There are many great theological takes out there about leaning in to God during this unusual period of self-isolation and fear in the time of Covid-19. But for every great theological take, there’s always several bad ones that spring up as well.
There is no religious tradition that is immune to bad theology, but since I’m a Christian, I’m calling out my own tribe on this one.
One church in my state of Colorado has a pastor refusing to follow the CDC guidelines for preventing the spread of the coronavirus, because none of them are found in the Bible.
Another pastor is making the claim that if only you increase your faith, the Lord will increase your rolls of toilet paper (not satire).
Still another pastor has said he plans to “bind the coronavirus with prayer.”
In my latest book, I explain why suffering is an integral part of the gospel, and describe how some of the moments I felt closest to the Lord were also some of the most painful. Moreover, I have spent a great deal of time studying the lives of saints and martyrs who chose the way of suffering over safety. The world would not have benefited from their contributions to medicine, scholarship, and more, without the conviction that life is more than being comfortable.
One need not choose between faith and modern medicine. God created a world that operates by natural laws, which means that viruses do not care what your religious beliefs are. If you refuse to wash your hands or continue gathering in large groups, your faith will not protect you from getting sick — or from passing the virus on to others.
Jesus himself wasn’t spared from suffering — why should any of us be?
If faith and prayer alone could protect against every illness, then Christians wouldn’t fall sick and die at the same rate as the secular. Christians would never die young or unexpectedly at all. We know that is not the case. If every single illness or death were the result of some unrepented sin, then none of us would make it to old age.
What I believe God does in situations like this is use the hurt — be it an illness, or some other negative circumstance — as a refining tool. That isn’t to say God caused the painful thing, but rather that he can work with it, as if it happened for another, higher purpose. This distinction is subtle, but significant enough to be distinguished from the common trope that “everything happens for a reason.” Sometimes the reason is pure biology; sometimes the reason can’t be known at all.
What Christians should know is that lament can be a tool to bring community together — even if that community “meets” virtually via Skype or Zoom for the time being. Fear and pain can draw us near to the God who knows exactly what that feels like.
As Good Friday draws near, let us not forget that everything we are feeling right now is nothing that Jesus did not experience first.