So, the question that I am sure you have all been begging your pastor to answer follows: What does it mean for us, as people of God, to have to endure the COVID-19 pandemic? Is this disease a curse of some kind that God sent to punish us? Does our faith protect us from this disease, and, if not, does that mean our faith does not have power to heal? I am sure that there are many questions that follow this line of thinking, but these are just a few to get us started.
The shortest and simplest theological response to these types of questions is that we live in a broken world and this pandemic is just another aspect of that brokenness. In much the same way as our children are vulnerable to school shooters, a drunk driver can kill an innocent, sober family through their recklessness, or anyone of us can face a life-ending cancer diagnosis without warning, this COVID-19 pandemic is part of living in a broken world with all of our normal problems. Stuff happens, as they say using a different word than “stuff” that probably should not be published in a church newsletter, and this pandemic is stuff!
Still, we are left wondering about whether God sent this virus to punish us somehow and the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of our faith in protecting us against it. First off, if this virus was sent to punish us, it is pretty unclear who the “us” is. This pandemic has swept through rich and poor countries alike, infected Christians, Muslims, atheists, Hindus, and Buddhists, and exposed the strengths and weaknesses of not only the United States, but also Communist, Socialist, theocratic, and autocratic nations the same. If God is punishing us and trying to send us a message somehow, it is a very unclear message as this virus seems to show no partiality whatsoever. Epidemics in the past, like the Black Death for instance, spread much more sporadically and hit one place hard at once while sparing other areas. Not so with this novel corona virus. It is hitting all of us all at once so we would be hard pressed to discern who God is talking to if there actually is a message behind all of this.
Secondly, and perhaps the most pressing, what is the role of our faith in this time. I had a short conversation about this recently with Tommy Parker, a veteran who grew up in Ronan, but, tragically, lost his legs and several fingers to an IED while serving in Afghanistan. He asked me when we were at Harvest Foods how Christians (typically Pentecostals) can handle poisonous snakes as a test of their faith, but our faith is not keeping us from being infected? I did not have time to dive into a better answer while we were trying to keep our distance in the grocery aisles, but I should have said that it is precisely for trying times like these that we place our trust in God in the first place. God is not some sort of genie who focuses on wish fulfillment and makes sure that everyone can eat ice cream everyday while staying skinny and beautiful! We place our trust in God because God promises to save us from the brokenness of this world. Our faith does not vanish when life becomes challenging; our faith is revealed when trusting in a good and loving God becomes difficult.
May your faith be revealed in new ways this month, just as I am sure it has been up to now.