I’ve written and deleted a half-dozen posts about the Covid-19 Pandemic, I’ve deleted them because you don’t need my opinions about medicine and you don’t want my political commentary. What I mostly wrote was a series of rants—cathartic, but not for the record.
Here are some thoughts I’ve not deleted.
God did not “send” the coronavirus as judgement. Some people’s way of reading the Bible leaves them with a god who has a temper which occasionally erupts and sends hot wrath running down from heaven to consume whatever is in its path. This god, who needs anger-management therapy, isn’t the one made visible, audible, and tangible in Jesus, who said to his friends on the night before his death: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). “In God, there is no unChristlikeness at all,” said the one-time Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey. If you want to know what God is like, look at and listen to Jesus.
I think, by the way, that the God has spoken in myriad other ways. All truth is God’s truth, and God isn’t stingy with wisdom. It’s a gift God delights to give to seekers in other religious traditions; to scientists, philosophers, and artists; to writers, story-tellers, and musicians; and to anyone who pays close attention to the rhythms of creation and the patterns of life. I’m simply bearing witness to my experience: God is like Jesus. I sift my perceptions of God and truth through what I’m learning from him.
Jesus taught us to have compassion for our neighbors and insisted that everyone is our neighbor. He urged us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, something he did himself from the cross: “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they’re doing.” He called us to be indiscriminately and freely generous, like God: “who makes the sun rise on the evil and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5). He healed the sick, fed the hungry, forgave sinners, hung-out with the poor, welcomed the excluded, clamored for justice, and offered mercy. Jesus suffered, died, and rose from the dead. Because he did, love has the last word, not fear. Life is the end, not death.
Jesus persuades me that God is for us, not against us; is with us, not distant from us; and is compassionate, not condemning toward us. God doesn’t send suffering. Suffering happens. God endures suffering with us, works for our good in the midst of it, and mends the brokenness it causes. Nothing separates us from the love of God—not a pandemic, not an economic meltdown, nothing in all creation.
My sojourn with cancer has confirmed for me that God does not cause our pain, but God will work with us not to waste it.
This pandemic is, as many have noted, an “apocalypse”—a pulling back of the curtain to reveal realities we’ve ignored or discounted. An apocalypse comes with an urgent summons to change, to make right what has gone wrong, and to join God in the healing of the world.
In this apocalypse, we see the insidious effects of systemic injustice on the health and hopes of people whom prejudice has pushed to the margins. We see the cravenness of religious leaders who corrupt the way of Jesus so that they can cozy up to power and their displacement of the gracious rule of God with nationalism. We see the poverty of trusting money to give meaning. We see that we are interdependent, not independent; we realize that we need each other, including many who are unknown to us. We see that the simple things—like sitting at the dinner table and coming to the Lord’s Table with friends—are often the best things. We see that the denial of death leaves us unprepared for life. And so much more. . .
Seeing can inspire dreaming and working for a better, gladder, and more beautiful life. Remember: humans arranged the cultures and designed the systems we’ve had and which we now see more starkly. With the God whose dreams we see in the words and deeds of Jesus, we can remake them and replace them.
Let’s not waste this apocalypse. God won’t.