God and the Pandemic

Where is God in all this?

Ah me…the classic question that trips so easily off the tongue! Yet do we ever find a halfway satisfactory answer? And is it really the question we should be asking?

Especially during these strange pandemic times when everybody it seems, has their pet opinion as to exactly who is responsible for this mess, what we should be doing about it, (if I had any say in the matter), we’re all shouting to be heard above each other and conspiracy theories abound . Oh those ghastly night watches when the events of the day are whirling round in my brain like a load of washing caught in an everlasting spin cycle! There’s nothing like a bout of existential angst at 3.30 am to concentrate the mind. Who needs monsters under the bed when my imagination can supply the necessary in the time it takes to say Lighten our Darkness…?

I read all of N.T. Wright’s God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and its Aftermath, (SPCK 2020), during one of these sessions and found myself drawn into his reflections despite, or perhaps because of my initial misgivings, (entirely unfounded). Part of me thought It’s Tom Wright, there’ll be nothing too extreme, whilst the other part of me, (my inner cynic), thought Here we go; jumping on the bandwagon. Stand by for doom, gloom, and a plateful of pious platitudes.

Wrong on all counts! This was a careful, reasoned and compassionate reflection on theodicy (the mystery of evil and the problem of suffering); something theologians have wrestled with for several millennia. In plain speak: What on earth is happening? Who’s to blame? And where on earth is God? My style nowadays, if I ask it at all, is to misquote Oliver Hardy and admonish the Almighty, That’s one fine mess you’ve got us into.

Biblical platitudes can become as such when our poor attempts at theological reasoning are whipped out and used as a one-size-fits-all band aid to try and satisfy our desperate need to make sense of what’s often, sadly, beyond explanation. There is none of that here. With great sensitivity, Dr Wright puts the kind of questions many of us have been asking these past months into a wider biblical context. He addresses our tendency to ‘play God,’ and supply simplistic answers . Best of all, to my mind, he stresses the need for rediscovery of the ancient practice of lamentation and reminds us that sometimes, all we can do is simply sit there in the darkness with those who are suffering. And rather than fixate on who to blame, ask What can we do about this? Who can we send?

For a fuller (and more comprehensible!) reflection on God and the Pandemic, here’s an interview with the author himself. https://youtu.be/cSCRD7tOVeg.

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