Politics in a pandemic

Tom Kendall 26 Mar 20

Coronavirus has tipped the world upside down. The speed and damage caused by COVID-19 has shocked us all, its effects rippling across the globe in a matter of months. 

People’s lives and livelihoods are being threatened, healthcare systems are struggling to cope, businesses and economies are creaking under the disruption and governments are having to take unprecedented action for peacetime to protect lives and keep their country functioning in these circumstances. 

In any other situation a government seizing control of the economy, confining people to their homes, shutting down national parliaments, and briefing the nation daily would be a sign of tyranny and a source of much concern. In light of coronavirus, these measures are welcomed and celebrated, rightly, for their role in combatting the spread of this virus. There is much to fear. 

In times like these we search high and low for a sense of normality and security. We seek desperately for hope. 

One look at the news reveals this to be true. Some of us look to the daily PM briefings for a sign of victory and hope. Some look to the brilliant NHS and the many thousands of staff and volunteers fighting day to day to keep the virus at bay. Others long for increased testing and vaccinations. Others seek comfort amidst their own families. Others rush to the supermarkets for supplies. We desperately need hope. 

Are we right to look for hope in these things? Are we right to look for hope in medicine, in science, in political action, in economic wizardry, in family and community? Well, yes. These are all good things given by God and each has a vital role to play in protecting life and fighting the virus. Yet each ultimately falls short in providing true and certain hope. 

The NHS, Government, scientific community, Bank of England, and community all have their limitations. None are ultimately able to prevent death. None can promise to protect you from harm. None can act and solve without flaws and miscommunication. 

As Christians however we trust in one who can. We trust in a God who created and sustains life. Who beat death and gives new life. We trust in a King who will never makes policy errors, who will never be limited by resources, who will never err or fail. We trust in a Father who comforts and shields us (Psalm 46:1). We believe in a God who one day will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4). 

Politics in a pandemic then is a fine place to turn. It makes plenty of sense – our Government was elected to protect us and enable us to prosper. They are doing a mighty fine job and we are to pray for them and thank God for the actions they are taking at this time to keep us safe (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Yet it cannot give us true hope. 

So in an age of pandemic, politics is not our answer but God is. Let’s have a look at Psalm 20

Psalm 20

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

1 May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
    may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary
    and grant you support from Zion.
3 May he remember all your sacrifices
    and accept your burnt offerings. 
4 May he give you the desire of your heart
    and make all your plans succeed.
5 May we shout for joy over your victory
    and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

6 Now this I know:
    The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
    with the victorious power of his right hand.
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
8 They are brought to their knees and fall,
    but we rise up and stand firm.
9 Lord, give victory to the king!
    Answer us when we call!

David models prayerful politics. He calls on the Lord to protect him, support him, enable him to prosper and to remember his faith (vv1-5). He can do all this knowing that God answers prayers and has chosen him as King (v6). We do not live in the same political era as David, nor carry his annointed role as King, but God remains a God of victory. Victory not over territories and nations as with Israel but over sin and death, seen clearly in 1 Corinthians 15

In light of a powerful God who has beaten death, and who listens to our prayers, let us cry out to God for deliverance. 

We are not promised immunity from a virus nor its consequences. Rather, we persevere knowing we may suffer (1 Peter 4:12-13) but we can have true hope knowing that ultimate death has been defeated (1 Peter 1:3-5). 

On the other hand, hope in politics during a pandemic is hollow. Just look at what David says about power and rulers in verses 7 and 8; ‘some trust in chariots and some in horses… they are brought to their knees and fall’. Never before in our lifetimes have we been given such an example of the fragility of the power and authority of our society as during this pandemic. We can see clearly that the Government, or the NHS, or society as we know it could collapse just as David suggests here. 

This is why hope cannot be placed in these things. Instead, we must turn, as David does, and say ‘but we trust in the name of the Lord our God’ (v7). The one who has true authority over death, who can grant us true victory. He is the place to turn in times of trouble. Let us then pray to him and ask that he ‘answer us when we call’ (v9).  

Being a Christian in a pandemic then is to remember where true hope is found, it is to submit to our Government (1 Peter 2:11-17), it is to pray for our Government (1 Timothy 2:2), and it is to love our neighbour (Mark 12:29-31). 

Let us cling to this truth and let it shape our action and our witness in our politics during this pandemic. 

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