I’ve always found that one of my greatest laments in serving as pastor of a church is that worship becomes different for me. The liturgy, the inner-workings of the overall program, the fact that I am ‘in the spotlight’ all adds to an experience of worship that is wrapped up in the throes of leadership that, while worshipful, is somewhat less so just by the nature of the role.
What I’ve found in the midst of our sheltering in place is that I’ve had opportunities to tune into worship with other churches online. It has been a blessing...most of the time. However, I heard a message the other day that I think warrants a response.
The jist of the worship theme was: “God created COVID-19 to bring more people to Him!”
I feel like I need to voice a deep theological response to this statement...Are you ready for it? Here it goes…
”Nope!” or perhaps, “False.
That’s it! That’s all I got.
But isn’t God in control? Isn’t God omnipotent? Don’t all things happen for a reason?
Ahhh… perhaps you can see the theological dilemma. If God is in this kind of control then this COVID-19 pandemic must be from God or at least has been allowed to transpire by God for a divine purpose?
This kind of theology can seem like a faithful understanding of the nature of God as attested to in scripture? Afterall, in the First Testament, we see God flooding the world to cleanse it. We see God leading God’s people to declare ‘holy war’ on others with the instructions to kill every man, woman, and child. We see God allowing unimaginable things to happen to his servant Job. We see God bringing plagues upon Egypt. It seems like God is not beyond such devastating means to fulfill God’s purposes at times.
But then we have Jesus Christ, who we confess to be fully and wholly God just as he is fully and wholly human. In Christ, we begin to paint a different, expanded picture of God; a God who shows power only insofar as God gives it away. We see a God who sacrifices God’s son for an undeserving humanity. We see a God who does not cause harm to people, but who bears it with those who suffer. We begin to paint the picture of a God who does not cause catastrophe so that people might come to know God, but a God who journeys with us, by our side, in the depths of hell in our lives because God loves us that much! We see a suffering servant, not a tyrannical dictator who would throw some lives away to save others. We see a shepherd going after one lost sheep at a time.
So I would have to say, ‘No, God did not create COVID-19 for some divine purpose.’ To make such a confession would be to say that God caused the plague, or the wildfires, or the hurricanes, or all other horrible tragedies that befall the world, or at least that God simply did not stop such things from happening. Is that the kind of God that we worship and serve; one who throws lives away to save others, who does not stop tragedies from occurring though God has the power to do so? That’s not what we see in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s not what we see in the gospels and, I’d argue, throughout Scripture.
Perhaps we need to rethink our theology of an ‘all-powerful’ God ‘in control’ of all things. It sounds comforting to think about, but problematic when it comes to what we know in the gospels and experience in life. ‘God in control’ does not mean that God is a puppet master pulling the strings of creation. If that were the case, then all notions of relationship and love become nothing more than choreographed, pre-programmed responses rather than true community. ‘God in control’ might better reflect God’s ultimate plan for God’s coming Kingdom and the ‘age to come,’ or reflect in God’s power over death and promise of new life, or perhaps in God’s providential care and presence in the midst of hardship and struggle.
But I digress. That topic warrants a deeper conversation for which this article does not allot space. But what we can say for sure is that even in the midst of horrible circumstances, we are assured that God does not abandon us and is with us even when it seems like walls are crumbling all around. God is working, as always, for our good not wanting harm to come to any of God’s children. God’s love for us is such. And we, the body of Christ, bear the responsibility to embody that Love in the world; in our caregiving, in our healing, in our prayer, in our responsibility to our neighbors.
God did not cause the COVID-19 pandemic, but you can be sure that God is at work in the midst of it, in you, in me, in the Church, and in ways we cannot even fathom. God embraces the loved ones of those who have died. God weeps with them. God cries tears of joy when people recover from the virus. God dances when we find new ways to love our family and friends and to be the body of Christ. God listens when we pray, and answers all prayers. Just because God did not cause this, does not mean that God will not find ways to bring new life in the midst of it.
Saints of PCN, blessings to you in this time. It has been quite a wilderness journey and continues to be even as I write this article. May you be reminded of the God who sits with you during this pandemic, not idly twiddling God’s thumbs, but loving you wholly and fully like no one else can. Such is our Lord and Savior.
With Grace & Peace,