Hello St. Paul’s,
When bad things happen, we look for explanations. It’s part of the amazing curiosity and drive of the human species that we seek answers to all the mysteries of the universe, and that includes the mystery of illness. Why does one person get terribly sick or die from COVID but not another? And, on a much larger scale, why is humanity being afflicted with this awful virus? The scientists seek answers in epidemiology, and the politicians seek scapegoats and imagine conspiracies, but there’s a strand of human nature, going back millennia, that attributes misfortune to sin.
We see it over and over in the Hebrew Scriptures: in Psalm 78, which we read this week in morning prayer, we hear it put quite succinctly: “they went on sinning and had no faith in [God’s] wonderful works. So he brought their days to an end like a breath and their years in sudden terror.” (vss 32-33). In other books, when the people of Israel were driven into exile they attributed their suffering to their lack of fidelity to the God who had brought them out of slavery.
This bad theology survives today in those who preach that America is suffering because of a cultural current or a political direction, or those who suggest that rape happens because a woman somehow asks for it. But as Christians we know better. We know that natural disasters are nobody’s fault, that there is no justification for violent assault. We know that Jesus didn’t deserve to suffer a horrendous death. We believe in a God of love, not in a God who extracts terrible vengeance or who causes suffering.
So how do we explain this to ourselves and each other? How do we make sense of our world in this time? People are getting sick and dying prematurely. Businesses are going bankrupt. Individuals are losing their savings and their livelihoods. Whatever we may think about government policies, the source of all this hardship is a virus that has no consciousness and no agenda. We cannot blame a virus for doing what viruses do.
Our species is incredibly resilient. We can and have adapted to the most challenging circumstances and have not only survived but thrived and advanced in understanding, technology, and wisdom as we have come through pandemics, wars, famines, totalitarian regimes and everything else that either nature or humanity’s worst instincts could throw at us. We live in an age when mystery is suspect and the internet tells us that everything is explainable, but as people of faith we accept that there are some things we will never understand. We can look back through three millennia and see how our ancestors overcame hardship, and we can look to the teachings of Jesus to lead us forward in spite of all the challenges, confident that the future belongs to our loving God.
Assigning blame and focusing on negativity doesn’t help anyone’s emotional health. Instead, join me in rejecting the bad theology; let’s embrace a theology of the beloved community, knowing that with God, everything is possible, and that life abundant is still the promise.
See you on Sunday!