Yesterday was World AIDS Day. In honor of that, I thought I’d share what I wrote in my book Queeries to a young man named Tim who asked if HIV/AIDS was a punishment sent from God:
Let me begin by assuring you that God did not give you HIV. What kind of God would go around infecting people with a virus? Millions of infants and children in Africa are infected, and they don’t have medical care. Is God punishing them? What about all the Assembly of God missionaries who die of cancer? Is God punishing them? That kind of theology is destructive. God is not the source of disease. Jesus said:
The thief comes to kill, and to steal, and to destroy. I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
Clearly, AIDS has been a thief that has broken into many of our lives. AIDS has taken too much from us already. It has stolen our health, our friends, and our loved ones. Perhaps worst of all, it steals our hope and joy. AIDS is a thief. However, Jesus is very clear that he is not the source of that which steals, kills, and destroys. Jesus came to bring us life and life more abundantly. Since you are struggling with a new diagnosis, it is easy enough to fall into the trap of believing God was the one who stole from you.
God is not fragile and is not offended by being falsely blamed. God can handle your anger and will understand just how you feel. The truth is that we are the ones who suffer when we allow ourselves to believe God would send something such as AIDS to us. When we get caught in that kind of destructive theology, we are robbed a second time.
By believing that God is the source of AIDS or any other life stealing illness, we are robbed of:
- Our relationship with a God who loves us too much to send something like AIDS into our lives.
- Our hope for the magnificent future God has planned for each of us.
- Our faith that God is a loving parent we can trust.
So, if God is not the source of AIDS, who is? Who is this thief of whom Jesus spoke? That is a question people of faith have struggled with for centuries. It is the subject of the oldest book in the Bible, the book of Job. In that light, it is unlikely we can find an answer to this question. It is a question that defies pat answers and simplistic clichés.
Some say the thief is Satan; others believe it is evil or the negative side of life. Some theologies suggest that sickness is the result of living in a broken world or a world that is estranged from God. The truth is that, in this life, we may never understand why there is disease, disaster, and death.
There is one truth that we can know and to which we must hold fast. Jesus’ life and ministry made it clear that God is a God of:
- Resurrection, not death.
- Health, not disease.
- Peace, not turmoil.
- Hope, not despair.
- Freedom, not bondage.
Jesus also taught us to pray for God’s will to be done … on Earth as it is in Heaven. Although God’s perfect will may not be fulfilled in this world or in this life, we must trust in the God whose perfect will is love. Anything less robs us of the abundant life Jesus came to bring.
God did not give you AIDS and will not send you to hell, but your life can become a living hell if you don’t reject the guilt and shame that your parents and those of their faith want to put on you. I know rejecting their judgment of you isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, you may want to find a good therapist to help you work through some of this. You also need to find some friends who can be a new family to you. Create a family-of-choice who knows the truth about you and believes in you with all their heart.
Come back to church, and let the grace you find there nourish you. Tim, I’m so sorry you are infected with HIV, but this doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Make it a new beginning by letting go of all the things that would steal life from you. God wants you to be as happy and healthy as humanly possible. That is what any sane parent should want for their children.
By Michael Piazza
Center for Progressive Renewal