Kelly Edmiston on How to Explain the Coronavirus Theologically

Image: Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

My family and I were driving to the beach not long ago. My husband, my mother and our three children loaded up the mini-van and decided to spend the day playing in the sand and splashing in the waves. Day trips have become fairly common these days during this Coronavirus quarantine. There I was, sitting in the very back seat of the mini-van next to my 7-year old son. I watched him as he stared out the window and made comments about the cars driving by.

Out of nowhere, he turned to me and said, “Mommy, I think God gave us the Coronavirus so that we could spend more time together as a family.” I froze. It was one of those moments where, as a parent, time stands still. I didn’t know what to say.

On one hand, I was happy that he was grateful for all of our extra family time. I thought about all of the ways we had practiced gratitude together and this told me that something was sticking with him. On the other hand, I was panicking inside because of how he viewed God. I didn’t want him to view God as one who gives viruses. This is the “Divine Child Abuser God” that I have spent the last ten years ridding my theology of. This “Corona-Virus-Giving-God” is the one who orchestrates suffering “for our good.” This is the God who will “never give us more than we can handle.” This is the God who claims “one more angel for heaven” when a child dies, and all the other clichés that I have grown to hate.

I didn’t want my son to see God this way! I lamented my bad parenting in my own mind. Surely he did not learn this from me or his dad, I panicked.

His innocent comment exposes the human condition, especially our condition in the midst of suffering. We are searching, seeking and grasping for meaning. We want to make sense of our suffering and some of us believe that if God ordained it, then surely it has a divine and redemptive purpose. In other words, one way we make sense of suffering is by believing that God has given it to us in order to teach us something.

You don’t have to look far to find this theology in Christian culture in America. In a new book, Coronavirus and Christ, John Piper writes, “The coronavirus is God’s thunderclap call for all of us to repent and realign our lives with the infinite worth of Christ.” (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/podcasts/gospelbound/john-piper-coronavirus-and-christ/)

The problem with this view of God (as a God who doles out suffering to teach a lesson about realigning my life with Christ) is that it puts the onus of faith on me. I must realign. I must repent. I must awaken from my slumber, which shouldn’t be too hard to do in response to a thunderclap! I must “learn this lesson” before God takes away my suffering. The problem with all of this is that it doesn’t work in causing humans to “realign” their lives with God. Suffering doesn’t point me to the “infinite worth of Christ.” In fact, most people I know are not interested in a God who has to use a Coronaviruses to get our attention. This God seems weak and petty and really not all that creative. (Really, a virus when God could have used something more flashy?)

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Source: Christianity Today