“Why is God doing this to us?”
Time Magazine tackled that ambitious question last week and their answer was not surprising, but their spokesperson was. N. T. Wright, a well-known scholar of Christianity, delivered a humble and sensitive essay that could offend no one, with the possible exception of God.
Wright’s estimate of God’s usefulness is remarkably modest. He doesn’t doubt the crisis is God’s doing but insists “it is no part of the Christian vocation to be able to explain what’s happening and why”. He wonders, even, if “everything must have an explanation” and commends an old poet’s counsel “to wait without hope”.
It’s a newer poet who came to mind as I read Wright’s essay. John Lennon asked us to imagine a world without religion, and Wright’s essay comes remarkably close, presenting a God comfortably drained of god-like qualities, who “laments within us”, allowing us to become “small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell.”
Well, if that’s the worst it can do, I think Mr. Lennon had nothing to fear from religion after all and could have saved his beautiful melody for a more sensible song.
The currents of our culture push hard against religion, and Wright’s words provide one more example of a Christian voice that has slipped a little downstream. It is tempting for believers in our increasingly intolerant culture to become a smaller target, shrinking our certainty about who God is and distancing ourselves from his claims upon the world. Becoming a “small shrine” – if that is all our faith amounts to – allows us to stare silently upon our neighbors’ despair through the safety of stained-glass windows.
In Professor Wright’s view, “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To.” That’s certainly a pithy title, but it sets aside a vast amount of information.
Did God do this to us? Might he listen if we ask, and could he help? Do the people threatened by this disease matter, no matter how old or poor or sick? Is there hope for peace even in death, hope for a new life unstained by the sorrows of earth?
Christianity provides clear answers to each of these questions, and they are answers our culture needs to hear, especially today.
Lennon imagined a world without possessions, “no need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man”. One trip down the toilet paper aisle will show you how well that philosophy is working out.
What Professor Wright should have told you is that God created the world in love, though we have all used our freedom to misuse him and one another, setting off a centuries-long avalanche of sorrow that continues to this day. In Jesus, God took on human form, sharing our temptations, showing us his nature, and ultimately sacrificing himself in our place.
This God is more than a spirit lamenting within us, more than Lennon’s empty sky. He is kind and reasonable, patient and forgiving, powerful beyond our ability to imagine… and he will answer if you call on him today.