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Metro spiritual leaders weigh in: Where is God in the pandemic?

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A women prays during Mass during "drive-up Mass" at St. Monica Catholic Church in Edmond, Okla.,  Sunday, March 22, 2020.  [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]
A women prays during Mass during "drive-up Mass" at St. Monica Catholic Church in Edmond, Okla., Sunday, March 22, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]

Several metro spiritual leaders recently shared their views on the following question: What is God's role in the pandemic?

The Rev. Marty Grubbs, senior pastor of Crossings Community Church: The role God is playing in the COVID-19 situation is the same role He has played from the beginning of time. God set the world in motion and gave us clear direction on our choices. He told us this world would be full of trials ... "of many kinds." I do not believe God randomly decides to send killer tornadoes to one town because He is angry or trying to punish something. Jesus was clear ..."In this world you will have many trials and sorrows" (John 16:33).

As far as the end of time is concerned, the Biblical writers were predicting end of time, and expecting Jesus to return even in those days. Even people today try to predict the end of time, the return of Christ and often view any kind of suffering or calamity as an indicator of his imminent return. Jesus said, "... the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (Matthew 24:44). "But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief." (2 Peter 3:10) Disasters of any kind, plagues, pandemics, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc, are always opportunities to turn to God, and reminders of how fragile the world is.

The Rev. A. Byron Coleman III, senior pastor of Fifth Street Baptist Church: "It's a human inclination to seek answers in the midst of this. Why did this happen? Is God mad at America? People have always looked for reasoning. I do not believe this is God punishing America. It is an error for people to say this is God punishing America. It doesn't fit the God that we serve. People that use those terms go from the Old Testament to Paul and they miss Jesus. Jesus talks about love. How about taking this opportunity to show love for your neighbor. One of my friends said that when the Church gets to the end of its presumed knowledge, all of a sudden we start saying "It's God." We are so desperate to get answers instead of learning to live with questions. Instead of trying to figure out what God is doing, my question is: who are you in this moment? This is an opportunity for people to be with themselves, to re-imagine who they are. We affirm who God is in this moment but it's also an opportunity to discover who we are, to discover the power we have and who we are as believers in this moment.

The Rev. Blake Gideon, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Edmond: I think that when we talk about COVID-19, we have to be very careful what we attribute to God and also what we don't attribute to God. We need to be careful and we need to be discerning. We don't need to be flippantly attributing things to God that we can't clearly affirm in Scripture. I would say this — we've been living in the last days since Christ's death, burial and resurrection. That's what is taught in the Scripture. Hebrews 1:2 says in these last days, God has spoken to us by His Son. I believe COVID-19 is a two-fold revelation from God. Whether God caused it, I don't know but we do know that God allowed it because He is sovereign and He's on His throne. I'm not saying He caused it but certainly God had to allow it in order for it to even exist. The question is why? I believe it's because He's revealing something to us as a global society. It's a revelation of warning. Jesus says that before He returns there will be famine, pestilence, disease and that they are going to increase. He talks about them being the beginning of the birth pains. So all these things, famine, pestilence, disease, viruses are a fair warning to an unbelieving world that God's judgement is going to intensify until Christ returns. Second, it is a revelation of God's mercy. God is saying there's still time for the world to repent and trust in my son. The COVID-19 is a revelation of warning, it's a revelation of mercy and it's intended to turn people to God. It's also a testing of faith for believers. God is using this to test our faith but also to strengthen our faith.

The Rev. Stephen Bird, pastor of Epiphany of the Lord Catholic Church: "Is the pandemic caused by sin? The short answer is yes. But I think we have to go back to the Garden of Eden and God’s plan for a perfect world. It is because of Adam’s sin that disease, war, and hunger have entered the world and are still with us today. This is a time for unity, for world leaders and members of international organizations to all work together. The current pandemic is an opportunity for researchers everywhere to work together to find better treatment methods and a cure. The pandemic reminds us that we are mortal, that even with all of our weapons and technology our powers are limited when faced with this tiny virus. We have seen that sickness and death have come very quickly, even to some people who seemed very healthy. We’ve always been taught that we should live each day as if it might be our last. Perhaps this is a time to remember our own mortality and that we should reflect on death and prepare for death. Our true home is heaven. The message of Easter was that we are invited to follow Christ in this life and be with Him in the next life. For some, this pandemic may be a wake-up call to return to the Lord.

Rabbi Abby Jacobson, spiritual leader of Emanuel Synagogue: In my view, which is certainly based on my understanding of Jewish tradition, the basic religious issue is that God gave us free will. That means that every human being has the choice to listen to doctors and scientists or to turn away from them, to prepare for possible dangers in our lives or to ignore them. Similarly, governments have the choice to serve the people or to enrich themselves, to protect human life or to endanger it. I believe that God created us the very best world possible — despite the fact that such a world contains challenges and heartaches. However, like the benevolent parent to which God is often compared, God has also given us the tools to overcome those challenges and to support one another through those heartaches.

If a person looks at this pandemic and says, "In response to this pandemic, I should re-examine my own behavior because it might not be what God wants," then I applaud that impulse. Every impulse to better oneself is a good one, no matter what sparked it. I worry, however, about a person who says, "In response to this pandemic, other people should re-examine their behavior because it might not be what God wants." That can lead to arrogance and to abuse. I pray that people exercise the free will that God gave them during this pandemic to care for themselves, their families, and their communities.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, pastor of East Sixth Street Christian Church (Disciples of Christ): I think He has a role in this but I think the first question people always ask when things happen like this is "Where was God?" The answer is God is where God has always been which is everywhere, operating through us, I believe. And when I look at this pandemic, I don't think it's a man-made virus. I think it is something natural that happened. But I think that our response to it or our lack of response to it is what has caused so much misery. Whenever you have these sort of things, people start reaching for answers. Sometimes people think that God is walking around with a clipboard, just waiting on us to slip up so He can cross our name off the list. I don't think that God operates that way, but I know a lot of people assume that it's kind of like that. The natural response to that is that everybody just needs to get back to God. I'm more concerned with what the Bible says about treating our brothers and sisters, treating our neighbors as ourselves because you can't have a relationship with God and your relationship with humanity be nonexistent. Jesus tells us how can you love a God that you've never seen but hate your brother and sister that you see every day?

Carla Hinton

Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›

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