As the coronavirus brings our world to a standstill, and as it continues to wreak global havoc, are you wondering where God is in the midst of this crisis? If miracles took place in the Biblical times, why can’t God miraculously heal the world right now? An aunt of mine who attends my daily live-streamed Mass said to me the other day, “Whether I pray or not, the virus is doing its damage.” Are miracles made up stories? Why does God not just make the virus go away? Is God powerless? Or, is God removed from our daily drudgery and sorrow? Why is God silent?
The most honest answer I can give is, “I don’t know!” There are other answers people are giving, such as, “God has given us the brains to find a solution,” or “God is teaching us something,” or “God is making us trust in God more,” or “God is punishing us.” My answer is different. On the most basic level, I admit, “I do not know.” I do not know God’s mind. Hence my admission of the lack of knowledge of God’s plan in this particular instance.
Having said that, based on the history of salvation, I would like to attempt an answer. This is not a fool proof attempt. Anybody can raise further questions or pick weaknesses in my rationale. As I admit, I do not know everything, especially not the mind of God. Ultimately, only God is omniscient. So here my rationale.
A ‘Theodicy', Question. In Christian theology, theodicy focuses on reconciling the concept of a good and loving God with human suffering. It is an age-old question. It began in the book of Genesis and the entire book of Job is dedicated to it. There are no easy answers!
A Broken World. First, Christian theology teaches us that we live in a broken world. Much of the cause of suffering is attributed to the first sin, where human being chose to take matters into their own hands. So, here is the reality. Our world is a broken world and the pandemic is a manifestation of the brokenness. The tornadoes that killed people the other day is a manifestation of a broken world. The wars, the illnesses, the sufferings, the poverty, the misery in our world is a manifestation of a broken world. We attribute this brokenness to sin.
Why does God Not Intervene Now? Once again, at the most basic level, I do not know. All I know is that there was a day when God’s own son hung on the cross, feeling abandoned and dying. God spared Abraham’s son Isaac, but God did not spare God’s own son. God was silent on that day. God let Jesus die. Not even a woman weeping for her brutally murdered innocent son changed the reality. But if Jesus had not died, there also would have been no resurrection. God sent God’s son into the world to embrace humanity and to let us know that God loves us beyond our brokenness, beyond death! Jesus’ death tells us God’s love is indeed limitless, unconditional and eternal. God’s silence, in the most paradoxical way, was a sign of God’s eternal love.
The Question of Human Freedom. The central message of Christianity is not miracles. Many of us, when we think of God, we think of a spectacular magician. God can do anything and so God should. However, God did not send Jesus into the world work miracles. Miracles were only instrumental. Miracles were meant to reveal Jesus’ identity. I am even not sure if Jesus healed every person in Palestine. God did not send Jesus into the world to work miracles. Think about this - the best way to get the whole world to believe in God would have been to miraculously get Jesus off the cross! Everybody would have believed. God did not work that way. Or even after the resurrection, why did Jesus not appear to Pontus Pilate, or to the chief priest, or the Caesar? Jesus could have. But Jesus did not. But Jesus did not, because God’s ultimate goal was not to work miracles and compel the whole world to believe in God. That would compromise human freedom. Then, we would love God not because we choose to, or want to, but are compelled to.
The Central Message: A Faithful God. The central message of Christianity is God’s fidelity to the world and the human race. God’s ultimate goal is to get us all into eternal life. Human life is conditioned. There is a natural cycle of life. We are born, we live, we age, and we die. Some die before they are born, some die young, some die before they hit old age. God did not send Jesus so that none of us may age, or never die humanly. God sent Jesus to bring us all into eternal life with God. Someday we will all become ill and some day we will all die. And when that happens God has us covered. The death of Jesus is evidence that God has cared for us beyond death. And that is real message of Christianity.
Are We Trustworthy? The question is not only about trusting God for miracles but also about being trustworthy for God. God gave us a model in Jesus. Just likeJesus always did the right thing, God trusts us to do the right thing! God does not endorse irresponsible behavior. Whenever we mess things up, if God would just come and set everything right by a miracle, as if, by magic. Rather, God has entrusted the world to us to take care of it and one another. Often, we misuse that trust. We create wars, we have made a mess of this world, we are ruining the environment, we are living irresponsibly and unsustainably, we try to take short cuts for the highest profit margin, we focus on profit-making at the cost of human life. Unless we change, there will not a better world! Think about it - three million children die of hunger each year. However, there is enough food to feed every hungry child and every human person. Do we feed everybody? If we did, three million people would not be dying each year. But children die of hunger because we have created and unjust economic system that relies on artificial food shortage. Children die of hunger because we can be selfish people who do not care about others. Children die of hunger because profit making is more important than human lives. Yes, our world is a broken world, but much of the suffering in the world originates from our own actions. God is not doing this to us. We are doing this to ourselves. Even now, the best thing to do is to lock down and stay at home so that we do not endanger other and ourselves. Are we doing it? I am afraid our primary consideration seems to be the economy and not human lives. Many times, God could not help us even if God wanted us to.
God WITH Us! We have a God who does not work FOR us but WITH us. I have said thus far that suffering is a manifestation of a broken world, a world affected by sin. I have also said that much of our suffering is human-made – like the coronavirus pandemic! Where is God in the midst of all this? I believe that God is not somewhere up there, waiting to work a magic trick for us. Rather, God is with us and suffering WITH us. God is weeping WITH us. God is WITH the ones who mourn a dead relative. God is WITH us when we are afraid. God is in our tears and in our prayers. God is AMONG us in the doctors, nurses and health care workers who are on the frontlines. God is AMONG us as the researchers who are trying to find a vaccine. For all the people who have died, there are hundreds of thousands who have recovered because of the selfless care of others. Our focus has been on those who have died. But for the many who have recovered, have we thanked God? What if these are the miracles we are overlooking? When was the last time we thanked God for the good things that have also happened? This is the story of Jesus. He took our suffering upon himself, died on the cross in solidarity with us. God is WITH us and perhaps we do not always look for God in the good news or find God in our good things.
The Choice is Ours. Do you believe in this kind of a God? The choice is ours. My answer to my aunt who said to me, “Whether we pray or not, the virus is doing its damage,” was, “prayer is meant to help us deal with this crisis with faith.” In other words, our prayer may or may not be that God come and work a miracle. The greater purpose of prayer is to help us not give into fear, despair, hopelessness, and discouragement. The prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane did not take the cup away from him, but rather, gave him the strength to drink the cup, to bear the cross, to die for human redemption. There is the old adage, “prayer does not change things, but prayer changes us.”
That Would Be a Miracle! God is still in control of the world. God still loves us. Jesus us still alive and WITH us. It may not be how we want God to be with us. We want miracles. God wishes that we could envision the kind of world God has in mind for us. God wishes that we could cooperate with God rather than wait for God to cooperate in creating an unsustainable world. And even if we did, God would love us beyond our short-sightedness. After all, God did not come to work miracles. God came to tell us that God will never stop loving us; that God loves beyond a broken world, a broken human condition, beyond death, into eternal life. Meanwhile, let us all resolve to cooperate to make our world the way God envisions it. Now, that would be a miracle!
- Fr. Satish Joseph