(Source: José Luis Caravias, SJ*, Vatican News; translation: Novena)
In these days various so-called “Christians” are insisting that this COVID-19 epidemic that humanity suffers is a punishment from God. And to demonstrate this they provide a number of biblical quotes, almost all from the Old Testament.
They are certainly authentic quotes, but one must know how to look at them from Jesus, within the process of progressive revelation.
The always-greater God
God is infinite, always greater, far superior to us. He wanted to create this wonderful Universe, on which he left his fingerprints.
An almost infinite material world, in continuous expansion, moved by very powerful energies, a reflection of his divine power. He then created living beings, in wonderful variety, in growing evolution, who are moved by their instinct. And finally he created intelligent beings, capable of knowing and loving.
From there, a beautiful process begins in which God manifests himself little by little to human beings, according to their poor understanding. Humans begin to believe that there is a higher power, on which they depend.
This initial faith adapts and grows within the culture of each era. First humans confuse God with the uncontrollable forces of Nature. These energies, for them, are gods, who must be kept happy so that they do not punish them.
When humans get a little bit more organised, their model of God is their “lords”, powerful, dictatorial, capricious, who must always be kept happy with a lot of rituals and gifts, because humans need their benevolence to continue living.
The One God
Little by little, in a very long process, humans’ faith is purified, until they discover in Israel that there is only one God.
This people is the one chosen to experience the active presence of the one God.
But God never gives everything in one go, because we would not understand him. He manifests himself little by little, according to the capacities of believers in Him.
It is fascinating to discover the process of God’s giving of Himself to Israel. I have given an account of it in a book that I titled De Abraham a Jesús (“From Abraham to Jesus”; PPC, Madrid, 2016).
God’s marvellous process of pedagogy reveals itself, becoming known little by little. God does not overstep himself. Each experience must be assimilated in order for the next one to follow.
First he is called “the God of Abraham”, the faithful fulfiller of his promises. Later he is the God of the prophets, the denouncers of the false faces of God. Each biblical character takes a new step towards God.
God is love
It takes time for humans to understand that God is love. For several centuries, respect and obedience are insisted upon. The word ‘love’ does not appear in the Sinai Commandments. They are about “respect” between people and society.
In Deuteronomy, the formula of the Exodus is maintained: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Deut 5:7), but then the panorama is opened by asking “to love God with all your heart” (Deut 6:5).
Deuteronomy, a marvellous treatise on theology, is a very important milestone in the process of revelation that God carries out with his chosen people in order to manifest his identity.
God is mercy
It was only in the 8th century BC, with the experience of Hosea, that God manifested Himself as merciful love, capable of forgiving and regenerating the betrayals of His people. Some of the psalms and the experiences of the second and third Isaiah are especially noteworthy.
Yes, the Bible shows us various images of God, which are not contradictory but instead are complementary, fruit of the process of revelation.
We are not able to understand all at once who God is. That is why, with humility, we must slowly assimilate what he intends to show us of himself.
God is forgiveness
Little by little, belief in a punishing God diminishes, and belief in regenerative forgiveness and healing accompaniment grows. Until we reach Jesus, in whom we find no indication that misfortunes are God’s punishment.
For Jesus, God is pure love, absolute solidarity with all who suffer. He punishes by loving, by regenerating. He fulfills the saying: ‘Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love’. This seems to be his attitude.
Here is a long, very important subject, but we cannot develop it in a short article. It must be studied and prayed over very, very seriously. I refer you to my book.
I’m afraid that today’s enthusiasts in claiming that this pandemic is God’s punishment have not yet come to meet Jesus. They stayed behind in the hard times of the Old Testament.
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9)
Jesus is always understanding, goodness, solidarity. He rejects no one. His heart is always sensitive to the pains of his neighbour. He enjoys being merciful to all kinds of sick people.
He above all welcomes, blesses, and helps sinners who approach him seeking regenerative forgiveness. He is always ready to forgive whoever it may be, as long as he or she has humbly asked for help.
Jesus is the visible, definitive figure of the face of God. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). To him we must compare all our ideas about God.
I cannot imagine him speaking like those who today claim that the coronavirus is a divine punishment. On the contrary, I can imagine him being in solidarity with all those infected and with the medical personnel who take care of them. But always respecting natural laws, avoiding contagion, as we should.
What do we ask Jesus for in this pandemic?
What do we ask of Jesus for in this pandemic? To be in solidarity, like him. Strength, hope and commitment. An effort to be able to know the causes of this pandemic and the intelligence and energy to know how to build a new society. Wisdom so that researchers can find vaccines and effective cures and solidarity afterwards so that the cures reach everyone.
Blaming God is a strategy to shift responsibility from our shoulders. In this epidemic there are very significant human irresponsibilities.
The goodness of Nature has been seriously abused. From emptying its entrails by extracting vast amounts of fossil fuels to destroying the ozone layer, which defends us from the outside world.
The highly selfish profits of a few impoverish the majority of humanity. They, the ones with selfish capital, prevent all fraternal progress.
I greatly fear that those who insist on divine punishment are being useful idiots in favor of Big Capital, that which kills millions of children by hunger.
The powerful are happy when people insist on blaming God… In that way they can rest easy. And nothing changes!
The pandemic was not sent by God
No, the pandemic was not sent by God. But I think Jesus assents to this natural explosion.
The world cannot continue as before. We need a new style of society.
It cannot be that a handful of people monopolise the vast majority of the planet’s natural assets. And destroy them, like the jungles, for example.
It cannot be that more than a billion humans go hungry on this rich planet. It is not right that a few think of themselves as untouchable superiors, and marginalise the people.
Unfortunately, it seems that for this message to touch the hearts of the powerful, much more suffering is needed. Where will it end?
Natural phenomena act independently of our desires. That is why there are no miracles that change the natural course of nature. If the tectonic plates settle down below, that means on the surface there will be an earthquake. If I make reckless contact with an infected person, I’ll be infected too. In these cases there is nothing to be done.
It’s absurd to ask for miracles. The miracle is called conscience and solidarity.
But in everything that depends on our free will, it is possible to turn to God to clear up our minds and steel ourselves. And God can do wonders in us and through us.
Humanity should be able to build a New World, in which Creation, both natural and human, is respected. There is where God is ready to help! Not the God of the Pharisees… The God of Jesus, who lives in every person of authentic good will!
*José Luis Caravias, SJ was born in Alcalá la Real, in Spain, in 1935. He has lived and worked as a missionary in Paraguay since 1961, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1967. He is the author of more than 30 books on spirituality.