Is COVID-19 a curse or a blessing?

If one would have asked the Israelites during their experience at Rephidim (Exodus 17:1-7) whether the desert was a curse or a blessing, they most certainly would have said that it was a curse. They arrived there, with their children and livestock, a thirsty people; just to realise that there was no water. Not only did their bodies craved water, but their hearts also longed for God. The question that filled their hearts was: “Is the Lord among us, or not?” They experienced the absence of water as the absence of God.

It is never easy to say whether an experience is a blessing or a curse while you are in it. One very often ends up not knowing the answer to this question. Gerald May responds to this question as follows:

“At the outset I must confess that I am no longer very good at telling the difference between good things and bad things. Of course there are many events in human history that can only be labeled as evil, but from the standpoint of inner individual experience the distinction has become blurred for me. Some things start out looking great but wind up terribly, while other things seem bad in the beginning but turn out to be blessings in disguise. I was diagnosed with cancer in 1995, which I thought was a bad thing. But the experience brought me closer to God and my loved ones than I’d ever been, and that was wonderfully good. The chemotherapy felt awful, but it resulted in a complete cure, which I decided was good. I later found out it may also have caused the heart disease that now has me waiting for a heart transplant. At some point I gave up trying to decide what’s ultimately good or bad. I truly do not know.” (The Dark Night of the Soul, p 1-2).

The corona virus is forcing us as human species into isolation. Because of the fear of being infected and of infecting others and the threat of people losing their lives we are forced to refrain from close contact. This is very unnatural. All humans need community and intimacy. We thrive on it. Now it is taken away from us. All our community and social gatherings are being canceled one by one. Keep your hands clean and in your pocket!

For Christians this forced isolation come in the season of Lent. This is significant. Lent is a time for inner reflection. It is a time for self-examination as we relive the passion of Christ. As Jesus’ ministry turned towards Jerusalem he became more and more isolated: to the point of complete isolation – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”

This Easter will be unique. Unable to attend the usual congregational gatherings we are invited to attentively see and identify with the human Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, as he was forced into ultimate isolation. If we pay dedicated attention we might see in the person of Jesus all the isolated creatures living in this earth. We might even recognise our own face. We might also hear the question the Israelites asked at Rephidim: “Is the Lord among us, or not?”, welling up in our own hearts and echoing in the collective human heart. We might recognise that we have become the most isolated species ever to walk this earth.

Hopefully we will not only recognise in Jesus the face of all humanity but also the face of the other creatures sharing life with us on earth. Hopefully we will also recognise the face of God in Jesus and then realise that isolation is not Gods making but the fruit of our own self chosen and misguided separation.

I believe that the corona virus outbreak may help us to open our eyes for the reality that we are an isolated species, separated from the rest of God’s household on earth and in the multi-verse.

Let us not flee from our few weeks forced isolation, it might become the place where we will be liberated from all isolation and where we will find peace. Then COVID-19 will turn out to be a blessing!

A blessed Easter to you all and peace on earth.


david p botha
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