Whatever purpose plagues played in the O.T., we should hold to the fact that now the people of God are no longer ‘slaves’ but ‘sons’ (Gal. 4.3), Jesus taught that evils act as ‘reminders’ or as warnings of human mortality and weakness and need, and of the personal accountability before God of each of us. As we get older, such reminders are gradual, and increasingly persistent, occasional; at other times they are spectacular, as currently.
What do Creed-reciting Christians have to say about the plague? ? They believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. How do they relate sudden evils such as we are presently enduring, to God’s almightiness? Many different theological and religious approaches are able to say the same Creed, reflecting the varieties of theism (and deism) extant. Some say that in the Apostles’ Creed we find ‘mere Christianity’, a universal set of Christian beliefs. Others will have met the Creed earlier in life, its importance gradually waning over the tears.
What is surprising is that there has not any bringing together of God Almighty and the Coronavirus plague. Asking the question, what does the common Christian creed say to us about the plague? A least not to my knowledge. (Since writing this I have heard Hugh Palmer, Rector of All Souls, London, “What is God saying through the Virus?” on 22nd March. No doubt there are others by now.)
Of course, perhaps this reluctance is the result of reading endless opinions, written and spoken, on ‘the problem of evil’, that people have become tired with any implausible answers. Despite this, I thought I would have a try.
There are two types of answer, three if ‘silence’ is a possible answer. The first, let us call it ‘the public problem answer’, is to have something positive and intelligible to say to people in general, relating what evils are apparent to the goodness of God. The other is the personal or individual case of evils and God’s goodness. I have a suggestion about each type of answer, relating them to Jesus’s own teaching.
The Public Case
In Luke 13 Christ comments on the fall of the Tower of Siloam, a tower near a reservoir of Jerusalem, whose fall, a contemporary tragedy, which killed eighteen people. What does Jesus say to this ‘hard question’.
Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent , you will all likewise perish. (13.5)
This follows his answer to those Galileans who had been killed by Pilate, who then mixed the shed blood with the blood of a sacrifice, to whom Jesus gave a similar response. Perhaps this was is a case of anti-Semitic action on the part of the occupying Romans, including governor Pilate, and perhaps those who asked Jesus about this did so to try in turn to stir up anti-Roman feeling in Jerusalem. This prompted the following retort of Jesus, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you, unless you repent. You will all likewise perish’. (Luke 9, 1-3)
There are some Creed-repeaters who esteem Jesus for his actions and teaching of the primacy of selfless love and community, will find these words disappointing. The references to sin and guilt and repentance will put them off. But a contemporary Jesus – follower, who values Jesus’s words, should he not value these words? But no one, or scarcely one, of his followers today, quotes them, but shuns them. Jesus is silenced. When there are references, to sin, evil and judgment to come, there is a deafening silence. A person who respects Jesus’ words sees the purpose of the Coronavirus plague and other such evils as prompts to reflection and penitence, for Jesus calls all people are called to penitence for their evils even if, outwardly respectable, they convince themselves that they have no such need.