COVID-19, Coronavirus Disease 2019 lockdown has halted the rat race that we were all used to over the years. It made us to STOP and REST. The lockdown has made us globally immobile with travel restrictions; and even moving around in the neighborhood with the curfew. Inger Anderson, Executive Director of the UN Environment Program said, “Nature is sending us a message”. As a Christian, I would like to reflect what this message from nature is; hence the question: Is this an enforced Sabbath by the nature?
At the time of writing this, according to Worldometer, the death toll due to COVID-19 is 33,993, the total number of infected persons are 723,319 and 151,804 have recovered so far. The USA superseded China and became the hotspot of COVID-19. Dr Raman Laxminarayan, Director, Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, Washington, in an interview, warned:
India could be the next hotspot of COVID-19 and it could infect 20 to 60% of the Indian population. Terrifying!
According to WHO, the cause of Corona is SARS-CoV-2 virus from bats, but passed on to humans through a food animal or wild animal or domesticated wild animal; we are not sure about the intermediate animal. Scientists claim that transmission of viruses from animals to humans are on the rise, because of our encroachment into their space; you may recall the recent diseases like, Ebola, Bird flu, Rift Valley fever, West Nile virus and Zika were all passed on to humans through animals.
WHO’s report clarifies, “Coronaviruses appear to be stable at low and freezing temperatures for a certain period, food hygiene and good food safety practices can prevent their transmission through food.” Similar to other SARS viruses, the mode of transmission for COVID-19 is human to human through droplets from sneezing or coughing. It spreads through touching a surface or object such as clothes, utensils, furniture, etc. that has a virus on it and touching the face afterwards. WHO claims, “in analysis of 75,465 COVID-19 cases in China, airborne transmission was not reported.” Therefore, social distancing, or Physical distancing as I prefer to call, is an effective strategy to break the cycle of transmission. Hence, we are facing the worldwide COVID-19 lockdown.
STAY HOME! STAY HEALTHY! SAVE OTHERS!
‘Lockdown’ is a strategy to enforce confinement or restriction on people by authorities or governments. On the other hand, Sabbath is a religious practice to cease from all work to have rest for humans, livestock, and the land. The idea of Sabbath preceded the Mosaic laws and we find this in the creation story in the book of Genesis, where God himself observed Sabbath by resting (Gen. 2:2-3). God has designed that all living beings need rest once in seven days (Ex. 20: 8-11, 31:12-17; Lev. 23:3; Deut. 5: 12-15) and the land once in seven years; “the land is to have a year of sabbath rest” (Lev. 25:1-7), to maintain the biodiversity. Sabbath is for all humans and is not confined to any religion or culture.
Sabbath and Rest
Although, the seventh day of a week is ordained as holy and dedicated to God; but the emphasis is on ‘rest’, in other words, human welfare. Jesus during his earthly ministry repeatedly emphasized, by healing the sick on the Sabbath day, that Sabbath was meant for human welfare, not just a religious law to be obeyed. More than the spiritual aspect, the significance of Sabbath lies with the physical rest for humans and livestock.
What is work for humans? Dr Matthew Sleeth, the author of 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life, in an interview to CNN suggested, you have to “figure out what work is for you, and don’t do it one day out of the week.” The principle behind the sabbath is human welfare, by resting from all kinds of productive and economic activities and preserving the welfare of humans, animals, and the environment.
I don’t have to elaborate on the benefits of rest in general and a day of rest in a week, for our wellbeing. Rhett Power, a business coach, identifies 12 benefits of a day of rest: reduces stress, a chance to move from constantly sitting, reduces risk of heart disease, boosts immune system, better sleep, long life, restores mental energy, becoming more creative, more productive, focus better, improves short term memory, and beginning to love your job. Therefore, Sabbath is a health booster to all.
Sabbath for Humans and Ecosystems
The Sabbath has to be practiced as a community which includes everyone in the family: elders, children, both male and female servants, alien/migrants; it also includes the animals (Ex. 20: 8-11), and the land (Lev. 25: 1-7). Rest is a fundamental right for all humans, livestock and the ecosystems. This clearly indicates how humans, animals, and the ecosystems are inter-related and interdependent in God’s design for this world. Doreen Robinson, Chief of Wildlife at the UNEP, pointed out, “Humans and nature are part of one connected system, and nature provides the food, medicine, water, clean air and many other benefits that have allowed people to thrive.” This is acknowledged by all. But by encroaching the forests, we have disturbed the ‘rest’ of other living beings, including the wild animals, and the biodiversity of the ecosystems with industrializations.
