Last week the science fiction writer Charles Yu reflected on the COVID-19 crisis and what it tells us about the way we had come to view the world for The Atlantic. Yu begins by noting that, “One word I’ve been hearing a lot lately is unreal...Unreal, or its variations: not real, surreal, this can’t be real.”
Wu asks: “What the current crisis and our responses to it, both individual and institutional, have reminded us of is not the unreality of the pandemic, but the illusions shattered by it:”
“The grand, shared illusion that we are separate from nature.”
“That life on Earth is generally stable, not precarious.”
He suggests that collectively we have assumed that progress in science and medicine and our well-developed institutions have somehow protected us from the kind of cataclysmic event which we’re in the midst of. As science and technology have sanded down the sharper edges of nature, it’s easy to romanticize the world around us as a beautiful, benign, backdrop for our feelings thoughts and accomplishments.
And yet last week, as we self-distanced to avoid the coronavirus pandemic, a tornado tore a path across Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia killing 36 people. It seems that creation is not as benign as we might like to think. Perhaps we’re not in control. The historical, geological, and biological record of the earth all tell of cataclysms that have challenged life itself on this planet. All is not well.
What better moment than here in Easter to remember that all has not been well for a long while. As people of faith, we have a story that tells us that there was once a moment when all of creation was one harmonious whole. Creation was at peace with itself. It was like a splendid garden (paradeisos, Genesis 2:8) which was tended with care and love. But we could not sustain the Creation we had been given by God and the forces of disintegration overwhelmed the harmony God had intended for Creation. It was as if Creation had been infected by us.
This is the story of Adam and Eve. And now we live in a world where we are estranged from our Creator. As Adam and Eve hid themselves away from the sight of God, humanity’s communion with the source of life and light was broken. We have lost our capacity to be in right relation with Creation. Enmity between the natural world and human beings replaced the harmony and care that God had intended.
The story of Adam and Eve in Genesis tells us that our selfishness and cruelty don't just hurt ourselves, but contribute to setting the world off-balance, out of tune.
St. Paul tells the Christians in Rome, “we know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now...” (Roman 8:22.)
All of Creation is in "labor pains" that a "new heaven and new earth" might be born. A new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more darkness, death, destruction, and suffering. This is new life, not a personal, private thing between you and God, but a cosmic reset because all creation longs to be what a loving God made creation to be.
On Easter morning this new age dawned. This new age is different in every way from Creation as we know it. Easter has consequences for the entire cosmos. It is a story of invasion, conquest, and triumph. Through the cross and grave, Christ has conquered everything that stands between us and God. All that now remains is the final consummation of the present age, when at last Christ will appear in his full glory as cosmic conqueror having brought to an end all the forces of disintegration and God will rule the cosmos directly.
We live in a moment marked by deadly disease, climates in flux, and malevolent chaos and dysfunction all rolled into one. But Easter says that disease and dysfunction and chaos will not get the last word. Christ is alive and God is at work renewing Creation and you and I are part of that renewal.