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A Prophetic Pandemic?

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As I Was Saying

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

In an article for the Canadian Council of Churches, I suggested this pandemic is an opportunity to reflect on God’s call for justice. I wrote that the public discussions seem to “pit public health against economic concerns. … While I understand that there are complex ramifications to businesses being closed long-term, it seems as though our worship of the almighty dollar has been revealed.”

Permit me to elaborate.

God loves justice (Isaiah 61:8), and prophetic voices call attention to political and economic injustices. Within our own Reformed tradition, Abraham Kuyper issued scathing critiques of Christians entrapped by political or economic ideology instead of a passionate pursuit of social justice.

In 1891 Kuyper condemned the growing gap between rich and poor. He called for Christians to recognize how their myopic desire for a growing economy was contributing to deepening poverty and alienation.

Kuyper wasn’t animated by politics or economics. He wasn’t conservative or liberal. He sought greater faithfulness to the gospel’s comprehensiveness. He knew that Christians adopting the same political or economic visions as everyone else would produce injustice. He warned that “if social developments continue to follow the present course, life on earth will become less and less a heaven and more and more a hell. Our society is losing touch with Christ; it lies in the dust bowed down before Mammon.”

This deep alienation between the rich who are getting richer and the poor who are getting poorer continues today in North America. Employers maximize profits by minimizing compensation; workers settle for low-paying jobs out of fear of unemployment. The injustice continues.

Now we’re in a global pandemic. But eyes and ears tuned to the gospel, recognize this pandemic as an opportunity to hear God’s call for justice. The need has become painfully obvious: truck drivers, personal support workers, migrant farmhands, and grocery store clerks are now widely recognized as our most essential workers. They keep us from literally starving to death while we’re isolated at home – often at great personal risk.

But our economics and politics don’t reflect this. We fret and worry about getting the economy re-opened while a biblical imagination recognizes that we may not want to return to “normal” because it would only perpetuate the inequality that’s rooted in our society’s economic and political assumptions and commitments apart from the gospel.

Faithfulness means transposing our worry and fretting into prayer, meditation, and action for how we participate in society. We must exchange our blind acceptance of devotion to Mammon for caring service for even the vulnerable. We say all people bear the image of God. This pandemic offers us a unique moment to mean it. But how can we if we’re drunk on otherworldly piety and moralistic spirituality that ignore the consequences for our neighbours?

We do need to have the important conversations about community health and economic sustainability. But rather than intoxicating ourselves with political or economic ideology, of either the right or the left, we need a sober-minded vision of our role as stewards of God’s creation.

Kuyper recognized that the growing gap between rich and poor was “the question, the burning life-question” because “where our Father in heaven wills with divine generosity that an abundance of food grows from the ground, we are without excuse if, through our fault, this rich bounty is divided so unequally that one is surfeited with bread while another goes with an empty stomach to his pallet, and sometimes must even go without a pallet.”

The most important theological reminder these days might just be that we worship God precisely by being our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers.

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