If you are as sick as I am of receiving virus messages, you will have a tendency to trash this piece without even reading it. I’m not sure that I would blame you, but I hope you won’t. For, mirabile dictu. it actually contains some serious theology.
When I wrote my book, Human Rights and Human Dignity, I of course mentioned in passing philosophers of animal liberation such as John Aspinall, who suggested that the world might be better off sans people. One wonders if, at the moment, Aspinall and company are keeping track of their own viral state . . .
Even serious theological operations have been sending messages that boil down to (1) this is an unprecedented situation, (2) we can’t explain it but need to hang in there through courage and prayer, (3) we must maintain family values, (4) don’t forget to wash your hands continually, and (5) the authorities are doing all they can.
Now, I may be wrong, but is there anything non-platitudinous here? Anything that even low-IQ Christian believers would not have thought of on their own?
But then we also receive from these same organisations additional monetary appeals. For example, one such group points out, that, as always, it is holding high Sola Gratia, whilst virtually all evangelicals think that their salvation is dependent, as least in part, on their personal faith-efforts. So, send us another contribution!
We seem to hear Dr Newby Faustus (Ph.D. from an English minor provincial university, a former Polytechnic, that requires no language or comprehensive examinations, but which accepted his thesis in camera on “Law-Gospel Teaching in the Book of Ecclesiasticus”).u Here we overhear Faustus in conversation with one of the writers of this infinite stream of Coronavirus appeals.
FAUSTUS: “Excellent series of e-mail messages to your constituency! You never talk above their heads and you properly treat them like children who need single-syllable instruction during their first week in Sunday School. You tell them nothing that they haven’t already heard more than once through the media and by way of e-mails from similar organisations. You have succeeded in reinforcing the obvious—if not ad infinitum, surely ad nauseam.
“Particularly impressive is your total avoidance of the key questions an unbeliever would be desperately asking: If there is a good God, WHY? Why one person’s financial collapse and not his neighbours? Why this individual’s survival but not that individual’s? Why the death of medical personnel attempting to treat the critically ill?
“Especially helpful is your stress on your organisation’s solid theology—offered as a corrective to those benighted evangelicals who suppose that their “decisions” to accept God’s overwhelming sacrifice on the Cross has had anything at all to do with their becoming genuine member of Christ’s saving church.”
So much for Faustus.
But what can be said with a minimum of banality and triteness concerning the current crisis—together with theology’s place in the picture?
The Virus in Depth
The only possible ultimate explanation of any cosmic phenomenon would, by definition, have to come from a Divine Source. No Source, no explanation. A silent Source, likewise, would mean zero explanation. But the God who sent His Son Christ to save us has provided a written revelation, the Bible, declaring that the Creation was originally made perfect and was subsequently corrupted, physically and spiritually, by the perverse selfishness of God’s creatures, who used their God-given freewill for their own advantage.
Result: A world in which evil/sin/dog-eat-dog selfishness runs rampant—and not in a predictable, rational fashion (the good living long and well, the nasty consistently being run over by freight trains), and where the spill-over effects of a fallen world often mean that there seems to be no one-on-one correlation at all between the causes and the effects of misery.
At the same time, the God of the Bible did not leave a fallen race in irrationality. We retain the rational ability to analyse the causes of specific evils and to employ our mental faculties to correct them. Thus, the history of human progress in all spheres of life, including, and perhaps especially in the areas of disease and medicine. Pasteur’s triumphs in the 19th century are a glowing triumph to the application of God-given rationality to hideous, almost-universally misunderstood contemporary epidemics.
So, now: from theology to plague. Where did today’s Coronavirus contagion arise?
COVID-19 is not the first Coronavirus to appear. The current version surfaced in the Wuhan region of China at the end of 2019. A study published in March 2020 offered the sobering conclusion that if the totalitarian Chinese authorities had admitted the problem and begun containment measures just three weeks earlier than they did, the number of cases could have been reduced by 95% and its geographic spread (now present in more than seventy countries world-wide) could have been radically limited.
The reputable journal Nature Medicine identifies the virus as a “natural” phenomenon in a fallen world, not as something artificial or explicable as some kind of bizarre conspiracy theory resulting from genetic engineering. Two theories as to how the current plague began have been offered; one of these seems well worth mentioning here, though it is clearly in need of further research.
