A good neighbor of mine, a secular person who knows I’m a pastor, asked me, “Is there a metaphysical reason for the spread of this virus?” She was probably wondering if I thought that this was a form of God’s judgement for sin. I assured her it was not.
Yet, sin has helped spread COVID-19 to its pandemic proportions.
When the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, the authorities of the Communist Party ignored, denied, and suppressed the information. Dr. Wei Lenliang, who warned on social media about the new, spreading virus in December was reprimanded and repressed by police. News of his death in February was initially deleted from official news sites.
Ruling authorities were concerned primarily about their image and standing with the public. The threat of the coronavirus was downplayed and ignored. They changed course and acted only after the evidence became undeniable. Even then a main concern has been to shift blame to others. Their obsession was with their reputation. Self-righteous defensiveness and pride governed power, rather than compassion and commitment to the common good. That is social sin.
By the time they changed course with rigid restrictions, it was too late to prevent the deaths of over 3,000 thus far in China and the spread of the virus globally.
This story was repeated in the United States. President Trump’s first statement, on January 22, dismissed any threat. “We have it totally under control. It’s going to be just fine.” By that time Chinese authorities were beginning to reverse their course and take drastic action. In the nearly two months that followed, until last week, the president was primarily concerned about his image and public standing. The threat and potential growth of the coronavirus was downplayed. Others were blamed for problems with testing and mobilizing resources. The denial of growing evidence and lack of urgent focused leadership resulted in negligence toward essential steps to contain the spread of the virus.
Defensiveness and pride governed power, rather than compassion and commitment to the common good. That is social sin.
The administration’s course was changed when the evidence and predictions became overwhelming, including London’s Imperial College report. But that has been too late to prevent what are predicted to be thousands of deaths.
We all can be deeply grateful for the growing sense of bi-partisan, national unity to mitigate the devastating effects of this crisis. The president is now addressing the real dangers, and governors, mayors, with so many others have stepped up into the vacuum of leadership.
No, I don’t believe that viruses, in and of themselves, are evil, and certainly are never sent by divine wrath. But they have grown into a global pandemic in part because of sin — the sin of prideful defensiveness, and the sin of blind narcissism.