In the middle of May I was invited by some Turkish friends to speak into a dialogue session with a couple of Imams and a Rabbi on the subject of, ‘Where is God in the face of Coved 19’. This blog is based on the presentation at this event. I was the first to speak and the whole session raised a lot of questions that will continue over the next few months. It is interesting that in conversations with Muslim friends I’ve met a variety of responses, but the prevailing sentiment seems to be that this pandemic is God’s judgement upon people who reject Allah. This is my response.
‘Thanks so much for this opportunity to reflect on this present crisis, from a Christian perspective. It’s so important that we people of faith speak into this situation, seeking to bring a deeper perspective that enables reflection on issues that many have never previously considered.
“Where is the Christian God?”, ask my friends in the midst of the deep sufferings and enormous disruption caused by this virus right across the world? How can this ‘God of love’ that you Christians claim, allow such fear and pain to afflict this world? There can be no easy, trite or simple answer so I’ll not try to give one.
However, in this deeply painful disruption what I do want to affirm are three things:
- While there are no easy answers to the questions of why: we humans whose God-given mandate in this world, created by God, is ‘to work it and take care of it’ (Genesis 2:15). We must begin to ask questions of ourselves. Instead to passing the blame to the Almighty we must ask the tough questions – how could we allow such things to happen? If, as is suspected, this infection passed from bats to humans via intermediaries, then the questions of how we take care of our world and our fellow creatures, for whom God has given us responsibility must be asked. It is too easy to ‘pass the buck’. As we come out of this global crisis we must ask some challenging questions of ourselves, and it will take strong, visionary and wise leadership to grasp the situation, so that rather than letting the blame culture find scape-goats the world takes responsibility for our God-given commission to care for this creation that God looked at, and as our scriptures tell us, He saw that ‘it was good’ (Genesis 1:25).
- Christianity believes that God understands and identifies with suffering and pain. The Father who ‘gave His one and only Son’ (John 3:16) to the world in order to rescue our broken and fallen world, felt the full force of grief as He watched His beloved suffer the cruellest of deaths on the cross, as the only way for this distorted creation, that He continues to love, to be restored into that relationship with Him, for which we were created. Time and again our scriptures witness to God’s presence with, and His love for, the broken-hearted, the sick, the lonely, the poor and destitute. The Christian God feels for His people, stands alongside them and bring comfort and healing. And for Christians it is the resurrection of Jesus which we have just celebrated at Easter that gives us both the assurance that the risen Jesus is still with us and a hope for the future, with the promise of God’s recreation in the New Heaven and Earth of which the resurrection of Jesus is a foretaste.
- This pandemic provides us with God-given opportunities to stop and ask what kind of a world do we want to live in. In the UK the gods of our secular society have been shown up as powerless and irrelevant – useless – with our shops closed, our sports stadiums empty, with the gods of fashion and materialism seen merely as vanity without real value. It is an opportunity to ask the questions about what really matters in life. For many we are hearing of a rediscovery of the values of family life, spending time together, of love for each other which pressures of work, the influences of society to earn more, to be busy, busy, busy can so easily crowd out. We are hearing of selfless giving in caring for the vulnerable and housebound, let’s alone the costly devotion that our health and caring services are giving to the weakest and sickest in our communities.
These last few weeks as I’ve walked out into my gardens at night the view in the sky is opening up. I live just south of Manchester city centre, and for many years now each night is a haze through which the moon might appear, with an occasional star. Now with less traffic, producing less pollution I can see the stars – God’s handiwork beautifully displayed before the world. Could this be a time to radically re-think some of the fundamental issues which drive our world? We will have to ask hard questions about how we treat the millions of animals, with whom we share this world, if we are not to see a regular repeat of these kinds of viruses. Is it time to consider how we can ‘take care’ of this planet that God has given us responsibility for, to stop exploiting it in a mad scramble for wealth, often at the expense of the poorest. Perhaps it is time to ask questions about how we exploit the poorest – the Christian scriptures are clear that God hears the cry of the poor and oppressed and that the Christian message of hope in the resurrection of Jesus is ‘good news for the poor’ (Luke 4:18). Issues of fairness and justice might become the guiding principles in how the rich North builds relationships with the poor South – the removal of the crippling debt repayments, trade tariffs and other injustices.
And the overriding issue of our time – how to stop exploiting the world’s resources such that we are destroying our planet – plastics, pollution, rising sea levels, overcrowding to name just a few issues. Let alone the wars, where selfish leaders seek to gain control over their citizens and others. In the end they will be judged, both by history, and the Almighty.
So where is God in this present crisis – Christians believe that God is here with us, alongside us, that through the Holy Spirit He brings comfort to the oppressed, and the hurt, the bereaved and the dying. And as we open our lives to Him in Christ he will fill them, with hope and courage to face the future with all its uncertainty and insecurity. But also He calls us to face our responsibilities for the future, to make bold and radical decisions that will change direction and bring about the values and qualities of life that He had made us to live by. We need leaders in our world willing to take such steps which will be costly, sacrificial, that will look for best for all, not just our own peoples. We have an opportunity to rethink and dream of a better world, God’s world. And that is my prayer that out of this will emerge leaders of clear vision who will have the courage to lead in new and godly directions.
Written by Phil Rawlings