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Book Review: Virus as a Summons to Faith

Book Review: Virus as a Summons to Faith

Book Review: Virus as a Summons to Faith

24 August 2020

Can we allow coronavirus to summon us to faith?

By Mark Braye

During times of crisis, the people of God turn towards the Bible and their faith in the Triune God for wisdom. Among the best guides for such study is Walter Brueggemann, Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia, United States.

Brueggemann is a giant of theological thought and biblical scholarship, especially the Old Testament, and the author of a myriad of books. His latest volume is Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Uncertainty.

Virus as a Summons to Faith is a collection of seven sermon/essay-like writings. The chapters are scripturally and theologically rich, and, like all of Brueggemann’s texts, exceptionally written.

Three of the chapters in the book have been previously published. “The ‘Turn’ From Self to God,” a reflection on Psalm 77, is from The Journal For Preachers from 1983. “The Matrix Of Groan,” looking at and thinking about Isaiah 42:14-15, was revised for Virus as a Summons to Faith and is from The Journal For Preachers from 2001. The book opens with “Reaping The Whirlwind.” In this entry Brueggemann reflects on texts from Leviticus, Exodus, and Job; it was first published in the Journal Of Preachers in March 2020.

In this first entry, the author writes about the things we want during these uncertain times. We want, he says, “science that can be effectively administered through responsible political channels. We want experts who can be trusted and who will provide relief from both threat and anxiety. And we want political administrators who have the courage and honesty to make effective antidotes available to us without deception or denial.” And, this is important, Brueggemann says our “biblical faith is not in any way inimical to such science” as stated above.

“Until The Dancing Begins” is a reflection on Jeremiah; “Praying Amid The Virus” focuses on 1 Kings 8:23-53; and “God’s New Thing” is an essay looking at Isaiah 43:18-19.

“Pestilence ... Mercy? Who Knew?” is my favourite chapter in the book and looks at a story in 2 Samuel 24:1-25. At first, this sounds extremely dark and depressing in light of our current reality. Brueggemann assures us, however, writing: “I do not think for one moment that there is any ready transfer from this narrative to our real-life crisis with the virus. The Bible does not often easily ‘apply’. The Bible does, however, invite an open imagination that hopes for the best outcomes of serious scientific research.” Concluding these thoughts Brueggemann writes: “we may dare imagine with David that the final word is not pestilence; it is mercy.”       

Each chapter has an accompanying prayer which connects wonderfully with the preceding biblical and theological thoughts. Perhaps the boldest and daring prayer in the volume ends in this way: “So hear, heal, save, restore! Be the God you have promised to be. Amen.”

The past several months of navigating the COVID-19 pandemic have been stressful and anxiety-producing. Like Brueggemann’s book title suggests, however, we can allow the coronavirus to summon us to faith; to move us towards our Triune God and the wisdom, peace, grace, and love we find in God’s Holy Scriptures. 

Captain Mark Braye is Corps Officer at Niagara Orchard Community Church in Ontario, Canada.

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