Now, that was very good news from Tanzania over the weekend. President John Pombe Magufuli’s public acknowledgement of the Covid-19 pandemic in his country put a half-smile on my face.
Yes, it took the Covid-19-induced death of Seif Sharif Hamad, the vice-president of Zanzibar, for Magufuli to abandon his bizarre fantasy about Tanzania’s freedom from the new coronavirus. However, his tentative pronouncements are a step in the right direction.
Sadly, the Tanzanian ruler is still trapped in an anti-science mode. On the one hand, he urges Tanzanians to wear masks. On the other, he insists that they only wear Tanzania-made ones because “those made in other countries are not safe.” He recognises the usefulness of vaccines but muddies the waters by questioning their safety without subjecting them to standard scientific scrutiny.
Magufuli acknowledges the presence of the pandemic, but then urges his countrymen to employ three days of prayer to defeat “respiratory illnesses.” He conveniently forgets that, according to him, prayers defeated the coronavirus last year, in which case there should be no need to fight a war they have already won. Perhaps Tanzanians did not pray properly in 2020.
As a Christian, Born-again by the grace of God, I have no doubt whatsoever about the power of prayer to change people’s lives. I know it from personal experience and intimate knowledge of some members of my family and many Christian friends.
However, I am certain that the average human being does not have the capacity to still the waters, to make it rain, to stop landslides, to expel locusts or to vanquish the new coronavirus through fasting, prayer and supplication.
We have the power to change our personal behaviours through prayer to the Almighty God to soften our hearts and open our minds to His truth and expectations. God, the creator of the Universe and the laws that govern it, favoured humanity with the authority to subjugate the Earth and everything in it, for our benefit.
To do this, God gave us the brains and intellect to understand His rules that govern the Universe. These rules are what we lump together under the term “science.” The more I study various aspects of human and other science, the deeper my Christian faith in Him who is Master of the Universe gets.
God gave us the scientific knowledge about viruses, how to detect them, how to prevent them from infecting us, and how to treat those who become ill because of them.
However, God also gave us the free will to obey or reject the scientific rules that He revealed to our ancestors and continues to reveal to us. We honour God when we responsibly apply the knowledge He gave us to subjugate His Earth. We mock Him when we reject science – God’s science – but pray to Him to solve a problem whose solution he has already revealed to us.
I am reminded of people who refuse to take medicine for curable illnesses and believe that their loud wails and the prayers of the brethren will heal them. Likewise, people who destroy swamps and other critical components of this fragile planet’s ecosystem kid themselves when they think that prayers, without action, will reverse the adverse consequences of their greed and arrogance.
I urge Tanzanians and all of us to pray for four main reasons regarding coronavirus. First, to praise God and thank Him for the lives He has given us. We should not take it for granted that we are somehow more entitled to be alive than our peers who have died.
Second, to praise God for the excellent knowledge and resources He has given us to fight this and other disease-causing agents and circumstances. The evolving evidence-based science that has accumulated in the year since the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, China, is God’s gift to humanity.
That includes the critically important preventive measures that scientists have been urging us to utilise, namely, physical distancing, proper handwashing, appropriate use of face masks and immunisation.
Third, to pray for God’s forgiveness for disobeying the laws of science that He has passed on to us through the work of scientists who, by His grace, have dedicated their lives to the war against the new coronavirus.
Fourth, to ask God to soften our hearts and change our recklessness, our impatience and our foolishness that continue to undermine our chances of taming this virus. We need God’s intervention to awaken us to our individual and collective pursuit of perverse priorities. We have quickly resumed our love affair with big weddings, funerals and political rallies.
We continue to spend private and public money on trinkets and entertainment instead of investing it in the health and safety of humanity. We have lowered our guard even as the virus mutates and rearms for new battles against humanity.
What we should not bother with is futile prayers to God to make the virus go away even as we continue to do everything to enhance its community spread. You do not keep pouring alcohol into your body and expect that God will cure your liver disease. You do not keep pouring gasoline on a fire and expect God to save your burning house from destruction.
President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi mocked God by claiming that He had spared his country’s airspace from the new coronavirus. Nkurunziza died of the devastating complications of Covid-19 on June 8, 2020.
President Donald Trump of the USA and a pile of arrogant men and women in power mocked God by playing Russian Roulette with the new coronavirus. Many of them fell ill with the virus. Some died. They probably would have been alive today had they chosen to obey God’s science, knowledge of which He had passed on to them through people like Dr Anthony Fauci, the Director of the United States Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
Tingasiga, please understand that, even with the most rigorous precautions, we are all still at risk of acquiring the infection. However, we can minimise that risk by using the evidence-based preventive strategies that are a gift to us from our loving God.
Those who want us to believe that pursuit and obedience of science is incompatible with a strong faith in God’s power mock Him who is the Creator and Governor of our little planet and our limitless Universe.
Yes, we must pray. However, our prayers are mere noise when we ignore actions that honour and obey God’s science.