Where Is God in the Pandemic?

by Rev. Steve Kindle

Psalm 46, particularly vs.1-2

God is our refuge and strength,
   a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
   though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

“We will not fear though the earth should change.” The earth is changing before our very eyes. We are entering what is increasingly being called the “new normal.” What we have known as our way of life is currently upside down. The freedoms we had are reduced to the boundaries of our homes. Our jobs, if we have them, are increasingly vanishing. Our families are learning to care for each other from a distance. When and if we emerge from this pandemic, and there are no guarantees of that (vaccines may never be created), the world will have certainly changed. America, itself, has lost its notion of invincibility, and the façade of superiority in all things has vanished with the virus. There will be a new normal, one which we may hardly recognize.

As a boy, I remember my grandparents talking about the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. It killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans. They lived in rural North Dakota and were largely away from the infectious centers, but the dread of the disease did not escape them. Everyone knew they could be the next casualty. Psalm 46 was a favorite of many as they awaited their fate.

Where do you turn to find hope and support in the pandemic of our day? I suggest Psalm 46 is just as relevant today as it was then. Psalms are often quite hyperbolic. To get to the total assurances this Psalm provides hyperbole yields to a Messianic interpretation. Many Jewish scholars prefer this explanation. In the first place, we know, post-Holocaust, that God’s protection did not extend to the 6 million Jews who perished. So how can we rely on it at all?

Casting this as referring to the Messianic age removes it from the wars and pandemics of life on earth and places it in a time foreseen by Isaiah in 2:4–

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

But what about today, now, as we suffer through the most challenging time of our lives? Is there nothing we can count on from God to address this often terrifying situation? Well, yes, but only if we are able to adjust our view of God. God works within the creation according to its laws. God does not supernaturally adjust reality, what we used to think of as miracles. So, what does God do? Forgive this oversimplistic response, but God equips those who open themselves to enlarging their spirit to deeper love, understanding, and compassion. Then God accompanies them into the world of pain, pandemic, and sorrow to minister to the forlorn. Another way of looking at this is the purpose of the church. We don’t exist just for ourselves, but for the sake of the world. If God could change any situation for the better by a figurative snap of the finger, we wouldn’t be needed. But we are needed, and God is counting on us to be the answer now. Not miracle, not false hope, but the emergence of God’s people for the world. This may not be the most satisfying or hoped for explanation, but I believe it is all we have. It is time for the church-at-large to rise to the occasion and show how God is truly in the world.  The question becomes less of where is God than where in the world are we?

PRAYER

Our God, we come to you now acknowledging that we have fallen short of being the light of the world. We are to reflect the light that comes from you upon all we know and do. We realize that your influence in and on the world is very much dependent upon us. Strengthen our resolve to be faithful to your purposes for us. Increase in us our capacities for service. Help us to realize the value we have in one another as we serve together.

We sing together:

Renew your church, our ministries restore:
both to serve and adore.
Make us again as salt throughout the land,
and as light from a stand.
‘Mid somber shadows of the night,
where greed and hatreds spread their blight,
O send us forth with power endued,
help us, Lord to be renewed.

AMEN

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