Specialists have focused on several characteristic features of the SARS-CoV-2 virus: the genetic template for spike proteins, armatures on the outside of the virus that it uses to grab and penetrate the outer walls of human and animal cells. If one considers the overall molecular structure of the SARS-CoV-2’s virus, its “backbone,” resembles, though is not identical to, that already found in known coronaviruses, especially varieties found in bats.
In previous coronavirus outbreaks, humans have contracted the virus after direct exposure to civets (SARS) and camels (MERS). As a consequence, some researchers have proposed bats as the most likely reservoir for SARS-CoV-2, since it is very similar to a bat coronavirus. True, there are no documented cases of direct bat-human transmission, but there is no reason to ignore the existence of an intermediate host between bats and humans.
In Chinese traditional folklore and religious symbolism the Bat could hardly be regarded more highly. It is a major representation of Happiness and Bliss. The bat-bliss connection, however, is not due to the inherent meaning of the words, but rather to mere sound-play. Though the traditional characters for Bat and Happiness are entirely unrelated, their sounds are alike [fú], as can be seen in the Pinyin romanised transcription system. Two bats facing each other in a decorative design will mean Double Bliss. Five bats around a circle signify long life, riches, health, love of virtue, and a natural death. A red bat is a particularly beneficent sign, since the colour red has the capacity to drive away demons—and the pronunciation of the adjective red has the sound of the word “immense” [hóng]. A rebus consisting of a bat with a valuable coin speaks of Great Fortune.
Considering the number of Coronavirus deaths, it is interesting that in Chinese art and tradition the Bat is also a symbol of Longevity (!). A 16th-century Chinese classic, The Book of Plant Medicines, claimed that the Bat lived to a very great age, and that its blood, gallbladder, and wings have curative properties, improve the eyesight, and extend the lifespan.
Conclusion: Good/bad Science, Good/bad Theology
General Douglas MacArthur had wanted to achieve a full-scale military defeat of Communist China. That might have been a gross tactical blunder, but had it successfully occurred rather than being deep-sixed politically, the Cultural Revolution with its human miseries would never have occurred; Tiananmen Square would be a historical non-event; and science might well have triumphed over the Coronavirus Bat and all its works and all its ways. And the Christian Gospel itself might have become the dominant religious force in today’s China.
But we are not prophets, nor the sons of prophets.
Our questions to ourselves can only be: What should be the Christian’s task during times of crisis?
FIRST, we must substitute solid rationality for suspicion, ungrounded tradition, and wish-fulfillment when making religious and scientific judgments.
SECONDLY, we must not imagine that by expressing sermonic platitudes of sweetness-and-light, our hearers and readers will somehow be better off.
THIRDLY, we do not have the luxury of repeating mantras of the Reformation as if, like Chinese pictographs, they had the built-in power to achieve what a genuine, personal conviction of Christ’s work at the Cross—and that alone—can in fact achieve.
FOURTHLY, all of Holy Scripture is God-breathed, and “we know”—though there is no such promise to unbelievers—“that all things do work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his promise” (Romans 8: 28).
FINALLY (Fifth Bat?): there is absolutely no substitute for the Bible’s ending prayer, to be uttered without ceasing: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22: 20).
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Following on our previous Global Journal issue on evangelism to the Jew, 17/1 contains two seminal papers on Islam: Dr Henry Hock Guan Teh’s “Islamic Legal Philosophy’s Incompatibility with Global Human Rights and a Brief Comparison with Christian Philosophical Theology”; and Hardy Housman’s “A Tablet from Heaven—or What?” The present issue therefore offers an ideal opportunity for our readers to refine their understanding of the Islamic threat to Christian faith and western values.
 Now available, in revised edition, from New Reformation Press/1517: The Legacy Project.
 For reliable press reports, see the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the South China Morning Post, etc. The 24-25 April number of Figaro Magazine features as its cover story, “Le grand déni chinois” [The Big Chinese Denial], arguing that the totalitarian, Marxist government of China has “never told the truth” as to “the emergence, the extent, and the statistics of the pandemic.” This lead article is followed by another titled (my translation): “Seventy Years of Lying/Deception/Falsehoods in Communist China.”
 Vivien Sung, Bonheur, bonheurs; texte chinois de You Shan Tang (San Franciscso, CA: Seuil Chronicle Books, 2002), pp. 31-35.