By Michael Amaladoss, SJ
People, experiencing the pandemic – the number of people dying all across the world, with no sure remedy in sight – may be tempted to ask this question. This question, of course, betrays a particular vision of God. God is seen to be the Creator and Master of the universe. He is managing everything. If this is so, why isn’t God doing something to control the pandemic?
Before trying to answer this question, I would like to evoke another moment in history when the same question could have been asked. Almost 2000 years ago, outside Jerusalem in Judea, on a small hillock, three people were hanging on crosses and dying. One of them was Jesus, who was proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God. But there he is hanging on the cross. One could very well ask: “Where is God here on Calvary?” People, who believe that Jesus is divine, could very well ask further: “Why is God hanging on a cross?” The disciples may not have been full believers yet. But at least Mary knew who Jesus was. She remembers the words of the angel at the annunciation. And she could very well ask the question: Why is God hanging on a cross?Jesus, of course, rises again and shows himself to Mary and his disciples. But even then the question would not go away.
It is true that God created the world. But God created the humans as free persons. They were not automatons whom God could manipulate, as dolls in a show for children. They were free beings who could do what they wanted. We know from the story in the book of Genesis that the first humans chose precisely to do what they wanted – eat the forbidden fruit -, not what God wanted. We know what happened.They were driven away from the garden. They had to work for their food, suffer and die. Actually, in the very first generation, Cain killed Abel. History has been a story of conflicts, wars and murders. Where is God in all this?
Actually, it will be helpful to consider what kind of world God has created. He did not make a perfect cosmic machine that runs to order according to a pre-determined plan. Science tells us that the world has evolved following a big bang. The planet earth slowly cools down. Plants and other living beings emerge on the land and the sea. Finally the humans also come into being. Scientists still discuss whether there was only one original couple (in Africa?) from whom the whole human race evolves or there were many couples in many places. We still do not know whether there are other living beings, even intelligent ones in other stars and planets of the world. At the moment we occasionally hear about Mars and the possibility of finding water and perhaps forms of life there. We cannot either affirm or deny it. The humans too evolve and spread across the earth. God is not micro-managing all this process of evolution. God lets things evolve according to natural laws.
Once God has created living human beings with intelligence and freedom, God does not interfere with their evolution and development either. The humans evolve, spread across the universeand create their many languages and cultures. They have the earth and all its resources at their disposal. The humans are free to use them. But unfortunately they are also free to abuse them. So at the moment we see the humans destroying creation in various ways. They are even planning to migrate to other planets like Mars. Some would say that, over the centuries, the earth may become so unlivable that the humans will have to migrate to other planets like Mars.
God has not, however, left the humans totally to themselves. As late as a few thousand years ago, he sent leaders like Moses and the Prophets and finally God’s own Son Jesus Christ. Their goal is not to bring about some miraculous transformation. Talking only about Jesus Christ, whom we believe to be God-become-human, he proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God. This will not be a miraculous intervention of God. The Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed is to be a community of freedom, fellowship and justice. By establishing the Church, Jesus showed that such a community is possible. The only commandment that Jesus gave was to love each other as He loves them. This love has to be shown, as He himself did, in serving, sharing and self-giving. The early community was commissioned to do this and had some success. We read in the Acts of the Apostles: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.” (Acts 2:44-46)
But such practice did not last long. Even within the, so called, Christian world there have been divisions, conflicts and wars. In the 16th century when routes were discovered to Asia and the Americas from Europe, the Christian countries in Europe colonized the rest of the world, exploited the people there and in the name of culture and science, destroyed creation too. Great numbers of people lost their lives, not only by natural calamities like the pandemics, but also by wars and famines. There have been plagues in the past too in which thousands of people lost their lives. Some of these pandemics may have come out of nature, of course abused by the humans. Others may have been human made. We hear of many saints who lost their lives assisting the people who were suffering from some form of the plague. One such saint that comes to my mind immediately is St. Aloysius Gonzaga. Mother Theresa and her sisters help many people suffering in that manner. There have been many others, known and unknown.
We are now living in the midst of a pandemic – the Corona pandemic – that has been affecting and killing thousands of people across the world, now going beyond a million. Let me now come back to our question. Where is God in this pandemic? The first thing that we have to be clear about is the origin of the pandemic. The source of this pandemic is said to be some virus affecting bats in a lab in Wuhan in China. But now scientists exploring the case have said that this virus, which may have had its origin in bats, has been manipulated by scientists there and enabled to attack the humans. Probably this may have been planned as a weapon in a situation of war. But it got out of hand, infected the people working in the laboratory in Wuhan and through them affected other people and has now spread across the whole world and affected millions, killing at the moment at least a million persons. It remains an unanswered question whether it spread among the humans by mistake or it was done consciously. So this is not a God-created virus, but something man-made. But, whatever be the source of the virus, when there are people dying in thousands, where is God?
God is not miraculously intervening, killing the virus and healing the people in miraculous ways.This is not the way God functions in the world God has created where there are free humans. God leaves it to the humans to seek to do the needful. The humans have got busy. Some, like the medical personnel, doctors and nurses, have cared for the sick and some of them have lost their lives in the process. Others, who are scientists, have sought to analyze the virus and discover medicines for it. Governments across the world have been inoculating their people with these injections to protect them. They have also adopted methods like lockdowns and have advised people to use masks, keep social distancing and wash hands. That some people in some areas do not observe these precautions is one reason why the virus is still active. But it has been controlled in other places where the people have been observing the restrictive protocols. The governments have also tried to vaccinate as many people as possible in the countries across the world. Some poor countries are even give the vaccine free of cost or at cheaper rates. On the other hand, some private hospitals are making money by charging the patients exorbitantly.
So we can conclude now. God has not caused this pandemic. But now that this pandemic is there where is God and what is God doing? God is handling the problem in the usual way. God is present and active in and through the humans: the doctors, nurses and other care givers, some of whom have nobly sacrificed their lives in the process; the scientists who have worked hard to discover the vaccines; the companies that produce them and the government that is vaccinating the people as many and as soon as possible and finally the many people who are praying. So God is there helping us, free humans, to help ourselves. Hopefully, we will be free of the virus shortly!
Fr. Michael Amaladoss, SJ (CEN) is an internationally known theologian, who has authored several books and articles. He has served as Principal and Rector of Vidyajyoti, Delhi and Jnanadeepa Vidyapeeth, Pune. As a General Assistant, he served at the Jesuit General Curia, Rome for twelve years. A trained Carnatic musician, Amal has composed music for a number of popular Tamil hymns.