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God is in the pandemic

Have you found yourself wondering during the course of the coronavirus crisis where God is in all of this?

How long has it been now, five months?

Where is God in this awful pandemic?

Every morning, we check the case numbers for our area. Every evening, we watch the news and see the death tolls rising and the losses of jobs and educational opportunities worsening, as hope fades. When will it end?

It is not a sign of faithlessness or heresy to question the role that God is playing in this catastrophe. I mean, if God is all-powerful, as Christian tradition attests, then is it God, himself, who brought this plague upon us all?

Certainly ancient peoples had no trouble attributing bad happenings to the hand of the Lord. Everything from drought to floods to diseases were thought to be sent by God as punishment for peoples’ transgressions. Think of the bubonic plague that ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages. When people didn’t understand the biological cause of a disease, they’d make sense of it as divine punishment for all manner of sins.

Some people of faith are still prone to see God’s hand in disasters both natural and manmade. In recent years, I’ve heard Christian preachers say that the Japanese tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and even September 11 were divine punishment for human moral sins and failings.

You would be forgiven if you were to wonder about the coronavirus and its connection to God’s will. After all, its effects have been punishing and evil – but does it originate as a punishment for evil?

Let’s ask Jesus. In the Gospel of John in the New Testament, a blind man is brought before Jesus for healing. Jesus’ disciples are of the opinion that illness and disasters come straight from God’s hand, for they ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned? This man or his parents, that he was born blind?

Someone must have done something wrong, they believe, for someone to have been born without sight! Who was it?”

Ah, but Jesus says no to this line of thinking. He replies that no one sinned, but that this person was born sightless so that, “the works of God might be displayed in him.” That is, God did not cause this man to be born blind any more than God would send tragedy upon an innocent family, or a plague upon the entire world.

God doesn’t cause disasters, small or large, but God is in the catastrophe, right there alongside us, working to redeem and rescue and restore light to the darkest places.

This I believe — God does work in many and often mysterious ways. Often, God works through us. I am certainly seeing people serving as Christ’s hands and feet as they support our teachers and families, offer space for learning to take place in churches and homes while schools go “virtual,” step up efforts to feed and house those hit hardest by the economic downturn, work tirelessly to find a vaccine, and in every way extend themselves for their brothers and sisters.

Did God cause this virus? No, the virus is as much a part of God’s Creation as the birds or the mountains, but God is here alongside us, encouraging, assisting, enlightening, so that God’s works might be displayed through us.

REV. SUSIE THOMAS is lead pastor of Farmville United Methodist Church. Her email address is sthomas@farmvilleumc.org.