God and life in a time of plague

March 23rd, 2020 in Life. Tags: , , , ,
Social distancing

All the news is about the coronavirus and the importance of us all (in most countries at least) staying home as much as possible, avoiding close contact with people outside our home, and practicing extreme cleanliness. There’s more I could say, but hopefully you’re all checking much more expert sources than me!

This blog is about reasons to believe, or disbelieve, in God, so I thought I would try to answer the question, what does this pandemic tell us (if anything) about God?

Is this just an intellectual exercise?

Some of you may be suffering right now, due to anxiety about your own and your family’s health, loss of income, isolation and disruption to plans. If that’s you, I’m sorry. Your current feelings and hurts are much more immediate and important than the things I’m going to discuss. Please look after yourself and get help if necessary.

But for some people, these questions are significant and important. I hope I’ll provoke a few lines of thought.

In this world, actions and choices have consequences

If God created this world, he made it one where everything has consequences. Bad choices can lead to danger and harm. The things I do often affect you, and some things affect everybody. The spread of the coronavirus has been a consequence of people and governments taking certain decisions, both wise and unwise.

We can see this encourages us to take responsibility for our choices, but it means that some powerful people can exercise enormous power over others, for good or evil. If God created this world, he must have wanted us to take responsibility, and for those who have power to use it well.

It wouldn’t be a great surprise if he held us responsible in some way, and the powerful more than the powerless.

God and suffering

One of the most terrible consequences of our ability to do harm to others is that the world is filled with suffering. We shouldn’t overstate the case; globally, three quarters of people are reasonably happy with their lives,. But there is also an awful lot of pain.

How does God allow this? Why did he create a world and fill it with people if he knew it would lead to some horrendous hurts?

I have no answer. (I hope you weren’t expecting me to explain it all!) At times it fills me with grief when I hear of someone’s story of hurt and pain. This is probably the biggest single reason why people give up faith and belief in God.

My response is that I find so many reasons to believe in God that this one reason against belief is swamped. Logic tells me that God existing explains a lot of things that would be inexplicable if he didn’t. But emotionally it still leaves me wondering.

The God of comfort

On the other hand, billions of people find great comfort in God. For them, suffering isn’t an intellectual exercise but a daily personal reality. The pain may be unbearable or minor, it may be psychological, medical, emotional or physical, it may be constant or sporadic. But however it comes, when they feel hurt, bewildered, unable to cope, they find God is ther to comfort, guide and give strength to endure.

Who can explain it?

Sceptics may say that it is all psychological or wish fulfilment, but the reality seems to be that this experience of God’s comfort is more real to the people who receive it than the feeling and logic of the sceptics is to them.

God’s judgment?

There are christians who say that disasters like this pandemic are God’s judgment on a world that ignores him. It reminds me of the Larsen cartoon with God at his computer choosing whether to hit the “Smite” button.

This doesn’t show God in a very attractive light. A loving parent may discipline their child, but doesn’t smite or send a pandemic. Is God not as good as a loving parent? Of course, if God is going to bring justice and right all wrongs, there’s surely going to need to be some reckoning, but large-scale suffering, especially if it hits everyone equally and indiscriminately, the good and the bad, doesn’t seem to be the sort of fine-tuned justice you’d expect from God.

More thoughtful christians say that God’s judgment comes through the consequences that flow on from every choice. I can see the logic in that, but it still seems a rather coarse and indiscriminate way to bring home to people the foolishness of their behaviour. I think I’d rather say that natural laws mean natural consequences.

And let’s give Jesus the last word on God’s methods. When a tower collapse killed 18 people, Jesus said it wasn’t a judgment (Luke 13:4-5) for: “do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!”

Get our priorities right!

One thing any threat to our safety and lifestyle is likely to achieve is to lead us to reconsider our priorities. An unexpected illness can make our personal plans seem self-indulgent. This pandemic puts things in perspective. Where we may have taken our affluence, health and comfort for granted, that starts to look a little foolish.

I don’t think God sends these things, but I do think it can be a helpful reminder for us of what our true priorities in life might be.

Seeing the real person?

We mostly like to think we are quite reasonable and moral people, and our occasional lapses are atypical. But perhaps others see our true selves when the chips are down and the pressure is on.

So perhaps the panic buying, and the arguments and fights in the supermarket aisle, are a reflection of who we really are? Perhaps our civilised natures are only skin deep?

Do people who believe in God behave any better, or any worse? How much do we learn about God from the people who believe in him?

5 take-aways

  1. God created a world where actions have consequences for which we are responsible.
  2. The suffering in the world makes it harder to believe in God and to trust him, but there are many other reasons to believe and trust.
  3. Those who suffer often find comfort in God.
  4. It is tempting to think that God is judging the world through natural disasters, but that is not a christian view of God.
  5. Difficult times can help us re-assess our priorities and who we are.

Stay safe and keep your eyes and mind open.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels