’t protect themselves, who can? The Psalmist’s declaration is exactly what we need to hear: “We will not fear…” because our hope and refuge is in God alone. God is still on the throne!

Our friend Bishop Efraim Tendero of the World Evangelical Alliance has given us a prayer for this occasion that expresses these thoughts well.  I will paste his words at the end of this letter and it can also be viewed and shared from the main Pollinator website here.

Beyond that message of hope there are some lessons in this situation for us as members of the global creation care family:

First, we need to be clear that this is what an environmental crisis really looks like. Many of us have spent our careers preparing for and warning people of disasters to come because of our abuse of God’s creation. However, most of us were thinking a polluted streams, smoggy air, landscapes empty of birds and butterflies, seaside communities ravaged by storms and rising sea levels. Serious but gradual crises that we would see coming. These things are still coming. Many are here already in various forms and intensities. All have human costs associated with them. But up to now nothing has had the suddenness and global impact of Covid-19. None of us anticipated empty sports stadiums and a collapsing stock market in the time span of just a few weeks.

What Covid-19 shows us, and what we need to be ready to share when the worst is over, is this:  Our entire global social and economic structure is built on a fragile ecological foundation. As an anonymous thinker put it, “we owe our entire existence to six inches of top soil and the fact that it rains.”

Second, and closely related: this crisis should not have surprised us. We are all part of a corrupt and sinful system built on greed, denying God, grasping every opportunity to abuse and destroy the delicate foundation of creation that supports us. Eight years ago, the document that the LWCCN was founded on, the Jamaica Call to Action, said, “We are faced with a crisis that is pressing, urgent, and must be resolved in our generation.” While we weren’t thinking of anything like what we see around us today, none of us should be surprised that this has come.

 I am reminded of Jared Diamond’s words in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: “Severe problems of overpopulation, environmental impact, and climate change cannot persist indefinitely: sooner or later they are likely to resolve themselves… if we don’t succeed in solving them by our own actions.” If we can’t learn to stop destroying our foundations, they will certainly destroy us.

So where do we go from here?

Let’s not waste this crisis. The current situation is quite dismal. The best estimates I have read suggestion that we have at least six to eight weeks to go. That is a long time in today’s global economy; many people will die, and  companies and  entire industries will not survive. Even so, Covid-19 won’t last forever. In six months, a year, perhaps two at the outside, life will start to look ‘normal’ again. That is our great danger: that society (and the church) will slip back into complacency and business as usual. We will congratulate ourselves that we did so well in ‘our finest hour.’ That is when it will be critical that we as creation care advocates redouble our efforts to mobilize the evangelical church around the world, that we remind our sisters and brothers lovingly that God’s first command to us – to ‘take care of the garden’ – is still in force. Covid-19 is not the end. This is only a warning that we ignore that command at our peril.

In the meantime, may I encourage you to keep on loving your community. Reach out to your neighbors. Share your hope (and supplies) selflessly and fearlessly, in the confidence that God is still on his throne.  Work with your church and encourage your church leaders. This is when the church should be the church.

Above all, take care of yourself. Spend time with God in creation – it is probably the healthiest place you can be. Spend more time with your family – enforced isolation may turn out to be a gift. (Check this piece from an unknown pastor in Wuhan from early in the crisis). On a personal level, if you need someone to talk to, send me a note. I am happy to offer what encouragement I can, or to point you to someone who might be closer to your part of the world. (I am more or less isolated like you – there will be plenty of time for emails! And do send us Covid-19 stories. How are you seeing God at work even now?)

Finally, consider these thoughts from Ed Stetzer in a great column in Christianity Today, “This is Our Time”:

While frightening, this virus represents a rare window for the church. Whether due to politicization or cultural trends, the phrase “evangelical Christian” has seen better days. Throughout it all, I have always maintained that when the chips are down, evangelicals will lead the way in serving and caring for others in the moments of crisis.
We have reached that time when we are either going to live up to our words or we must stop talking about kingdom mission and evangelism. How we respond to this crisis will go a long way to determine if there is an evangelicalism moving forward.

Thank you for your part in both responding to this present crisis and in looking beyond to help prepare the church for more difficult days ahead.

With appreciation and our prayers,

Ed Brown, for the Lausanne/WEA Creation Care Family