Víctor Codina. Fortunately, along with the terrifying and almost unhealthy television news programs about the pandemic, there have appeared alternative voices that are more positive and filled with hope.
Some people turn to history to remind us that humanity has gone through and overcome other times of plagues and pandemics like those of the Middle Ages and the one of 1918 after the First World War. Others are surprised at the attitude of the countries of Europe, unified in combatting the virus when until now they have differed about climate change, immigrants and acquisition of armaments. This is surely because this pandemic breaks through borders and affects the interests of those in power. It is now the turn of the people of Europe to suffer something of what has afflicted the refuges and immigrants who are not able to cross those same borders. There are some humanists who suggest that this crisis is a kind of “secular Lent” that leads us to concentrate on essential values like life, love and solidarity while it forces us to relativize many things that we have thought were indispensable and untouchable. Suddenly, air pollution has decreased and we have slowed the frenetic rhythm of the consumerist lifestyle that we have been reluctant to change. We have experienced the collapse of our Western pride in being the omnipotent protagonists of the modern world, the lords of science and progress. Under a complete domestic quarantine and not being able to go out into the street we have begun to value the reality of family life. We feel more interdependent. Everyone depends on everyone else, we are all vulnerable, we all need each other and, for better or worse, we are all globally interconnected.
There have also arisen some reflections about the problem of evil, the meaning of life and the reality of death, a topic which today is taboo. The novel The Plague by Albert Camus from 1947 has become a “best seller”. Not only is it a chronicle of the plague of Oran, it is also a parable of human suffering, of the physical and moral sickness of the world and of the need for tenderness and solidarity.
When faced with this epidemic, we believers in the Judeo-Christian tradition ask ourselves about the silence of God. Why does God permit this and keep silent? Is this a punishment? Do we have to ask God for miracles like Fr. Peneloux in The Plague? Do we have to give back to God the ticket of life, as did Ivan Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov, when he saw the suffering of the innocents? Where is God?
We are not confronting an enigma but a mystery, a mystery of faith, which leads us to believe and trust in a God who is Father-Mother-creator, who doesn’t punish, who is good and merciful, who is always with us, who is Emmanuel. We believe and trust in Jesus of Nazareth who comes to give us life in abundance and who has compassion on those who suffer. We believe and trust in a Spirit who is Lord and giver of life. And this faith is not something that we obtain through our will but is a gift of the Spirit of the Lord who comes to us through the Word within an ecclesial community.
Like Job, all of this does not stop us from complaining and quarreling with God when we see so much suffering. Nor does it prevent us from agreeing with Qoheleth or the author of Ecclesiastes in their affirmations about the brevity, smallness and vanity of life. We shouldn’t ask for miracles from a God who respects creation and our freedom, who wants us to collaborate in the development of this limited and finite world. Jesus does not resolve theoretically for us the problem of evil or suffering. Instead, through His wounds as the One who was crucified and risen, He opens to us the new perspective of His passion and resurrection. With His identification with the poor and with those who suffer, Jesus illuminates our life. With the gift of the Spirit He gives us strength and comfort in our difficult moments of suffering and passion.
Where is God? He is in the victims of this pandemic, He is in the doctors and health workers who are caring for them, He is in the scientists who are searching for an antiviral vaccine, in all of those who are working together in these days and helping to solve the problem, in all of those who are praying for others, and in all those who are spreading hope.
Let us end with a Psalm of confidence which the Church asks us to recite on Sundays at the liturgical hour of Compline, right before going to bed.
You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High and spend the night in the shadow of the Almighty, say to the Lord, ‘My refuge, my fortress, my God in whom I trust.’
“He it is who frees you from the snare of the hunter and from the terrible plague; with his feathers He protects you. Beneath His wings you find refuge and His faithfulness is your shield.
“You shall not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the plague that comes in the darkness, nor the scourge that destroys at midday (Ps. 90:2-7).
Perhaps our pandemic will help us to find God where we did not expect Him.