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Arc of covenant

01 May 2020

THE universal adoption of the rainbow as a sign of hope during the coronavirus pandemic demonstrates the lasting power of a good story when, to many, the Bible remains a closed book. It is also the sign of remarkably good theology on the part of the public. Whereas a church committee might have suggested the Ark as an appropriate symbol for the lockdown period — tomorrow it will be 40 days and 40 nights since the Government’s announcement on 23 March — the choice of the arc indicates far more than an impatient desire to get to the end of this crisis, like turning to the last page of a novel. Just as rainbows can appear while it still raining, the claiming of God’s blessing, however implicit, is something that must be done amid present troubles. Those who succumb to Covid-19, and their relatives, or those unhappy at being confined at home, have no use for a promise hanging at the end of everything, yet to be determined.

Nor is it any help to wait for certainty. Even biblical scholars are reticent about quite how long Noah and his menagerie are supposed to have been trapped on the Ark: anything up to about a year. For the elderly and vulnerable, the lockdown is now approaching 50 days. Our feature about disability this week is a reminder that, for many, the period is far longer, perhaps lifelong. It is one of the many strange reversals of this present time that people whom many have pitied, even in the Church, have much that they can teach about staying mentally strong while physically confined.

Another reversal, then, concerns mental health. Although it is important to note that the lockdown has exacerbated some conditions, and deprived many types of sufferer from the support that they need, it has also brought healing to others, particularly those made ill by the demands of ordinary life. And, if it is true that the people who are struggling hardest to cope are those who are used to exercising greatest control over their lives and the lives of others, then perhaps they will allow these new-found insights to change the way they exercise power when the lockdown is lifted.

The Genesis account of Noah’s time in the Ark appears to pivot on the first verse of Chapter 8: “And God remembered Noah, and every living thing,” as if God had been absent-minded, and somehow distracted by other concerns. From a human perspective, this is how it can feel when lost at sea or wandering in the wilderness, or whatever other metaphor is used for the feeling of being out of one’s path. But God knows every cell of every creature, and has no need of a reminder. It is humanity that needs reminders that blessing and support and comfort are available. Multi-coloured aides-mémoire along every street are serving that purpose well.

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