By Bob Tiller
In this difficult time of fear, upheaval and loss, many people ask, “Where is God in the corona- virus? Why is God forsaking us in our crisis?”
This is neither an academic exercise nor an issue for a few outliers in our religious communities to pursue. These are crucial questions for every person and every faith community. The virus pandemic challenges deeply-held convictions about God and God’s role in our lives. People are sick and people are dying, and we are getting seriously upset with God over it. We can easily conclude that God has turned a deaf ear to us, that God is indifferent to our suffering, that God is failing to live up to the role and responsibilities that we have assigned to God. We may even feel a sense of panic as we consider the possibility that God has totally abandoned us in our time of need.
Such feelings of aloneness and panic are rooted in old notions that were imparted to us decades ago, especially the idea that God is the one who can fix our problems if we pray hard enough. Christians have relied so frequently on the words “save” and “saved” that we regard God as a great rescuer who pulls us back from the abyss, the lifeguard who grabs us when the waves are too threatening. We feel sad, rejected and angry when bad stuff happens, especially widespread and long-lasting bad stuff like the coronavirus, and we blame God for allowing it to go on.
I believe that it is time – indeed, it is long past time – to give up this view of God. I believe that we should discard the concept of a God who acts outside the structures of science and nature to rescue us if our prayers are of sufficient quantity or quality. Let’s think instead about a God who is complete love and compassion, not a God whose acts of care are uncertain. Let’s strive to see God as love acting in and through the entire natural world, including in and through humans. Let’s acknowledge that God is hurting deeply right now, and that God suffers in our suffering. Let’s accept that there is no supernatural God swooping in to rescue us. Maybe then we can accept the loving God within us and around us, the God who sustains us in our struggle to defeat the virus and survive the economic slowdown.
Well-intentioned people often say that we should just have faith in the face of suffering. I think that is lousy advice. It sounds like faith is a commodity, a thing to be acquired and held. For me faith is not a thing and it cannot be possessed. For me faith is not a noun at all, but should always be understood as a verb. Unfortunately, English does not have a verb for faith, so we must create one – faithing. (It would be conjugated like this: I am faithing, you are faithing, she is faithing, we are faithing, you are faithing, they are faithing.)
Faithing means trying to follow the example and teachings of Jesus, trying to grow in discipleship. Faithing means attempting to live each day with values that embrace the sacredness of all creation, values that may not be shared by others around us. Faithing means seeing God in life’s daily activities and giving thanks for God’s love in my life and in yours. Faithing means pursuing peace and justice for all creation – and knowing that
a loving God is present in that pursuit. Faithing means realizing that today I may have real doubts concerning God, and tomorrow I may again have real doubts, but God still loves me. Faithing is seeing God’s face and God’s presence in every person on the planet. Faithing enables us to live with real hope. Faithing means trying to pray even when I find it difficult to do so. Faithing is something that I try to do every single day, even every hour, especially in these difficult days.
All of us know someone who has been slammed by the current crisis – someone who has been sick, someone who has died, someone who has lost a job, someone who is unsure about where to get food or health care. As faithing people, we hold them in our
hearts and we live courageously in the era of the deadly virus, because we have felt God’s love and we want our lives to be filled with and joined to that love.
Where is God in the coronavirus? God is in the loving acts performed by millions of people each day; some of those acts are heroic and some are ordinary, but God is in them all. God is in the loving decisions that people make to do their part to halt the virus’s spread – through staying at home, through physical distancing when out, through wearing a mask, and much more. God is in the decisions of churches and organizations to cancel gatherings, no matter how frustrating such decisions are. God is in the daily work of nurses, janitors, grocery clerks, drivers and millions of others who are valiantly helping us all to live. God is in the tears of the lonely, the fearful, the bereaved. God is in the faithing of each of us each day as we struggle through the virus crisis.
Rev. Robert Tiller is a retired American Baptist clergyperson, living in Silver Spring, MD. He served for six years as the Alliance’s volunteer representative to Churches for Middle East Peace.