Father Jeffrey F. Kirby Mar 15, 2020
With the current pandemic of the COVID-19 throughout the world, we have an opportunity to unite as a human family, serve those in need, and ask some broad spiritual questions.
Such questions include: Why do such viruses occur? Why does God allow such harmful things?
The Christian tradition traces all evil, disease and suffering to the original fall of our first parents. When Adam and Eve rebelled against the goodness and benevolence of God, our human nature and creation lost their harmony. The interior balance within the human person was thrown into disarray. The tranquility of creation was disrupted and no longer in the order ordained by God. As a result, disorders of the body and soul – such as threatening viruses – emerged and reemerge throughout history. The human family suffers from these evils.
Christian belief, therefore, sees suffering and illness within the theological context of the Fall from grace and acknowledges them as evils within human life. They are not seen merely as the consequences of the actual sins of any one person after the Fall, but as a dark inheritance from the original sin of our first parents and the subsequent fallenness of human nature itself. From the Fall, human history now includes the sorrow and drama of illness and suffering.
As such, the human story is marked by questions about evil, inquiries about suffering, debates over human dignity and quality of life, medical battles against illness and the care of the sick, and struggles with faith and understanding about moral goodness and responsibility.
For the Christian believer, answers to questions about evil begin with the Fall as the source and cause of suffering and illness in human life.
But, God sent a Savior and Redeemer to us. The divine Son became a full human being and experienced all things truly human.
No discussion of human life, or the presence of a dangerous virus, would be complete without addressing the full array of suffering, not only within the soul but also in the body. In experiencing the fullness of human life, Jesus Christ understood and accepted all forms of suffering, and he desires to teach humanity the scope and truths surrounding human suffering.
From humanity’s Fall from grace, suffering is an evil within human life. In taking on our human nature, Jesus Christ accepted the suffering of humanity, body and soul.
From his life of poverty, to living as a refugee in a foreign land, to being hunted down as a criminal, to the frustration of learning a trade, to the death of his foster father, to his experience of being tired and thirsty, as well as misunderstood, rejected, and unloved. All of his sufferings culminated in the cruelty and torture of his Passion, and the humiliation and asphyxiation of his Death.
In all these sufferings, Jesus Christ chose to accept, enter, and use suffering, which has been such a pivotal dilemma and source of anguish in human history, as the very means to manifest his love and self-donation for humanity. Suffering itself would become the instrument of salvation.
In taking on human suffering, the Lord Jesus went directly to sin, understood as the source of suffering in human life. He sought to destroy sin, and its consequences of suffering and death, from the inside out. He endured the totality of harm, shame, alienation, grief, confusion, and the full panorama of darkness caused by sin, and converted them all into a means of grace, a source of light, and a summons to selfless love.
And while the ministry of Jesus Christ has destroyed the kingdom of sin and death, the consequences of sin still remain in the human experience. We still get sick. We still have viruses. We are still afraid. We still suffer.
The difference, however, is that suffering – while an evil caused by original sin in its core – can now become redemptive for the person and the community. Rather than seeing suffering in merely negative terms, the example and ministry of Jesus Christ now shows the human family a positive way in which suffering can be seen and accepted in human life.
Suffering can be a share in the work of the Redeemer. The very things that once beat up and robbed the human spirit are now means by which we can encounter and share such spiritual gifts as eternal wisdom, hope, thanksgiving, and love.
In these ways, the work of the Lord Jesus allows for an abundance of surprisingly good things to come from even the worst and most fearful of evils.
Unexpectedly my colleague Fr Paul turned up for yesterday at 12 and we concelebrate.
The first reading was very apt to the situation we find ourselves in today:
Strike the rock, and water will flow from it
Tormented by thirst, the people complained against Moses. ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt?’ they said. ‘Was it so that I should die of thirst, my children too, and my cattle?’
Moses appealed to the Lord. ‘How am I to deal with this people?” he said. ‘A little more and they will stone me!’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take with you some of the elders of Israel and move on to the forefront of the people; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the river, and go. I shall be standing before you there on the rock, at Horeb. You must strike the rock, and water will flow from it for the people to drink.’ This is what Moses did, in the sight of the elders of Israel. The place was named Massah and Meribah because of the grumbling of the sons of Israel and because they put the Lord to the test by saying, ‘Is the Lord with us, or not?’
I think it is a very appropriate question to ask “in this Coronavirus, is God with us not”?
Rationally, intellectually and logically there is no evidence that God is with us at this time.
In fact, intellectually, as MMM might say, if there is a God, he must be a cruel and monstrous God to allow so many innocent and good people to suffer and die with Coronavirus.
Father Kirby above, spells out the answer to this question that comes from traditional Catholic and Christian doctrine.
I was brought up with that doctrine and I subscribe to it somewhat in faith.
But it does not seem to be a good and full answer.
The Garden of Eden and the Fall allegories are just that – allegories.
The scenario is this:
1. God created us perfect and placed us a perfect place, with one big instruction and freedom to chose.
2. We made the wrong, bad choice.
3. We were then banished to the earth and because of our first primary choice all people, for all time, would suffer in various and horrible ways.
4. Coronavirus is the latest result of our first primary choice.
5. Jesus was the only one who could save us and he had to do this by spending 33 years of poverty, rejection and finally death to achieve this.
6. And even after he had that victory, we all must still suffer all the consequences of our primary decision for the rest of our lives in this world – and everybody is in the same vote.
7. This doctrine would suggest that Jesus carried Coronavirus on the cross along with all the other all time disasters.
But are we allowed to ask if the First Adam caused all the disasters until Christ came, they should have ended with the death if the Second Adam on Calvary?
Because, if the disasters kept happening after Christ, was his death really a victory?
Or, we have to wait for the victory impact on us AFTER we die and in the next world?
Maybe someone with a better theology and a better brain than me, might help us today.
Or, like Cardinal Newman said, must we say: “Lord I believe, help my unbelief”.
Or like my great hero, Father George Tyrrell SJ, do we pray:
“O God, if there is a God, save my soul, if I have a soul”.
This doctrine of the Fall and suffering only makes sense if you approach it with blind faith.
And if we do this, are we just fools or are we fools for Christ?