Consequences of Breaking Sabbath
When Sabbath was not practiced by the Jews, Nehemiah, the governor of Jerusalem enforced Sabbath. He rebuked the leaders of the community saying, “What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day? Didn’t your ancestors do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity upon us and on this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath” (Neh. 13: 17-18). Then he went on to shut the doors of the city gates before the Sabbath and enforced total lockdown with the help of security guards.
Desecration of the God ordained ‘rest’ for humans, livestock and ecosystems resulted in calamities. Biblical records show that whenever the wickedness of humans increased, the consequences of human sin resulted in environmental disasters. When Adam and Eve disobeyed, the earth was turned into a non-cooperative partner, that humans had to undergo painful toil to produce food (Gen. 3: 17-19). During Noah’s time, when humans became more violent, “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight” (Gen. 6: 11) and was destroyed by the flood. Israel faced famine due to the killing of Gibeonites by Saul (2Sam. 21: 1-11). Nehemiah interpreted the cause of calamity, probably the exile, to the desecration of the Sabbath; and he being a leader of the community, enforced a lockdown on the city.
All nations are busy with increasing their GDPs, driven by corporate greed in a globalized world. Labor rights, economic justice, human rights, environmental care etc. are being thrown into the wind. Personal greed is globalized. Profit is the only aim for corporates and becoming rich is the only goal for many in life. In such a situation, who would consider the benefits of the welfare of humans, other living beings, and ecosystems? I am surprised that the US Government has relaxed environmental laws to tide over the current economic crisis due to coronavirus. An ancient proverb warns us, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; do not trust your own cleverness” (Prov. 23: 4). Humans have failed to give ‘rest’ to themselves, other living beings, and the ecosystems. The consequences are natural calamities and pandemic like COVID-19.
Message from Nature
The message from nature is: STOP and REST!
This is a time to think about you, your family, all relationships: friends, colleagues, neighbors; other living beings, and the ecosystems, which will eventually lead to finding answers for existential questions. Humans are powerless. Humans are part of nature. Science does not have solutions for all problems we face. God is in control.
Humans need rest, animals need their space, and the ecosystems needs to be preserved. On the whole, the earth needs to heal itself to preserve the biodiversity and continue to keep the earth livable for humans and animals. Inger Anderson appeals, in The Guardian, that we must take nature as our ally: “We are intimately interconnected with nature, whether we like it or not. If we don’t take care of nature, we can’t take care of ourselves. And as we hurtle towards a population of 10 billion people on this planet, we need to go into this future armed with nature as our strongest ally.” A sick earth cannot be a strongest ally.
Effects of Lockdown on Air Pollution
With the current lockdown, the healing of the earth has begun already. In major cities in China, Europe, and India air pollution levels have dropped greatly. Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels have greatly reduced over Wuhan, the epic center of COVID-19 in China. Over northern Italy, the NO2 level has come down by about 40%. In India, the NO2 level has come down to 35 to 50% in some of the cities. Eric Mack reports in CNET, “The water in the canals [in Venice], which have a reputation for being a bit stinky at times, is currently clear with plenty of fish swimming and swans hanging around enjoying the unusual urban peace and quiet.” The earth is enjoying the rest and in the process of restoring the ecosystems.
Will this healing of the earth last? Prof Cunningham, Zoological Society of London, is skeptical, “I thought things would have changed after Sars, which was a massive wakeup call – the biggest economic impact of any emerging disease to that date. Everybody was up in arms about it. But it went away, because of our control measures. Then there was a huge sigh of relief and it was back to business as usual. We cannot go back to business as usual” [emphasis added].
Repent, Believe God, and Rest
If we cannot go back to business as usual, how do we do it differently? The lasting solution lies with restoring the Sabbath—restoration of human welfare and the welfare of the ecosystems to avoid further pandemic. In order to practice the Sabbath that God instituted at creation, we need to repent and return to God. When Jonah preached against the city of Nineveh, “The Ninevites believed God. . . .
When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh,
he rose from his throne,
took off his royal robes,
covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.
This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let any people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything;
do not let them eat or drink.
But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth.
Let everyone call urgently on God.
Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.
Who knows? God may yet relent and
with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
Nature takes the place of a prophet to deliver a message from God:
Believe in God
Restore the practice of Rest (Sabbath).
Image Credit: theguardian.com