Each Sunday during the current Covid-19 lockdown, while churches and places of worship have been forced put a halt to congregational worship, The Reverend Paul Hunt, priest-in-charge in Hastings Old Town, will offer some words of support and an opportunity for the community to reflect on the challenges we face.
It was in a locked-down George Street that a lady stopped me and finally popped the question: Where is God to be found in this pandemic?
It’s a good question because although the churches have been active in practical ways during this global emergency, I’ve not been conscious of a coherent theological response.
Let’s face it, the Bible can make for some uncomfortable reading when it speaks of God sending plagues and other disasters. The leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is on record as saying that it is God’s punishment for same sex marriage and Islamic State has said that it is God’s punishment on non-Muslims. If true, then I must ask God for my P45.
I was in a bit of a hurry when I was stopped and was not very happy with my mumbled answer about the changes and chances of this fleeting world. So for the lady in George Street and anyone else who would like to hear a considered Christian response, here goes.
Let’s go back to Adam and Eve, one of the most powerful myths ever written. It’s a story about human pride which is the root of what theologians call sin. Adam is tempted to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thereby making himself equal to God.
Adam’s disobedience to God’s command not to eat that fruit results in a damaged relationship between God and humanity and a loss of harmony with the natural world. All this is symbolised by the expulsion from God’s presence in the idyllic Garden of Eden. In fancy terms, this is called ‘The Fall of Man’, something which the humanist novelist William Golding explored in so many of his novels.
I see the pandemic as a real world reminder of that myth. Human pride being what it is, we like to think that we are in control of the world, that we are its master. And yet a tiny virus has threatened our health (physical and mental), our economy, our entire civilisation. It threatens our control of the planet. This is a world, far from Eden, which we have created for ourselves out of pride and arrogance.
Christians talk about repentance, a strange word which literally means ‘to turn around’. A turning around of humanity’s relationship to the planet we share with the rest of the created order, recognising that we are the earth’s stewards and not its exploiters, would be the beginning of a return to Eden.
That devout poet, theologian, ecologist and occasional High Street resident Christina Rossetti recognised this long ago, lamenting humanity’s dislocation from nature and its reluctance to recognise this.
“Tread softly! All the earth is holy ground,
It may be, could we look with seeing eyes,
This spot we stand on is a Paradise.”Christina Rossetti
The Reverend Paul Hunt is the part-time priest-in-charge of St. Clement’s and All Saints in the Old Town. St. Clement’s will be open from 11.30 am to 1.30 pm every day during lockdown for anyone who wants to pray or simply be quiet and reflect or meditate.