Where is God in this pandemic?
The death toll is mounting from people with covid-19. Health systems are being stretched to the breaking point. More people are being infected with the virus, and many more people are living in fear for their health. And this does not even take into consideration the vast increases in unemployment, businesses closed and/or near corporate failures. Lives lost, people put at risk, and dreams shattered.
It is a fair and honest question to ask: Where is God in all of this? In Unity we speak about a powerful and loving God. So where is God in this pandemic?
I think that some of the best writing, that has come out of this pandemic on all of the above issues, has been written by Father James Martin, He is a Jesuit priest, and the author of such excellent books as Jesus: a pilgrimage.
Father Jim writes that last summer he needed radiation treatment. Many cancer-related hospitals in New York City are located on the upper east side of Manhattan near York Avenue. I know this part of New York very well since my mother lived on York Avenue. Father Jim would hop into a cab on “radiation oncology” days and tell the driver: “68th Street and York.”
He would stop into a church and pray before her entered the hospital. But he would see people sugffering from cancer on York Ave. He would also see doctors, nurses, and many healthy people walking on York Ave. One day it struck Father Jim that “we’re all going to 68th and York, though we all have different times for appointments.” He noted that with the pandemic “millions have started to fear that their appointment with terrifying speed.”
Covid-19 raises the age old question of why do bad things happen to good people? In theology it is called the issue of “theodicy.” or the mystery of seeming evil. Father Jim calls it the “inconsistent triad.” (i.e., God is all powerful, thus God could prevent the suffering. But God does not prevent the suffering. Therefore God is either not all powerful or not all loving.)
The answer that often has been given to these types of questions is that suffering improves us. We often make our quantum spiritual leaps through a painful ring of fire. And I must admit that most of my major spiritual quantum leaps came in the face of pain and tragic events. Nevertheless the thought of a God who would shove humanity through a pandemic so we can become better boys and girls is a thought that both Father Jim and I have rejected.
So why do bad things sometimes happen to good people? Father Jim says the best– and most honest== answer is that we don’t know. It is very much like the ending in The Book of Job. God says, “Were you there when I started creating” the universe?
But Father Jim shares another important observation: When faced with these situations he looks to Jesus and his response to the sick in his day. He did not shy away from, or reject, people who needed and wanted healings. He showed them compassion. The sick and dying were not “the other” to him. Rather they were his “brothers and sisters.”
I love the story about a man who died and faced God. The man said to God. “Why did you do nothing in the face of all that suffering on earth?” God responded by saying, “But I did do something. I created you…I created you.”