Where is God in the pandemic?

by | Sep 20, 2021 | Reflections

Here’s a slightly longer version of John’s reflection on ‘Where is God in the pandemic.’  The original appeared in last week’s Highland News as the ‘Christian Viewpoint’ column.

A Christian Viewpoint reader told me it would be helpful if the column dealt more with items in the news, and suggested I tackle the question ‘why God hasn’t intervened in the pandemic?’ Here goes!

This question assumes God has been inactive.  But I see God as an immense spiritual presence bigger by far than the universe but active in every molecule of creation, the life-force linking all things.

In these terms, God is active in the pandemic. God prompts creativity, enquiry, compassion, courage.  God’s work is seen in a trillion kindnesses where people have shown love and care. The technical skills deployed in vaccine development are, I believe God-given. All creative work is an expression of God’s creativity.

But if God is so closely involved in creation, then how are viruses and plagues even possible? How could an omnipotent, infinitely loving God permit this?

Bible scholars and philosophers have long wrestled with this question. My personal view is that just as human beings have some degree of freedom of choice, so God sets the universe free to develop, to fulfil possibilities both good and evil. God generally limits miraculous interventions to preserve this freedom– though I believe too in events for which the only appropriate word is ‘miracle.’

But I’m convinced that when we suffer, God suffers too. God suffers when creative possibilities are bent towards darkness rather than light. God suffers with the widow, the victim, the person with mental health issues, the patient struggling to breath in ICU.

Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in Jesus Christ who reveals God to us. Jesus suffered –  scorn, opposition, and finally an agonising death. That is where we find God in the pandemic – sharing our pain.

We may come closer to understanding God in suffering than in asking big questions from a place of comfort. I remember sitting in a church in Glasgow in the spring of 1980, profoundly anxious and depressed. The minister quoted the words of Job, a character in an ancient biblical drama whose life was in ruins despite his god-loving nature: ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.’

Those words pierced my darkness, and I knew that despite my pain, my hurt, my unanswered questions, I was able to say to the God whose love and immensity I had previously glimpsed ‘I will trust you, whatever.’

There are no easy answers. But once we have glimpsed the love of God it is possible to live with the questions, to entrust ourselves to the Great Love and to the promised future when as a consequence of Jesus’ resurrection ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’

(The picture is of Job, depicted by Leon Bonnat in 1880.)