Where Is God in This Pandemic?
Several people have asked me “Where is God in this pandemic?” One person rather pointedly put me on the spot and said “You’re a theologian; you ought to know.” I understand that. If anyone ought to know, I ought to know.
But, of course, that question and statement could mean two different things. One is where is God in this particular disaster, this particular pandemic, out of all disasters and epidemics? The other is where is God in such disasters and horrors and calamities in general?
But I want to put the two question back together because this pandemic is just one of a very long series of natural disasters throughout human history. We need to keep in mind that these kinds of things have happened often before.
So a question I have for people who ask me where God is in this pandemic is whether they think this calamity is different in some way from all those that have gone before.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
One reason people are asking me this question (or these questions because it could be two distinct questions hidden in one) is because, as usual, some Christian preachers are suggesting, if not outrightly saying, that this calamity, this pandemic, in particular, is God’s judgment on humanity for something—abortion or gay marriage or whatever.
I don’t know how any preacher would know that. Perhaps one or many believe all calamities are God’s judgment on people for some sin and these sins seem obvious (to them) candidates. Or perhaps he/she/they think God has given them a special revelation about what is happening now and its reason.
I’m skeptical about all such claims; who can know the mind of the Lord?
All I can do is share with you how I tend to regard all calamities that affect many people, especially ones that result in deaths of many people across a broad range of people in a nation or tribe or around the world.
I think we live in a fallen, broken world.
I’m not a big fan of using popular culture to illustrate theological truths, but here I go anyway.
Recently I watched a re-run of the now defunct television dramedy “Monk.” The signature song “It’s a Jungle out There” expresses in intentionally humorous language and voice and tune the eponymous character’s belief that this world is a dangerous one.
Neither the song nor the show gives any hint as to why this world is a “jungle” that “just might kill you,” but I can pick up on the idea and say that, biblically and theologically, it’s partly right. In Romans 8 the Apostle Paul teaches that this world in which we live is now in “bondage to decay” and that someday it will be liberated from that condition. In meantime our present sufferings are nothing compared with the glory that will be revealed to or in us in the future when God acts with that liberating power to transform this world.
Personally, I do not believe that pandemics are directly God’s judgment, but with my theological mentor Wolfhart Pannenberg I do believe that they, together with all calamities, point to God’s absence. I don’t mean (and he didn’t mean) that God has literally “gone away,” but that we humans, created in God’s own image and likeness, have shut God out of our world. Our hope (confident expectation) is that someday God will break down that door we have closed against God by our sinful rebellion, our collective decision to “go our own way,” and remake this world. But that is not yet. There are signs of God’s future victory in Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, in miracles of healing and in acts of deliverance of all kinds, but the whole of that victory is yet to come.
Calamities like this one, like all of the many that have happened in human history, drive us Christians to our knees in collective repentance on behalf of all people—beseeching God for forgiveness and intervention.
Calamities like this one, like all of the many that have happened in human history, point Christians to the future with cries of “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!”
I the meantime we Christians act for the deliverance of those who are suffering and believe that God’s presence is manifest here and now to the extent that we intervene on God’s behalf for the good of those who suffer.
I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.
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