Where is God’s hand in COVID-19? With the eyes of faith, we discover it in many places and in many ways. In fact, there’s no part of this pandemic in which God is absent. Not anywhere.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
7 May 2020
It’s no secret that we live in not simply a secularized society but an irreligious society. Many people are outright hostile to religion. Religious indifferentism and moral relativism are pervasive. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI commented several times that people are living as if God does not exist. For these people, they have little or no ability to assess what’s really going on with COVID-19 from a faith perspective.
It’s also no secret that many Christians are also living as if God does not exist. After all, about 70% of the people in our nation claim to be Christian, yet only about 30% bother with going to church. As for Catholics—who are Christians, by the way—the numbers don’t fare any better. Only about 30% of Catholics practice their faith by attending the holy sacrifice of the Mass each Sunday. Of course, due to COVID-19 and power-hungry politicians, attendance at the Mass by the lay faithful has been taken away—at least for a time.
Where is God’s hand in COVID-19? For people of little or no faith, they can’t see God’s hand in it at all. It’s kind of like a blind man who’s never seen color: he might try to understand what color is but it’s just not possible. For these people, it’s all about political interventions, government control measures, stimulus packages, safety protocols, and social distancing. All of which they gladly welcome, while 33.5 million people are currently unemployed, business are closing by the thousands, suicide rates are increasing, drug abuse is on the rise, and socialist, freedom-crushing practices are ushered in at will.
I want to be clear: there’s nothing wrong with caution and the loss of every life is a tragedy. However, there’s a difference between prudence, obsessive fear, and disproportionate reactions that are more detrimental than beneficial.
Each and every one of us will one day die. That’s a fact of life. It could come at any time. An accident, the flue (which kills between about 20k and 60k people annually in the US), cancer (which kills about 600k annually people in the US), a heart attack, etc. That’s not to make light of death, but it is to say that we had better ensure, with the help of God’s grace, that we remain at all times in friendship with God.
By the way, COVID-19 has killed as of today 74,000 people. It’s important to remember, for many of these deaths, COVID-19 was likely a contributor as opposed to their direct cause. For example, Dr. Erickson, a California urgent-care doctor, has pointed out that physicians are being pressured by management to falsely attribute deaths to the virus to artificially inflate the count.
And if we’ve made any progress in our fight against the virus, it’s to be attributed strictly to the efforts of men, say politicians like governor Cuomo of New York. According to Cuomo, God had nothing to do with flattening the infection curve. It was the restrictive measures politicians put into place that deserve all the credit—never mind the fact that people were still coming into social contact in grocery and hardware stores. For these kinds of people, God is viewed as some big, powerful guy in the sky who could not possibly have anything to do with the virus other than listening to prayers but not answering them. For them, God is like an absentee father. He’s permissive of all kinds of moral evils and, just when you need him, he’s apparently unavailable to offer any help. It’s all up to us. For these people, man is like a self-powered organism that determines his destiny by himself and on his own. I’m sure God is pleased with that attitude.
Many Christians can’t seem to fathom how COVID-19 could be permitted and used by God as a chastisement, as punishment directed at bringing about repentance, an increase in faith, and renewed spiritual health. For these kinds of Christians, the idea of God as a Father who disciplines is unthinkable. No, it’s not possible, they say. God is love and love always means being nice, no matter what. For these people, God is like a divine teddy-bear. Nice and cushy, always smiling. All candy-canes and lollipops.
Scripture is filled with examples that reveal God indeed does discipline. Hebrews 12 states:
My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.12:5-6
God is not some big, teddy-bear-grandfather in the sky who feeds his grandchildren candy and spoils them, permitting every kind of sin with a shrug of his shoulders. If you think about it, that kind of god is more like a deist god than a loving Father.
