Is the Virus a Punishment from God?

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David Neuhaus, SJ

 David Neuhaus, SJ / Church Thought / 3 June 2020


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“’When evening had come’ (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm.”[1] The empty square and Basilica of Saint Peter provided the backdrop for Pope Francis’ rousing homily, a prophetic gesture to edify, encourage and console a world in shock at the spread of a virus claiming hundreds of thousands of lives.

Prophets of doom who manipulate the Bible

For a lover of the Bible it can be shocking to discover how some are reveling in Biblical verses that seem to speak to a crisis like the COVID-19 crisis. These verses are regularly ripped out of context and violently plastered onto the reality at hand. Prophets of doom proclaim the COVID-19 pandemic is God’s wrathful punishment on a sinful world. They cite verses against whatever in the world irritates their own sensitivities and they use the Scriptures to pummel a wounded and bleeding humanity. One can almost feel a shivering sense of glee as they quote the verses that describe plagues and catastrophes, hurled by a livid God on a world that is begging for punishment.

Alongside the drama of prophets seemingly provoked to call down divine anger, stand the “I-told-you-so” moralists, who also sift their Bibles for texts that they think allow them to preach with authority to a world that must at least now be convinced that their own sense of what is right is indeed the recipe for a better tomorrow. Both prophets of doom and I-told-you-so moralists seem to be shockingly reassured that the COVID-19 crisis fits a Biblical model of divine punishment or reproach.

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