Experiencing God through COVID-19
How are your experiencing God through the COVID-19 pandemic? Here's Pastor Tony Minear with his insights...
My emotions are becoming more and more erratic. Typically, Reason sits on the throne of my psyche’s palace with my emotions sequestered in their rooms. That is, until my emotions are triggered. If the triggering event is mild, they may whimper some or rattle the door of their rooms. However, a strong trigger will generally free them, and they come bounding into the throne room throwing Reason from her throne. Over time, Reason is able to restore harmony and resume her rightful place. Recently, however, my emotions have been poked a lot. Welcome to my world of coping with CVD19.
I am curious as to how other Christians might be coping with this pandemic and how it has impacted their spiritual experience. To manage my endeavor, I have divided Christians into two broad categories, monotheists and non-monotheists.
According to a 2018 Pew Survey, four in five American adults believe in God. Seventy percent of these adults are monotheistic. Makes sense as this is the view of God primarily depicted throughout the Bible. In its broadest sense, monotheism affirms that God is one. Undress the oneness of God and you find underneath an image of a god who is creator of the universe and who continually intervenes and sustains it all while enjoying a personal relation with its creatures. This god is sovereign and makes sure everything will work out for the best. However, in a time of crisis, such as this pandemic, questions inevitably arise even around this monotheistic god.
For example, one might ask is CVD19 a punishment from God? “Yes,” some whole-heartedly will reply and then quickly explain to you why and upon whom God is actively directing judgment. Others prefer to view the pandemic as God acting passively. God didn’t cause CVD19. God allowed it. So, why did God “allow” it? The short answer is our world no longer exists in its once pristine condition. Diseases and disasters are natural consequences of sin. God did not miraculously block CVD19 from happening because God would have acted counter to the consequences of sin that God set forth. Therefore, God allows us to suffer the consequences of our ancestor’s and our own failures.
During times of hardship, fear or panic, these questions do not stop monotheists from running to God for protection and guidance to help make sense of what they are experiencing. Perhaps, this is why more than half of Christians surveyed have prayed for an end to this pandemic (82% of evangelicals, 68% of Catholics, and 65% of mainline Protestants). Prayer prompts God to act on our behalf as well as a means to connect with God and find inner peace and assurance. It makes sense then, that President Trump’s call for a national day of prayer on March 15 in response to the coronavirus pandemic was received so well.
Personally, I am no longer comfortable identifying as a monotheistic Christian. Is God one? I imagine so. Is God macro- or micromanaging our world? Probably not. There are a variety of reasons for such doubt. However, my emotional buttons are pushed when extreme traditional ideas of God begin to jeopardize human lives. Some churches and their pastors believe they are demonstrating faith and loyalty to God by disobeying admonitions by health and civil authorities to not gather in large numbers and to practice public distancing. Their beliefs and reckless actions may potentially kill someone. I emotionally respond to those who call it faith and claim to know exactly what God is doing. This isn’t faith. It is arrogance. The dark side of monotheism flashes forth when it claims to be able to discern which enemies God is punishing, and how secure and protected they are because they align with God’s will and intentions. I am far more comfortable embracing the mystery of God and the humility as expressed by the writer of Isaiah 55:8, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not My ways, says the Lord.”
To identify as a non-monotheist does not mean that you do not believe in God. That would be an atheist. You can be a polytheist, pantheist, panentheist, deist, along with other types of theism and still believe in a god. So, how do those of us who do not hold to a traditional view of God, cope with CVD19?
First, by acknowledging that life is unpredictable, and mortality is our pre-existent condition. This isn’t easy. We humans have convinced ourselves that in order to survive we must tame nature, explain the mysterious, and reject the idea of death. As a result, we leave little room for the unknowable; the mystery of life, nature, and even God. This invisible virus owned that and burst our illusions of being in control. Mystery continues to surround us. No amount of knowledge, money, or power will change that. We must learn how to accept this reality. It takes time and patience to grow into living with ambiguity. We must practice living in the “Now” more often than retreating to the past or jumping ahead to a make-believe future. Over time, we will discover that it is in the present we are most at peace with and open to the mysterious.
Secondly, by loving ourselves. For some, the theory of evolution does not immediately negate the existence of God. However, this is not the traditional idea of God. Rather, God is expressed as the spark, energy of life, or ultimate source of being itself. If this is true, then the Divine and all creation are intertwined with one another. Or, the Divine is assumed to be one with creation and, at the same time, distinct from it. Either way, this understanding of God emphasizes that as we embrace our being in all its dimensions (physical, emotional, and psychological) we are mysteriously in some unknown way in sync with the Divine. By caring for our bodies, accepting without self-judgment the variety of emotions we are experiencing during this crisis, and acknowledging, though not necessarily believing, all the thoughts that pass through our minds, we honor God and find within ourselves the resources needed to carry on despite our circumstances.
Lastly, by making love real for others. The Hindis greet one another saying, “Namaste,” i.e. the sacred in me recognizes the sacred in you. Jesus expresses this same idea of shared essence by stating that we are all children of God. This is enough motivation to widen my life circle to include family, friends, casual acquittances and even strangers. I realize my present circumstances are worse than some yet better than others. Ultimately, however, we are all in the same boat. So, when I get discouraged or tired of staying at home and miss the life I knew just a few months ago, I take a deep breath and recognize that I am doing this for you and me. Such solidarity is empowering.
Circumstances and experiences in life mold and shape us and our understanding of God. On the other side of CVD19 we will not be the same. Your ideas and experience of God will have shifted. The degree of change is yet to be determined. Perhaps, you will remain a monotheistic Christian with a slight twist to it. Or, you may begin to explore another way of seeing God. However it turns out, may you be open to learn and grow through this difficult time.