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Why the Covid-19 vaccine won’t save us

A vaccine is the beginning, not the end of what needs to be done, say Mario A. Russo and Jonty Langley

We’re all tired of the restrictions. From Germany to Britain, the USA to South Africa, lockdowns are still being implemented (to varying degrees). And we are all tired. We miss hanging out with friends. We miss normal church services. We are ready for the Covid restrictions to end. We are ready for the vaccine.

If we are honest with ourselves, we don’t only want a vaccine only for the health and protection of ourselves and loved ones. We also want to get back the routine and predictability of life: meetings with friends, meals in restaurants, talking to people without a mask or a glass partition. We are looking for a vaccine to signal the end of life as it is.

But maybe that is asking too much of a vaccine. And maybe a return to “normal life” is impossible. Maybe returning to normal life isn’t what is best for our world. Not everyone will benefit from returning to the way things were. So perhaps it is better to see this as an opportunity for change. Maybe a new way forward should be the only way forward.

What we have learned about the spiritual health of the world in the wake of the pandemic is seriously concerning. It is something all of us, including the UK must deal with. And as helpful as a vaccine will be in moving us forward, the world needs more than a vaccine to save us.

A spiritual awakening

A Covid-19 vaccine may bring the gift of immunity and a lifting of restrictions, but it will not rescue us from the many social injustices and communal sins that seemed inevitable or before this virus. The world still needs a spiritual awakening. Christians, now more than ever, should be loudly proclaiming that a better way is possible – because this is one of those rare moments in history when moving to a better way is a practical possibility.

The Corona crisis proved to us that things we took for granted can in fact change. Renters were protected from eviction. Workers were saved from unemployment for a while by furlough schemes. All of society showed that it was willing to sacrifice comfort and convenience for the sake of protecting the most vulnerable. In our haste to go back to ‘normal’ – to go to concerts and sporting events, to shop when and where we want to, and even to join physically to worship – we should not rush back into collective sin.

Let’s not go back to a world where work-life balance is sacrificed to the idol of productivity. Let’s use the advances in remote and flexible working that lockdown proved were possible to entrench a culture that values family at least as much as profit. (And Christian companies, we’re looking at you: can you lead the way in the flexibility we now know to be possible?)

Let’s not go back to a world where markets rule over us – so many economic ‘laws’ have been suspended during lockdown that they have been proven to be a choice, not laws at all. We’ve seen our own government do wonderful things like the furlough system, mortgage holidays and eviction amnesties. We’ve seen that we can find extra money to help people (and not just for wars), so let’s keep doing that. Let’s have Christians calling for a war on poverty and suffering, setting aside fake ‘laws’ imposed by markets because we now know that in an emergency they can be set aside. And when one child in a country as rich as this goes hungry, when one mum who works two jobs still can’t afford heating and rent – an emergency is what it is.

Let’s confront our own sins of indifference, selfishness and pride. Let’s keep pushing our government to give foreign aid in the Jesus way of helping – without strings attached, aimed only at helping the poor. Let’s donate our time and wealth to charities making a difference. But let’s also challenge our own prideful resentment of mercy that doesn’t come with a personal thank you letter from a sponsored child. Let’s pay taxes willingly and let’s push for them to be used to help everyone – not just those we judge to be ‘deserving’. Let’s stop seeing some human beings as less than images of the living God – be they immigrants, heretics, addicts, liberals, sinners, Muslims, conservatives or children. And let’s work towards a world that treats them with the love God wants lavished on them.

Let’s push to go back to everything that was good about the world pre-Covid when it’s safe to do so. A world where we hug and gather en masse and move away from our screens more. But if the world we return to is as unjust as it was before, Christians will have failed to be Christ’s hands and feet.

A Covid-19 vaccine may save us from physical disease, but it won’t change what the pandemic revealed about our world’s spiritual state. Our inherent condition to rebel against truth, justice and mercy, and to propagate rather than fight injustice, is not the result of a virus, but a sinful condition — the only remedy for which is Jesus Christ. Fortunately, his remedy for our sin was provided a long time ago. The question is, how will we respond to him?

Mario A. Russo is the director of The Dortmund Center for Science and Faith. He holds degrees in both the sciences and theology. He also actively works as a church planter with his wife and two children in in Dortmund, Germany. Follow him on Twitter: @Mario_A_Russo. Jonty Langley is a writer, former DJ and recovering Philosophy major. By day he works at a Christian mission agency, by night he argues with people on the internet. He also hosts the newly launched Beer Christianity podcast. Find it on Twitter: @beerxianity

Premier Christianity is running a series of 'Reimagine' columns in every print issue, where writers assess how the Church and the world should change in a post-Covid world. Subscribe now to read them

Premier Christianity is committed to publishing a variety of opinion pieces from across the UK Church. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the publisher

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