Mystery in the time of coronavirus

Published 7:43 pm Friday, April 3, 2020

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Pandemics like the coronavirus are unimpressed with individual spiritual resumes or national claims to superior religiosity. Pandemics are viruses without consciences, unflinchingly cruel to all, regardless of one’s faithfulness or a people’s spirituality.

COVID-19 is without morals, it cares not that its victims are innocent children or young adults beginning to make their way in the world. Grandchildren are as wantonly struck down as MawMaw and PawPaw.

Through the centuries, the randomness and mercilessness of pandemic attacks has created challenges of belief for religious persons, especially those who believe in a God with the power to intervene in individual lives and global health crises.

The belief that God is all-good and all-powerful and in complete control of world events can become problematic when pandemics kill the good and the evil alike. Where is the all-loving and all-powerful God as COVID-19 wreaks devastation and death on the world? Why doesn’t God intervene to save us? If God is truly in charge of everything that has and will happen, why doesn’t God act to keep us safe? What’s God waiting for?

Similar questions were asked by a man named Job 2,600 years ago: “Your hands gave me shape and made me; do you at once turn and destroy me?” And by a Jew named Jesus from a Roman cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Where is God when pandemics and plagues, which care nothing for the lives of human beings, ravage the world? What kind of deity stands aside while children die at the hands of a disease it, being all-powerful, must have created and could stop if it would but lift its little finger?

Theologians call this conundrum theodicy. When believers attempt to answer the question of why God allows innocents to suffer, they are engaging in theodicy. When religious persons seek to respond to the problem of evil in a world made by and supposedly overseen by an all-powerful and loving God, they are seeking answers to the problem of evil in a good world.

It may comfort you to know that no one has yet proposed an answer that is acceptable to the whole of Christianity and Judaism. Possibly because there may not be one. For what we are dealing with is a spiritual mystery to which neither science nor logic is equipped to respond. Like Job, we are finally moved to silence in the face of an unknown as vast as the universe.

At one point in God’s conversation with Job, God answers out of the whirlwind that Job’s condition fits into the mysteries of the heavens, which Job cannot pretend to understand. Until God decides to offer another explanation, that will have to do for us as well.

Polk Culpepper is a retired Episcopal priest, former lawyer and a resident of Washington.