As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, so does many spiritual questions: Is the new coronavirus God’s punishment? Why does God allow the deadly disease to go on a rampage? If God is good, the Creator and Giver of life, why does the coronavirus exist at all?
Indeed, so much confusion arises from questions dwelling on the so-called Inconsistent Triad that argues against the concept of a loving and mighty God while suffering persists. Such “inconsistent triad” is summed up this way: “God is all-loving and all-powerful, therefore God can prevent suffering. But God does not prevent suffering. Therefore, God is either not all-powerful or not all-loving.”
Questions on human suffering and the existence of evil have been grappled with by philosophers and theologians over the centuries. And many answers offered by men of faith and of different religions have focused on the notion that suffering is a test—of faith, and of human nature.
For Muslims, suffering from the coronavirus could be “not only a test of faith but a solidifying agent of faith,” according to Omar Ricci, spokesperson of the Islamic Center of Southern California whose views were featured in a recent article by Lindsay Schnell in USA Today.
“When you’re in difficult times, that’s when you actually get to practice faith,” Ricci said even as he expressed thanks for COVID-19. But here’s what he meant: “Thank God for this reminder that we are not in control and must always be dependent on God. Thank God for this reminder that we should be grateful for all things – for groceries, toilet paper, good health. Thank God for reminding us life is fragile, and we had best appreciate the miracle and blessing that God has given us in creating us as souls.”
Ricci cites the 67th chapter of the Quran, verse 2: “He who created death and life – to test you – as to which of you is better in conduct. He is the Almighty, the Forgiving.” Schnell’s article pointed out that “from an Islamic standpoint, Ricci says, part of that test includes how Muslims react in difficult times.”
For Danya Ruttenberg who is known as the “Twitter rabbi,” the onslaught of the new coronavirus is not God’s punishment, according to the USA Today article.
“Ruttenberg is quick to point out that people have agency and free will, a concept often referenced in the Judeo-Christian creation story about Adam and Eve. People have choices today, too, she says – whether they’re going to self-isolate and practice social distancing or if they’re going to be reckless and let the virus spread,” Schnell wrote.
Her article on Ruttenberg further said: “She finds comfort in a passage from the Talmud, the two-part Jewish text that contains centuries of thought, debate and discussion. In Talmud Brachot 32b, Rabbi Elazar said, ‘Since the day the Temple was destroyed the gates of prayer were locked … though the gates of prayer were locked, the gates of tears were not locked.’ The idea, Ruttenberg explains, is that we are always able to cry out to God and that in times of heartbreak, there are still powerful ways to connect spiritually.”
For Christians, there’s also the belief that suffering tests and strengthens one’s faith.
“But while explaining suffering as a test may help in minor trials, it fails in the most painful human experiences. Does God send cancer to “test” a young child? Yes, the child’s parents may learn something about perseverance or faith, but that approach can make God out to be a monster,” says Jesuit priest Fr. James Martin in an article for the New York Times.
And suffering is not a punishment for sins, Fr. Martin says, citing the story of Jesus in the Gospel of John: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus was asked. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” Jesus said. Fr. Martin explained that the story was “Jesus’s definitive rejection of the image of the monstrous Father.”
“In the end, the most honest answer to the question of why the Covid-19 virus is killing thousands of people, why infectious diseases ravage humanity and why there is suffering at all is: We don’t know. For me, this is the most honest and accurate answer,” he said.
But people can turn to Jesus to seek solace amid the suffering from the pandemic because He is “fully divine and fully human” and, thus, understands humanity and suffering.
“In these frightening times,” Fr. Martin said, “Christians may find comfort in knowing that when they pray to Jesus, they are praying to someone who understands them not only because He is divine and knows all things, but because He is human and experienced all things.”
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