Keeping the faith in a pandemic
Where is God? If I had a pound for every time I've been asked that one, I could fund the NHS. During the worst of the Troubles, after 9/11, the 2004 tsunami, coronavirus ... where is God?
It is a difficult question. A mystery, I would say, in no way to duck out of the dilemma evil throws into the philosophising needs of human beings.
However, my friend Inderjit Bhogal, Methodist minister, theologian and once leader of the Corrymeela Community, has a fantastic answer that not only satisfies me, for the most part, but inspires me and has me looking for the imaginative ways of the divine even in the depths of our dark days.
Inderjit puts it simply. Check the first two verses of the Bible. That explains where God is and the rest of the Bible and our lives prove the point - 1:1. In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth. 1:2. Now the Earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
There was an emptiness, a formless void over the deep. That wasn't God. God was there, though. Not only there, but creating. A few weeks ago, on Good Friday, we saw God in another deep, dark void. The depths of humanity's violence and injustice was highlighted on a hill outside Jerusalem.
Look closely at that Easter scene. There is a dead man walking to execution, having been falsely tried. Where's God?
There are those gambling for a condemned man's robes. Where's God? There are two thieves nailed to crosses. Where's God? The city is mocking, sneering, spitting. Where is God?
God is central to the scene. He is the condemned. He is the mocked. He is the dead man between the thieves.
When the sky went dark that Friday afternoon, God was there, identifying with humanity in all its injustice. Dare I suggest God is creating resurrection right in the middle of murder.
So, in the deep, dark depths of coronavirus, I expect God to be where God always is; hovering over this murkiness, this tragedy, empathising with those who have lost loved ones and those fighting for their lives in Nightingale hospitals.
And I do not only expect God to just be there, but to be creating, too. God will be weaving good in the seeming despair.
Members of my congregation have told me about neighbours arriving at their door with packages of food. I have watched strangers pass strangers at a safe social distance and ask how they are coping with lockdown.
I have received the generosity of money towards feeding the homeless. I have given endless references for volunteers wanting to help at foodbanks. I have shown a video in church of two young men in a Ugandan slum doing their best to feed 5,000 families, as starvation threatens to take them before Covid-19.
Goodness, hope and grace at work in this valley of the shadow.
Then, there are the lessons. Do we want to go back to the speed life was? Do we want to live with the same empty priorities? Has what we used to think was necessary changed?
God has not gifted this sabbatical. God would prefer it wasn't happening at all. However, if we listen we will hear God whispering to us to imagine better days and better ways to live on the other side. Where is God in coronavirus times? Right there. Here. Seen. Unseen. Hovering. Creating. Resurrecting. Where he has always been.
Rev Steve Stockman is minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, Belfast
Readings for the week ahead:
Monday - Genesis 1:1-2
Tuesday - Job 5:8-16
Wednesday - Isaiah 57:15
Thursday - John 1
Friday - Romans 8