“Where is God?” Finding God in the Midst of a Pandemic

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“Where is God?” Finding God in the Midst of a Pandemic

We were having devotions one beautiful evening. We rehearsed a Bible reading that talked about God’s mercy. I can’t quite place my finger on the exact verse but before we could finish, we were all jolted by a loud “No! God is not merciful”. We quickly established that it was my 8-year-old boy, Hiram Edson. He continued to rage, saying that if God was merciful, why did he allow the Titanic to sink and condemn many to die without much of a burial? I scratched my head and hoped my wife would come with some sensible answer promptly. Instead, we plunged into a short span of awkward silence as I gazed on the ceiling as if admiring the dome of St. Peters Cathedral.

The problem of evil is a real stumbling block for many people. Or is it an excuse? Maybe yes. Probably not. At the beginning of this ill-fated year, a TV anchor lost his daughter at birth. Just a week after the loss of her daughter, the TV anchor’s wife denounced the existence of God saying that He let her daughter die.  She took to Instagram and penned an emotional message saying God had failed her multiple times.  “Everyone is so quick to tell me about God. What they don’t know is that every way I knew Him, He was tested and He didn’t prove Himself,” She said in her Instagram post, “So as they say you should know God for yourself, I now can say, I don’t know Him. And I don’t think I want to know him coz He left me when I needed him the most.” And so the question remains: “Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his tender mercies?” (Psalm 77: 9, NKJV)

This is a topic that even Bible writers have grappled with. The book that primarily deals with the problem of suffering is the book of Job. In the book of Job, we find the highest and deepest questions. Yet even here we are likely to find only consolations; not explanations. For when we think God should now explain to Job why he is suffering towards the end of the narrative, God overwhelms Job with more than seventy un-answerable questions all of which seem irrelevant!

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?

Where is the way to the dwelling of light?

From whose womb comes the ice? And the frost of heaven, who gives it birth?

Thomas Carlyle, the great British philosopher of the 19th century described the book of Job as one of the grandest things ever written with a pen.

Epicurus, an ancient Greek Philosopher put it this way:  “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then from whence comes evil?” In other words, If God knows about our suffering (all-knowing), cares about our suffering (all-loving), and can do something about our suffering (all-powerful), then there shouldn’t be any suffering! It seems a very reasonable proposition if you asked me.

It gets even more serious considering that the problem of evil may have motivated Darwin to construct his theory of evolution. For, a short time after writing The Origin of Species, he wrote to a friend that “there seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumon wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.” Yet even though Darwin may have explained away God, his theory never explained the problem of suffering. It only worsened and complicated it. This is because evolution through natural selection is a very cruel way of evolving new species. The struggle for life and elimination of the weakest is a horrible process against which our whole modern ethics revolts. For even now, it is almost natural and instinctive for people to protect the weak and the most vulnerable. In many jurisdictions, such protections have the force of law. That is the reason we have child labor laws and children welfare departments. Elephants also pay close attention to the well-being of all the members of their herd and will do what they can to take care of and protect weak or injured members. Is natural selection natural? Or, to ask it differently, is natural selection uniformly and universally natural? But I digress.

Like Darwin, Sir Bertrand Russel rejected Christianity for many reasons, one of which was the presence of evil in the world. Thus he says: “the world, we are told, was created by a God who is both good and omnipotent. Before He created the world He foresaw all the pain and misery that it would contain; He is therefore responsible for all of it”.

In the face of the pandemic of COVID-19, questions about God and suffering are bound to re-surface. One blog put it this way: “Everything is on hold in Mecca. The Pope isn’t communicating with God. Brahmin priests in temples are putting masks on idols. Religion has deserted coronavirus-fearing people.” Some say that the call by several governments and leaders for people to pray is not really about praying but preying on people’s vulnerabilities.

In all these, it is easy to omit the cross, yet it is at the heart of the problem of suffering. God; all-wise and all-powerful, could not solve the problem of sin and evil except by the way of the cross. In the loss and suffering of his Son, we see divine agony. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” was not a cry of a mere man but one in whom dwelt “all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” His experience at the Garden of Gethsemane and His sweats of blood was real and not some make-believe.

And yet the cross, great as it is, does not give us a true picture. In seeing through it, we merely see through a glass darkly. For we are fond of viewing the cross as a distinct solitary event, yet it is that and much more!

“The cross is a revelation to our dull senses of the pain that, from its very inception, sin has brought to the heart of God. Every departure from the right, every deed of cruelty, every failure of humanity to reach His ideal, brings grief to Him.  When there came upon Israel the calamities that were the sure result of separation from God—subjugation by their enemies, cruelty, and death—it is said that “his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel.” [1]

In the sublime poetry of Job, while we don’t get definite answers to the problem of evil, we get clues and cues. How could Job (and all men in general) comprehend God’s ways with man, when he could not even comprehend God’s government in nature? Since Job could not answer God on these matters how could he hope to understand God’s ways? In the book of Job, we learn that though people cannot understand God’s doings, they can trust Him. Though puzzled, we can still praise.

______

Notes.

[1] Education, 263.1.

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About the author

Jeff Oganga

Lecturer in accounting and finance at the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton in Kenya