Where is God in all this?

This enforced time at home, separated from work and from daily routines and pleasures, has led to some reflection on my part on the random suffering and death caused by the coronavirus.

Where is God in all this?

How could a loving and omnipotent God allow this to happen?

And what can we faithfully pray for God to do?   

I have come to rest, for now, with three convictions.

One: We are creatures. All of the prayer and all of the medicine and technology do not change that we are mortal—each of us destined to a physical death, usually involving disability and suffering. As creatures, we are finally subject to the freedom of the creation and its life forces instituted by God. All creatures live at the expense of other creatures. Think of the bacteria we kill with our antibiotics and the viruses we kill (hopefully) with our anti-virals. Think of the mammals, birds and fish we kill to eat. Think of the plants we harvest. Strangely, this coronavirus is part of that life process. Stated anthropomorphically, it seems to seek to live and spread as well, to be part of the life force. Given the advance of medical science and technology in general, our species usually wins these competitions of life against life. So we are able to delay our mortalities and enhance our quality of life while we still live. But Rule No.1 is that everyone dies. And Rule No. 2 is that medical science cannot change Rule No. 1. Given our relationship with a loving God, we can and should pray for deliverance from an illness. But we cannot faithfully pray for an end to our mortality. Perhaps we pray the most faithfully when we ask our Father for the strength and faith to face whatever is to come. And for family and friends to be there to comfort us as we promise them and God to be there to comfort them when their times come.

Two: We are all creatures. All of our species and all living species are just creatures. We are all mortal. We all live out this life force, and we all die. So we are all in this gift called life together. We economically comfortable people tend to give in to idolatry. We come to believe that, like gods, we should be able to obtain and to do whatever we want whenever we want. But the economically poor, in this country and others, live in a different circumstance. We in the Methodist Justice Ministry see this daily. The normal situation of the poor is that they cannot have or do whatever they want when they want it. In this sense, the shortage of goods in the stores and the shelter-at-home orders brought on by the pandemic are causing the comfortable and the economically poor to experience this scarcity together. We are all in this together. We are all facing our mortalities together.  This virus is striking randomly, spread from the rich to the poor and the poor to the rich. The comfortable should not be able to gain the use of a ventilator over a poor person because of wealth or better insurance. We are all facing the allocation of scare resources, which is what the poor face all of the time. We comfortable people should be helping the poor through this shared crisis, because we are so much better able materially to withstand this. So maybe God can cause something good to come out of this tragedy. Like an increased sense of empathy and mutual dependence. Not just within our nation but among all nations. And given what we as a species are doing to all of creation, maybe God can foster in us a sense of empathy and protectiveness for the entire planet. In a sense, humans have been Earth’s coronavirus for a long time.

Three: Our individual and shared mortality will never separate us from the love of God. Yes, God created us mortal. Yes, God created each of us bound to die. But God created us, and all of God’s creatures, as subjects and objects and recipients of God’s love before and after our physical deaths. Suffering and death are never the final story. God never loses anyone or anything God has created. If the cross teaches us anything, it is that even in our suffering and mortality–especially in our suffering and mortality–we are not alone.  God is with us. “38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.

So to return to my questions:

Where is God in all this?

Right in the midst of it. Jesus is not sheltering-in-place. He is in the heart and lungs of every person grasping for breath, separated from their loved ones because of the quarantine but not separated from Jesus. He is with every health care worker and first responder, exhausted and worried about contracting the disease and passing it to her family. He is in the fear and the doubt and sleeplessness of every mother and father who worry they cannot pay the rent and keep food in their children’s bellies. Right in the midst of it. In China, Germany, Chile, South Africa, New York City, Seattle and, yes, even in Washington D.C.

How could a loving and omnipotent God allow this to happen?

I do not know. For I am not God. But I trust God.  Who else is there to trust?

And what can we faithfully pray for God to do? 

To give us the faith and strength to face whatever is to come. To give us family and friends to be there to comfort us as we promise God to be there to comfort them when their times come. To breathe into us and our entire species an increased power of empathy and solidarity with every human, with every creature and with all of creation.

May we not waste this suffering and dying by returning to the way things were when this is over.

 

Rev. Brooks Harrington

Methodist Justice Ministry

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