NBC News carried a report on Wednesday of this week concerning a so-called Bible teacher who is claiming that this coronavirus pandemic is the consequence of God’s wrath having been ignited by “gays, people with depraved minds, and environmentalists.” Before this is over, I’m sure we will be subjected to more of the same kind of wild declarations. I don’t know who is more dangerous; the people who say such things or the people who believe them.
Alas, there have always been and perhaps always will be those who believe God uses events such as pandemics and natural disasters to punish humanity and those who try to pinpoint the end of history when God’s judgment will be rendered.
These issues have been around so long we even have terms for theological discourse concerning them. For example, Theodicy attempts to deal with how and why a benevolent God allows evil and suffering. And, Eschatology is the study of questions about the final events of history or the ultimate destiny of humanity.
Our response to human tragedy and our beliefs about God’s intentions probably say more about our own personality and outlook on life than about God. It is understandable when people are hurting and need to assign blame for the events that caused harm. And people whose experience of life involves heavy doses of righteous indignation and divine retribution naturally want God to take charge and straighten out everybody they disapprove of.
For my own part, I’m impressed with the complexity of the physical universe. The more science discovers about things like quarks, chaos, leptons, and pheromones, the more my view of the Divine Being expands. Why would God go to so much trouble just to perplex humanity and then to destroy us? Isn’t it just as likely that God created all things for good and gave human beings the resources to discover ways to cherish and protect creation and its creatures? For me, life is one big epiphany!
When I peer into suffering, I see the God of compassion not causing harm but caring for those who are hurting. When I ponder the end of history, what comes to mind is not a so-called “rapture” or celestial supreme court, but instead a cosmic “Ah-ha” experience in which “every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess” (Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11, and Philippians 2:10,11).
The issues are far from settled and the discourse will continue. Those who need a wrathful God and an end of things characterized by judgment and retribution have plenty of preachers and churches to reinforce their viewpoints. But I am grateful to be a part of a church that believes “the universe is good, that it is the work of a single loving God who creates, sustains, and directs it” (BCP, 846). I am privileged to foster a view of the Christian hope, which is “to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God’s purpose for the world” (BCP, 861).
St. Paul says it so beautifully in these words from the Letter to the Romans: “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?… Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31, 35, 37-39).
Here is a prayer from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer that I invite you to pray during this difficult time.
In Time of Great Sickness and Mortality.
O most mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto thee for succour. Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is, we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Page 45, The Book of Common Prayer, 1928)
God bless and protect you and those whom you love.
The Very Rev'd Ron Pogue
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church