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Faith in Crisis: The Coronavirus Pandemic

OPINION: “Whether it be divine anger because of our tolerance of poverty, complicity in political corruption, economic greed, and the proliferation of violence, many people have concluded that this is punishment where we needed to be taught a lesson.”

The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of only the author and not those of AllOnGeorgia.

This is written in memory of every single person who has died from Coronavirus-related illness. May their lives lead us to recreate a world where everyone can live healthy and be free.

COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for us to invoke the presence and will of God as the cause for this public health crisis. Whether it be divine anger because of our tolerance of poverty, complicity in political corruption, economic greed, and the proliferation of violence, many people have concluded that this is punishment where we needed to be taught a lesson.

While there are also some who acknowledge not knowing why God caused this, they still believe that it is God’s permissive will. Wherever one lands on the spectrum of ‘coronavirus theology,’ we can be sure of is this: the pandemic has created spiritual contradictions of which affect our everyday lives.

As outcry from public gathering shutdowns continue across the country, those most hesitant to oblige were religious institutions. Discontinuing congregational worship was for many the equivalent to ‘walking not in faith but in fear.’

This position unfortunately has led to an increase in cases and even deaths. So once the case numbers and death rates became highly publicized, the broader community began to take this disease seriously. Not only did we all shelter-in-place, but we also began to turn to God. We prayed for protection, for guidance, and even for understanding.

The stigmatized reality of coronavirus alone is enough to challenge the foundation of our faith. But to be forced to experience it without the physical presence and support of loved ones is practically unbearable. I struggle to even imagine the feeling those who were isolated felt in their last moment as they passed away alone. So truly the only thing any of us could do was pray.

Our responsibility was not only to stay home and ensure we didn’t spread the disease but to also pray for those ‘medically fragile’ and vulnerable. Why? Because that is what we always do. But what happens when those prayers seemingly don’t work? Our belief in the power of prayer often time find tension within an acknowledgement of lived experience. “I just knew [they] would pull through, especially after asking everyone to pray,” cried a grieving loved one.

Confidence in these fundamental expressions of faith often find us lost in the presence of crisis. These common emotions are ones that we all have experienced one way or another. Though grief looks differently for everyone and there is no ‘right way’ to do it, this moment highlights an uncomfortable truth that forces a reconsideration of understanding faith altogether.

We could easily reduce moments of human tragedy as simple evidence of God’s involvement, such as the Holocaust, September 11th, and even numerous biblical stories about disease and death. The challenge in doing so, however, is that it implicates dangerous theological assumptions.

Whether God is engaged in the daily functions of human interaction, or the purpose of human suffering [if there is one at all] and our relationship to spiritual revelation and whether it is necessary to actually speak for God. This limits our imagination; we can acknowledge God’s presence and power without placing causation and tragedy as God’s doing.

These assumptions create tensions that question whether “God,” or at least how we present God, is not the Creator from ‘whom all blessings flow.’ It makes me wonder if God has yet to play any role in the coronavirus pandemic at all?

This leads us to a constructed ideology that contradict at times. It attributes the things that we cannot understand nor control at others. I imagine the Creator waiting idly by for us to seize control of all that is and realize the fluidity and unpredictability of this thing called life.
I struggle with this ‘crisis theology’ because it leaves us waiting for God to change the outcome of something that otherwise would happen. In no means does this negate the very real presence of the Creator. Our assumptions just present very false narratives of a faith that does not sustain, heal, nor set free. Most of us have experienced miracles and answered prayers. But this crisis has forced us to abandon every method of managing mortality and leaves us with a darkness that often leads to despair.

Human wisdom is truly incapable of grasping the totality of God. We must create space to evaluate how our faith lends itself to our current conditions. It presents challenges that we unknowingly become responsible for and attempts to leave us unaccountable ourselves. God is not an imaginary fairy that pulls out miracles out of a magical hat when we face crisis. Yet that is the God we turn to while our hope is shattered by the systems of inequity and destruction.

I do not pretend to believe that there is a divine reason why millions of people have died. I credit their deaths due to systemic deficiencies that continue to be ignored and sociopolitical inequality that goes unaccounted for. Lack of access to healthcare, systemic poverty, and institutions that prioritize profit over people just to name a few. But no matter how many more cases are confirmed, what happens next still is very much in our hands.

May we forever be empowered to do a “greater work”. Our faith must be so grounded that we pray every morning and give thanks every night. We acknowledge limitations of human understanding. We can, however, simultaneously re-create an expression of who we are and what we are able to do with God.

Maybe we won’t be able to prevent every crisis, save every life nor defeat every enemy. But with this kind of faith, we will be able to sure as hell try. So here’s to that opportunity – to make of this old world a new world. Amen & Ase.

James Woodall is an alumnus of Georgia Southern University and a third-year Masters of Divinity student at the Morehouse School of Religion. He has served in the United States Army, managed political campaigns, worked as a legislative aide in the Georgia General Assembly, and is the State President of the Georgia NAACP.




    May 6, 2020 at 9:53 am


  2. Rev. CJ White

    May 17, 2020 at 8:22 am

    Thankful for your insightful dialogue while showing the tension of a symbiotic relationship between our salvific God and responsibilities placed on us as humans. We must understand the responsibilities placed on ourselves and the permissive will of God. Permissive will is not causation. I liken it to the Book of Job. Continue to write, grow, and serve. Blessings! ⛪️🙏🏽

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