In recent weeks I have been sent a number of videos which share conspiracy theories about the ‘real cause’ of Coronavirus.
Often they blend an pretty incoherent mix of pseudo-science (e.g. about the 5G mobile network), along with some character assassination (e.g. Bill Gates or Barack Obama) and a dollop of ‘end-time prophesy’ (often from the book of Revelation) about the dangers of a ‘One-World Government’. It’s a heady brew.
People who feel disempowered and marginalised are particularly vulnerable to conspiracy theories. However bizarre or contradictory the evidence, the idea that everything is being manipulated by mysterious, dark forces gives some sense of coherence in troubling times.
Interestingly this also happened in previous pandemics. Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, set in London in 1665, records extensively the increased popularity of superstitions during that deadly contagion:
“The apprehension of the people were likewise strangely increased by the error of the times…they were more addicted to prophecies and astrological conjurations, dreams and old wives tales than ever they were before or since”
Rather than fuelling wacky theories, I believe that authentic faith should provide us with the resources we need to engage with the world as it really is.
Faith has power to comfort, inspire and challenge, not because it ignores reality or provides escapist fantasy, but because it shows us a deeper reality. This is why the Biblical stories are so enduring and why they have been told and re-told for generations.
This week, in the middle of these unprecedented times, we have a bank holiday which marks the crucifixion and death of Jesus.
2000 years ago, a preacher-healer was condemned to death by the brutal leader of an oppressive regime. He is accused by his own people and abandoned by his friends. He dies in agony on a cross.
Historians are almost unanimous in agreeing that this event actually happened. The Romans crucified thousands of people – it was their execution of choice for political trouble-makers. The death of Jesus is anchored in gritty, historical reality.
The real question is what makes it ‘good’ ? And how is it in anyway relevant to us now?
In countries like the UK, we are used to seeing crises such as war, droughts and earthquakes occur in other countries.
Individually and collectively, the crisis we now experience raises deep questions that many of us may not be used to grappling with. Lock-down makes you reflect on life in a different way; we are no longer sure of things once considered certain.
Christians believe that the death of Jesus was part of God’s plan to restore and reconcile the world. God did not address the pain and injustice of world with a magic wand. He chose the way of the cross, taking on himself the wrong-doing and suffering because of it.
But rather than a defeat, the cross represents a victory. Through the sacrificial death of Jesus, a path to life was opened. It’s a path where everyone can find restoration, healing, forgiveness and meaning. This is why it is Good Friday.
Roots of hope
The times we live in mean that the message of Easter has never been more relevant. We face uncertainty, isolation, trouble and hard choices. And for many, the threat of death, either to ourselves or those we love, will be more real than ever.
At the root of the Christian faith is the belief that death is not the last word. Faith, hope and love are stronger than death itself.
This is the faith that led William Mompesson and the villagers of Eyam to decide to quarantine themselves to stop the plague spreading to other villages and towns. They sacrificed themselves that others might live.
It is the faith shown by Martin Luther King the night before he was assassinated, when he said
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.”
And it’s the faith shown by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who on this day in 1945 was executed by Nazis in a concentration camp for the stand he took against Hitler. As he was led away to be hung he said to his companions:
“This is the end — but for me, the beginning of life.”
These examples are deep expressions of faith because they display an ultimate freedom in the face of death. However dominant or threatening are the forces of suffering and evil, they cannot conquer hope.
In the midst of these terribly hard times, this hope can be yours too. It is not just another Bank Holiday. It is a Good Friday.