by Julie Lunn.
Coronavirus leaves me feeling conflicted.
On the one hand I am deeply sad about the number of those who have died and continue to die from the virus and those who have contracted it. I feel for the families who have lost loved ones, and whose loss and grief is compounded by not being able to say goodbye in person, or to attend funerals. I feel for those who are our front-line NHS workers; who risk their lives daily through their deep faithfulness to their work, and commitment to bring healing, to preserve life, and to help others whatever the cost. I am so thankful for them and I wish they did not have to go through it.
I also feel frustrated that in the UK we did not act more quickly to deal with this virus. I watch the daily update on the BBC news app – tracking the very gradual decline of infections and deaths, and, although I know it’s going to be slow, I long for the numbers to plummet, for the decline to be rapid, for the virus to be gone.
And on the other hand I am conflicted because I love the streets being quieter, I love the air being cleaner, I love the more frequent visit of birds – and an increasing variety of species – to our garden (probably because we now have time to feed them each day). I like the quietness, I like being at home, and not driving to work each day, navigating traffic queues, breathing petrol fumes. And I am very glad about the decrease in global carbon emissions – that’s a chink of light in the dark place of this pandemic.
So what are we to do with all that? As Christians where is God’s call to us? God’s movement is always towards redemption. It seems to me that we are called to work in tandem with God to redeem the loss, grief, suffering, danger, death, and pain, and to make those chinks of light a permanent outcome for the whole of God’s creation.
The Carbon Brief website states:
Pre-crisis estimates of GDP growth suggested CO2 output might rise by around 1% … in 2020. But even if this previously expected growth is deducted from the estimated coronavirus impact, the … effect is so large that it would still result in the largest annual fall in CO2 emissions ever recorded, in records going back to the 18th century.[i]
A recent Guardian editorial put it like this:
It’s too soon to say with any confidence what impact coronavirus will have on the climate emergency. The brakes placed on economic activities of many kinds, worldwide, have led to carbon emission cuts that would previously have been unthinkable: 18% in China between February and March; between 40% and 60% over recent weeks in Europe. Habits and behaviours once regarded as sacrosanct have been turned on their heads: road traffic in the UK has fallen by 70%. Global air traffic has halved.[ii]
That’s a chink of light. I am convinced that God’s redemption is for the whole world and not just human beings. ‘God so loved the world that he sent his only Son…’ (John 3:16). Is this drastic reduction in carbon emissions a tiny rebalancing of the relationship of humanity with the environment? A hint of Jubilee?
But it isn’t all sweetness and light. It comes with a warning. The trend has to continue. Unless carbon emissions continue to decrease, any gain will be lost. Each year we need a similar drop in emissions until, says Glen Peters from Cicero, ‘net-zero emissions are reached around 2050’.[iii]
There are a number of theological themes which emerge from this danger and possibility. There are chimes here with the prophetic warnings of the Old Testament. Jeremiah (9:10-14) connects the destruction of the land with the faithlessness of God’s people. ‘Why is the land ruined and laid waste like a wilderness, so that no one passes through? And the Lord says” “Because they have forsaken my law that I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice, or walked in accordance with it…”’. Northcott comments on such prophetic warnings, ‘The devastation of the land is not only seen as the judgement of a vengeful God. It is also interpreted as the consequence of the human rebellion against the created order and wisdom of nature.’[iv] There is a disconnect between humanity and the rest of the created world, which should not be, which is not God’s intention.
Theological themes emerge from the New Testament too. The Guardian editorial cited earlier continues, asking, ‘Could the renewed shock of human vulnerability in the face of Covid-19 make way for an increased willingness to face other perils, climate chaos among them?[v] As Christians we know about vulnerability. It is at the heart of our understanding of the Incarnation and Atonement. We’re not afraid of it, but respectfully embrace it, because God has been there.
So how do we catch up with those who are going before us, and help lead the way in facing the perils of climate chaos? This is arguably the biggest challenge and witness the church faces in this generation. How do we pray, work, act for governments, institutions and individuals to decrease carbon emissions, turn to green energy, reduce consumption and change our lifestyles? What will we do? What will you do? What can your church do to decrease carbon emissions? Can we use our video-conferencing that we have become suddenly familiar with, more? Can we use less car travel? Less air travel? Produce less waste? Do more working from home?
I’m going to make my own oat milk (Google it) and get on my bike.
[iv] Michael S. Northcott, The Environment and Christian Ethics. (Cambridge: CUP, 1996), 171.