Deism is a heresy that defines God this way: God is an uncaring creator who made the universe and set it into motion, then stepped back to watch it spin away on its own. Accordingly, he’s interested more in entertaining himself and showing power than personally getting involved in people’s lives. Christians who can’t imagine how God the Father would use COVID-19 as an intervention—to move people to repentance, to purify and to heal—see him as a permissive father who talks about love but never really cares enough to get involved and show it.
So where is God’s hand in COVID-19? I think there’s some connections we should reflect on:
Americans have become increasingly secularized and irreligious. Unspeakable evils that cry out to heaven for vengeance are considered “rights.” Half the nation approves of killing children through legalized abortion. A majority of Americans approve of contraception and cohabitation and same-sex “marriage.” Are we so naïve, so destitute of faith, that we cannot see how these sins cannot possibly go unpunished?
Many people want more government. They place their trust in it. It’s their savior. They want entitlements and programs. They want politicians to take care of them. Many young Americans seem to think socialism is beneficial when, in fact, it’s evil. Now, we’re living under an unprecedented level of political control. As my dad was fond of reminding us as children, “You made your bed, now you’ll sleep in it.” Now, we’re living under a dictatorship, a “sanitary dictatorship,” as Bishop Athanasius Schneider called it. Many of our freedoms are gone. An example is Shelley Luther, a Dallas salon owner who was arrested, berated by a leftist judge, and jailed—all for daring to try to feed her children by reopening her salon.
For many Americans, there’s no focus on Christ. The focus is worldly, secular, and hedonistic. Now, all those elements have been thrust on our backs as we watch the destruction unfold around us. I’m reminded of the LORD’s words given through the prophet Jeremiah:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: You have seen all the evil that I brought upon Jerusalem and upon all the cities of Judah. Behold, this day they are a desolation, and no one dwells in them, because of the wickedness which they committed, provoking me to anger, in that they went to burn incense and serve other gods that they knew not, …”Jer 44:2-3
About 70% of Catholics heedlessly disregard the sacrifice of the Mass. Now, for a time, the Mass is taken away. Faithful Catholics are suffering perhaps innocently. God is not punishing faithful Catholics. Through his intervention, he’s calling on us to develop a real thirst for the Mass and a zealous fire in our souls to communicate its beauty to others. He’s helping us to focus our attention on the sacred beauty and mystery of the Mass in gratitude. And he’s saying, if you’ve been complacent in the past, it’s time for that to stop. There’s no place for lukewarmness.
About 70% of Catholics disbelieve in the Eucharist. They think it’s just a symbol of shared faith. And about 1/3 of Catholics who attend Mass each Sunday have no faith in the Eucharist as the real, true presence of Christ. They receive it as if it’s nothing more than a wafer or a sip of wine. Now, for a time, the Eucharist has been taken away. God is not punishing faithful Catholics who believe what Christ teaches about the Eucharist and receive it worthily in a state of grace. He’s calling us to develop a real, ardent love and thirst for it. He’s moving us to desire, more than anything else, Holy Communion with the Risen Lord. He’s instilling in us a hunger for his flesh and blood, for his body, blood, soul and divinity hidden under the outward signs of bread and wine. Our Lord is saying, “Teach what’s true, evangelize, transmit the belief of my Church.”
The Letter to the Hebrews states:
See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” spring up and cause trouble, and by it the many become defiled; that no one be immoral or irreligious like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.Hebrews 12:15-16
Many Americans no longer pray. Others say a quick prayer before bed. Others pray only in time of need. Through this intervention, Christ is calling on us to become a people of prayer. God wants us to communicate with him, as if he’s right beside us. And indeed he is. In fact, it’s much more intimate than that. God is sustaining you in existence each moment.
Above all, Christ is reminding us that in life and in death we belong to him. He’s saying, fear not, for I will never abandon those who love me. He’s saying,
If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.John 14:23
In those words from our Lord Jesus Christ is contained every answer and every hope.
Where is God’s hand in COVID-19? With the eyes of faith, you’ll see it everywhere.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.