Where does God enter the frame as this Covid pandemic rages?
There’s no straight answer, but the question does make a person look beyond themselves
A young child has a swab sample collected for Covid-19 testing in New Delhi, India, a country currently swamped with a further wave of the virus. Photograph: Rajat Gupta/EPA
Any natural disaster, including the suffering and death caused by the current coronavirus pandemic, raises the question as to where God is in it all.
In the end, religion does not give answers in the sense of established facts. It is always going to be a faith understanding, a perspective not of empirical knowledge but of spiritual commitment.
Within faith tradition, there are many different explanations that are typically offered as to why bad things happen in God’s world.
Another suggestion is that natural and moral evil in the world are necessary in order that we human beings can actually appreciate natural beauty and moral goodness
One is that it is a divine punishment for disobeying God’s commandments. Yet, that view begs so many questions, not least regarding the complete lack of justice in punishing everyone, often in the most horrific ways, when not everyone is to blame.
There is a method of sanctioning a whole group because no member of that group is prepared to accept responsibility for a wrongdoing arising from within the group.
It is a dubious approach from the perspective of justice, but while in certain circumstances it may find some justification, it surely does not admit punishing the group with a potentially tortuous illness.
Or, is the coronavirus here to teach us to use natural resources better, as God’s way of fighting climate change? If so, what guarantees are there that, once this pandemic has passed, everyone will behave better?
EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen has outlined her vision of society as needing not just to “bounce back” after the pandemic, but to “bounce forward” in terms of building “a resilient, green, and digital Europe”.
Moral evil in the world
However, the danger remains that, globally, nations may in fact revert to more environmentally harmful ways out of the short-term necessity to address a resultant deep recession.
Another suggestion is that natural and moral evil in the world are necessary in order that we human beings can actually appreciate natural beauty and moral goodness, just as we cannot really know what light is unless we can also experience darkness.
Yet, while contrasts are necessary in order to appreciate individual aspects of reality, cruelty on the coronavirus scale does not sit easily with this theory.
Yet another suggestion is that creation as we experience it is in fact still in process. It is seen as a work in progress.
The book of Genesis hints at ‘process’ when creation is depicted as taking place over seven days.
As against this view, it is held that creation was indeed completed at the beginning, after the sixth “day” when “God saw that it was good”. That is why God “rested” on the seventh day.
It is therefore held that imperfections, both natural and moral, entered in subsequently with the fall.
Yet the fall need not be understood precisely in this way; it is open to other interpretations, such as the view that creation is indeed less than it is intended by God to be.
The more traditional creation-fall approach takes a very linear view of time which, while understandable, contrasts with different conjectures or theories on the subject.
‘Imprecise perception of time’
Richard Webb, the executive editor of New Scientist, recalling Einstein’s general theory of relativity, writes of our “imprecise perception of time”.
We know there is such a thing as change but regarding precisely how change is related to time has given rise to much philosophical discussion. The intriguing thinker, Professor Raymond Tallis, writing in Philosophy Now, describes the relationship between time and change as remaining “elusive”.
Such a recognition opens up deeper ways of understanding the divine economy as well as history itself.
Despite the development of vaccines at pace, where is God at such a time of suffering?
So, why does God allow bad things to happen? There is no straightforward explanation but the question requires an appreciation of the deep issues that it raises and impels one to look beyond oneself.
The consolation, for the Christian believer, is of course the faith that God entered into our suffering predicament, shared it and therefore knows what we are feeling.
This brings us back to the original question: Despite the development of vaccines at pace, where is God at such a time of suffering? The person of faith may recall here that God is love. God therefore is to be found wherever there compassion, caring and love.