God is not missing at this time of Covid-19

Christendom has done little to dispel the hierarchical view of a missing God

I have seen God in the front-line workers in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices. Photograph: iStock

I have seen God in the front-line workers in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices. Photograph: iStock

 

In the middle of March, just as the pandemic reached our shores, I was standing at a pedestrian crossing in my clerical collar. A car slowed down and the male driver yelled out the window at me, telling me, in no uncertain terms, where he thought God should go and to thank God for Covid-19. Just in case I did not get the message, he accompanied it with an unambiguous gesture.

I wondered if he really thought that God had sent Covid-19. Is that the kind of God people believe in? Is that the God that I, and other Christians, portray?

Throughout Christianity we have had this notion of God being remote and distant. God is up there and we are down here. This coming Ascension Thursday reinforces that concept of God being “up there” with Jesus ascending, while at Christmas we refer to God “coming down to Earth”.

Canon Gillian Wharton is rector of Booterstown and Carysfort with Mount Merrion, Dublin, and clerical honorary secretary of the Church of Ireland General Synod

It endorses an image of God as on-high, remote, distant, inaccessible, megalomaniacal, orchestrating, controlling and manipulating our lives. Over the centuries Christendom has been guilty of having done little to dispel that feudal, hierarchical view of God.

But when Jesus encountered people who were at rock-bottom his response was practical, compassionate, hands-on. He did not tell them to go to the temple, or synagogue; he did not tell them to get down on their knees and repent. He responded with compassion and realism.

As Gordon Macaulay writes in his book Dirt, Mess and Danger: “No pious prayers, no theoretical religiosity, no weak tea and simpering sympathy. Love in action is God’s business. Love that’s real and true is his first and only concern.”

I have seen God in my local pub and my local Indian restaurant as they supply food to the front-line workers

So is God missing more than missed at this time of Covid-19?

Yes, I think that the “up-there, on-high, remote, distant, megalomaniacal” God is missing and not missed.

But God in action, God’s love, God’s compassion? I have seen and heard lots of that God in these past three months, in people of all faiths and no faith.

I have seen God in an older man in the supermarket buying nappies as he did the shopping for his neighbour who has two small children and whose spouse is serving overseas with the Defence Forces on UN peacekeeping duty.

I have seen God in my local pub and my local Indian restaurant as they supply food to the front-line workers. I have seen God standing two metres back from the doorway of cocooners, leaving a casserole for them and dropping off their shopping, or pharmacy supplies, and in gathering together and dropping off supplies for the homeless, for families in hotels, for those in direct provision.

God, in us, among us, through us, around us, alongside us, nudging us. That God, I see, hear and feel everywhere . . .

I have seen God in the front-line workers in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices. I have seen God in front-line workers driving transporters, or working with waste disposal companies, cleaning streets, stacking our supermarket shelves, counting people in and out of supermarkets with a friendly smile and a cheery hello, offering tea/coffee to those who are queueing.

I have heard the voice of God in the online sing-alongs to lift people’s spirits, and in the fundraising for charities so badly in need of funds. I have heard the voice of God in the listening of volunteers on helplines.

I have heard God in a telephone conversation between a landlord and a tenant who is out of work, telling them not to worry about the rent. I have spoken with and listened to people tentatively wondering about God, or even searching for God, searching for peace of mind and heart, for reassurance, for calm, for a balm for their restless, uneasy and anxious souls.

I know of people clicking on services or Masses that are being live-streamed or that are on websites, YouTube and Facebook, and feeling that the message they have stumbled upon means something to them. That maybe God is connecting with them and, it seems, in a message that is uncomplicated, that is “God-realism, God-activity, God-mending, God-compassion”. That they have found comfort and connection, peace and calm.

God’s love, God’s presence, God’s action, God’s voice is not top-down. God is not top-down – God is bottom-up! Or, to get away from the idea of higher and lower, just like love, God is all around us.

God, in us, among us, through us, around us, alongside us, nudging us. That God, I see, hear and feel everywhere . . .

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