Responding to Plagues (and Climate Change!)

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Like much of the Church of England, until last week we were doing a series on Green Lent. In our last service meeting together in person, one of the passages I focused on was 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 – and as the Coronavirus crisis deepened, I found myself more and more drawn into that passage. It’s God’s words to Solomon, after the Temple has been dedicated.

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

2 Chronicles 7:13-14 (NIV)

It particularly struck me that v13 identifies three types of calamity – two of which (climate change and plagues) are very much with us at the moment.

He also outlines how God’s people should respond to them. (Yes, it’s Old Testament, and God’s people were one specific ethnic group in one specific place, so things are a bit different for us now, but there’s still a lot to learn.)

  • Humble ourselves – get down off our high horses, stop thinking that we’re better than others or that we know best, recognise we’re at least partly to blame, and follow the advice of scientists and doctors.
  • Pray – do we ask for God’s help in confronting the climate emergency or the coronavirus emergency? Because they are both too big for us to deal with on our own.
  • Seek God’s face – what’s the priority in this crisis? It should be wanting to see God more; wanting more intimacy with him. He is far more important than anything else, and far more valuable than anything we could lose in either crisis. It’s the same in Jeremiah 29:13ff.
  • Turn from our wicked ways. Not just platitudes or moral posturing, not just grief at the way things are, but actual change. Isn’t it obvious that these things are connected? A disease that started in a market trading in endangered species and spread around the world by too much unnecessary air travel. If we are actually sorry, we need to change.

We need to stop treating this world like we are just free to travel anywhere, especially by air, without consequences. Flying long distances creates far more CO2 emissions than just about anything else we do.

We need to stop eating meat from animals treated like industrial products rather than like sharers in this amazing breath of life.

We need to take the gift of time to learn to seek God’s face, as individuals, as families and as churches.

I don’t think in today’s context that this is God promising to stop the pandemic if a few of us ask him to, but in the present crisis, this has to be something of a template for what it looks like to respond.

Because God’s plan is always for hope and restoration beyond the disaster. Once the worst has happened to Israel and they have been driven out of their land, these are God’s words to them:

“For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.” (Jer 29:11-14).

So in this environmental crisis, and this pandemic, let’s seek God’s face, let’s trust in him and grow our relationship with him, because that is what matters most.

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