With all the upheaval and suffering caused by the Coronavirus, whether illness or death, economic hardship or emotional strain, many have asked the question, ‘Is God punishing us?’ This question seems to arise in people’s minds whenever society is hit by great calamities such as wars, famines, and social injustices. It would seem that the God of the Old Testament with his threats and punishments for sin is making a comeback. Is the Coronavirus one such case of God’s wrath?
It depends upon your perspective.
First, we must keep in mind that God never wants people to sin. Respecting our freedom, however, he does allow sin to happen. He does so because he is able to draw a greater good from a difficult situation. Look at the crucifixion of Our Lord; the greatest crime in human history, man killing God, also became Christ’s greatest act of love and the cause of our salvation. That is why in the Easter liturgy, referring to the evil of Original Sin, we say, ‘O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer.’[i]
However, hardship per se, whether a war or a virus, is not automatically a blessing. It is an opportunity for conversion. If the difficulty leads us to repent from our sins, to rely more on God, and to serve others more readily, then there is a sweet fruit from the bitter vine. If, however, we simply react to the hardship by closing in on ourselves, rejecting God and those around us, the hardship is experienced and lived as wrath. That is what St. Paul meant when he wrote, ‘For godly sorrow produces a salutary repentance without regret, but worldly sorrow produces death’ [2 Cor 7:10]. There were two thieves crucified with Christ. One repented, the other cursed.
God, who wants all men to be saved, uses such hardships with a medicinal intent. He wants us to return to him. I believe this to be the case even for those nations in the Old Testament that felt his ‘wrath’, such as Egypt. He sent them hard lessons, converting the animals they worshiped into plagues. Sometimes, as C. S. Lewis points out, suffering is the only way to get our attention: ‘God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.’[ii] God will always work for the salvation of all souls, even if he must shout to do it.
Death is also a way of God setting a boundary on evil: ‘Thus far shall you go, and no further.’ Usually, that boundary is inherent in sinful behavior. Sinners cannot perpetuate their sin indefinitely because their actions are oriented towards self-destruction. Drunkenness unchecked will eventually lead to an early death through liver failure or an accident. Ceasing to abuse drink is life-preserving.
Finally, we must also remember that heaven is our home, and we are pilgrims on earth. Cardinal Ratzinger even commented that living eternally in a sinful and unjust world would be more of a curse than a blessing.[iii] God’s primary aim is to get us to heaven. Many of God’s actions, particularly that of allowing suffering, will make no sense to us if we are living only for this world.
So, is Coronavirus a curse?
No, not if it leads to our conversion.
Fr. John Bullock, LC
Photo: Pixel 2013 on pixabay.com
[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_culpa [ii] Lewis, C. S.. The Problem of Pain (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) Harper One. Kindle Edition, p. 92. [iii] cf. God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald. Cardinal Ratzinger. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, p. 134