The Reverend Valerie Gittings, who ministers at the First Baptist Church of Fairmont, West Virginia, isn’t bereft of common sense. She ends her article in a local newspaper with “for God’s sake, wear a mask.”
It’s the part that comes earlier that I have questions about.
The pandemic, she says,
…certainly might raise the unsettling specter of doubt in our hearts and minds. It might cause us to ask, as we so often do when misfortune comes, the age-old question, “Why?”
It’s an excellent one. Of all the journalist’s Ws — what, when, where, who, why — why has always been the most interesting to me.
So what does Gittings think is going on? Why did God unleash the virus? She takes a little detour first.
When a tornado hit Piedmont, Alabama on Palm Sunday, 1994, and struck the Goshen United Methodist Church, it killed 20 people, including six children. One of them was the four-year-old daughter of the church’s pastor, Rev. Kelly Clem.
Think about that. Clem and her husband had dedicated their lives to the Lord, but He didn’t spare them. On the contrary. He took their church, their friends, and six children, including their daughter. How damning is that, if you’re a Christian who wants, or is asked for, proof of God’s existence? I’ll tell you: it’s so damning that in recounting her story, other pastors lied by omission, neglecting to mention that any children had died, or that Clem’s four-year-old was among them.
The way Gittings tells it,
A member of [Clem’s] congregation said at the time, “We are trained from birth not to question God. But why? Why a church? Why those little children? Why?” … Pastor Clem replied: “We do not know why. I don’t think ‘why?’ is the question right now. We just have to help each other through it.”
Unsurprisingly, Gittings comes up with the exact same answer for the question about the corona-crisis.
We definitely have some “Why?” questions about this pandemic. Why would God allow so much suffering? Why does the virus take so many lives? Why does it cause so much pain and physical damage even to survivors? The answer to our “Why” questions is the same as that given by Pastor Clem after the tornado in Alabama: “We do not know why. I don’t think ‘why?’ is the question right now. We just have to help each other through it.”
Is it ever the right time?
Pastor Gittings’ non-answer to “why does God do this” is the functional equivalent of “I have no effing clue.” The kindest thing I can say about it is that I like it better than “because of gay people.”
It’s good that “why” is apparently on believers’ minds again these days. I hope they find Epicurus.
And speaking of the ancient Greeks, I’ve often thought that the question of suffering and evil is the Achilles heel of the Christian faith. On reflection, I was wrong. It’s more of an Achilles torso — with a bullseye painted on both sides.
(Image via Shutterstock)