Is the coronavirus a visitation from God?


Is the coronavirus a visitation from God?

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

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One of the first questions my neighbour asked me about the coronavirus is whether I believed it was a visitation from God. The question did not strike me as strange as I had heard it, or variations of it, before. I know that there are many people who hold this view, even among those who do not pretend even a modicum of belief in God.

Whenever phenomena of the likes of a virus pandemic break out, people in their fear, confusion, and attempts to put some meaning to the reality of the threat they face, tend to default to abstract notions of God's involvement in the particular event.

In a recent study by the prestigious and non-conservative University of Chicago Divinity School, in partnership with the Associated Press ( AP), it was found that about two-thirds of believing Americans felt that the coronavirus was a sign from God. They believe that God is telling humanity to change its behaviour, ostensibly to turn to him and pursue a path of righteousness. But it should be made clear to those who hold this belief that God has already spoken and a virus pandemic does not change what has already been said.

That aside, the study showed that evangelical protestants were more likely to believe strongly that the virus is a visitation from God — a high 43 per cent compared to 28 per cent of Catholics and mainline protestants. So, there is not any unanimity of thinking on the matter, and this gives oxygen to the liberal and conservative division in our churches.

It is not difficult to find a sign from God if you go searching for one. This is especially so with phenomena that seem to defy logic and pose existential threats to life itself. If the coronavirus itself is a visitation from God, what divine interest is served for a loving and just God to visit such a plague on humankind? Why subject his people, whom he created in his own image, especially the young and the elderly, to the horrors of life that we have seen unfurling in this pandemic? What pleasure is to be derived from intentionally inflicting pain and suffering on hapless and helpless people, simply because you want them to turn to you or because you are angry at something they have done? Do the means here justify the ends, even if the means are being used by a God whom we believe cares desperately about us to the extent of sending his son to die on the cross for our redemption?

I will be the first to admit that I do not have all the answers to these and other pertinent questions. But a God visiting a virus such as this upon the world just smacks of capriciousness, and betrays intellectual laziness on the part of those who believe it. Such a God is one driven by wrath and vendetta and would certainly not be worthy of my worship or veneration. It is easy to see God's hands in everything, and thus we end up blindly, as it tends to turn out, pinning everything on him like in the game of pinning the tail on the donkey.

As I told my neighbour, I would prefer to see what lessons we can learn or to discern how God could be speaking to us in this pandemic, instead of asserting things that I can never prove. Instead of torturing our minds we can instead be humble and admit that there are many things that we will never be able to understand. As I have written in this space before, viral, fungal, and bacterial agents are all parts of nature just as earthquakes and the impending hurricanes and storms about which we will be concerned come June.

You may ask why did God create them if they can do so much harm, but by the same token why not ask why he created us since our inhumanity to each other has resulted in catastrophic loss of lives and property down through the ages. If you stretch the logic, are these natural agents any more destructive to us than we are to each other? Just musing, but I think you get my drift.

Pandemics and natural disasters will plague us as long as life persists on this planet. This is a truth we have to accept and live with and hopefully apply our ingenuity and creativity to confront when we have to.

Instead of being preoccupied with things outside our finite realm of appreciation, why not concentrate on the things that we can and must do if we are to overcome this virus and bring back life to some semblance of normality. What about courtesy and kindness to the neighbour as a start? I still see people in the supermarkets, pharmacies and other public places not wearing masks or observing physical distancing. I would not be surprised that many of those who behave in this way are believers in God, yet there seems to be no concern as to whether they get the virus or pass it on to others who may be in the vulnerable demographics.

What about striving to remove the disparities and economic inequalities in our world which the coronavirus has laid bare in country after country. What about striving to promote sound governments and political leadership that is empathetic to human suffering and reorganising our societies that they can conform to greater equitable distribution of and accountability for the resources of the Earth. This, I think, is a better use of our time and brains than worrying about whether the virus is a visitation from God. If it is indeed a sign, what are you doing to heed it? In what direction is it pointing you?

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

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