The headline of this article is actually a combination of two important questions. First, we can ask if there is such an essence of Christianity, and if so, what it is. The second question is what elements of Christianity are essential or even necessary in times of crisis.
It seems easy to answer the first question: we understand that the essence of Christianity is trust in Jesus Christ, Who was crucified, but resurrected on the third day (by the way, this is the core Christian message of Easter that is coming soon). Although we do not understand all details, we are called not only to believe intellectually that Jesus is still a living God – we are encouraged to feel His touch in our lives directly (unless we intentionally reject Him).
True faith in Christ is not just a superficial or emotional feeling. On the contrary, it is something visible and tangible in the lives of His followers, and that’s everyday, not only in times of crisis. That might be an answer to the second headline question. Well, let’s look at a few really essential Christian ideas now.
Jesus Christ did not promise a life without crises and hardships to his followers – but He promised a peace that cannot be found anywhere else.
In difficult times, an encouraging opinion always appears, saying that the crisis may not only be something destructive, negative and risky, but that we can also accept it as an opportunity. Undoubtedly, we have got an opportunity to rethink, test and clarify our life values system – to identify what is really important and what is not. Such a situation can help us to find some essential pillars of life and ask some very important questions. Suddenly, we may find that many things are not really necessary for us (although we considered so) – and we discover treasures in things we did not see as a matter of such a great importance. In times of crisis, many people are able to find significance in what is essentially Christian in fact. According to the Bible, faith, hope, and love (see 1 Corinthians 13:13) are the most precious of all values for on this earth. Of course, we can be frightened by what is happening around us. We can be frightened by the information published in the media. We can be afraid of an uncertain future, which might bring considerable losses for us and for our loved ones personally. Despite of that, nobody and nothing can deprive us of faith, hope and love. These three have been always the strongest reasons for which many Christians were ready to give up everything else, even in very hard times in history.
It may happen that we have found ourselves at the beginning of a crisis period, but even today Christianity comes up with a restful alternative. Jesus Christ did not promise a life without crises and hardships to his followers – but He promised a peace that cannot be found anywhere else. In addition, Christianity also brings an original model of interpersonal relationships. The essence of a Christian approach to other people is “to value others above ourselves” (Philippians 2:3). It’s well known that a long-term deprivation of basic needs can provoke some self-preserving reactions in people, when initial friendliness, consideration, and altruism can eventually turn into selfish behaviour and social tension. Christianity, however, encourages the humble prioritization of others – and, above all, a care for those most vulnerable ones (in the COVID-19 epidemic times probably for the elderly people, but let’s not forget also the people with special needs – as the deaf are lost in a world of faces covered with veils, and people with serious physical disabilities still need personal assistance from their neighbours). As Jesus said, by this can His disciples be recognized, if they love one another (John 13:35).
The essence of a Christian approach to other people is “to value others above ourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
In times of crisis, we can also worry about losing our living standards which we have become accustomed to. Fears of the future scare many people today perhaps as much as the health risks associated with a potentially dangerous disease. Here the Christianity offers a different solution as well: a lifestyle that could be called “an elementary form of voluntary simplicity and modesty”. (1 Timothy 6:6-11) Actually, in situation like this the Bible can remind us that it is possible to live a quality life with much lower economic and environmental demands – possibly even with healthier habits at the same time.
Moreover, an essence of Christianity is to share what we receive from God – both material and spiritual gifts, so that “the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little”. (1 Corinthians 8:15)
Over the past two thousand years, mankind has experienced many smaller and bigger crises. None of these crises have destroyed Christianity or its fundamental values – and there are still those who follow Jesus and live their Christian lives today. Nobody and nothing seems to have been able to kill God yet. Why should we expect a tiny virus to be able to do that…? From a Christian point of view, there are still some strong signals that people have good reasons to believe, to maintain their hope and love. For me, such an impulse might be the singing of birds above my head, the sun shining through the cloudy sky, or a smile of someone close to me. Aren’t these great reasons to be happy?
Josef Slowik, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Pedagogy, at the University of West Bohemia in Pilsen, Czech Republic.