Apparently Covid continues to be an indomitable pugilist. While still managing to land, off and on, some death blows on the opponent, it so deftly dodges all counter-blows. Almost all our resources and machinery have been pressed into service to meet the challenge; yet the pugnacious virus simply refuses to budge. Many have been really hit by this invisible and apparently invincible virus, and one among them appears to be God Himself. All the platitudes about God, which have been dished around for long, have turned out to be just that – platitudes.
Those platitudes were in general two: God is all-good and all-powerful. It is as evident as daylight. Yet we know that this almighty and omnipotent God seems to have made a mess of all what He created! Women writhe in pain just to give birth, men have to do all the slogging and sweating just to fill their stomach, and he or she has to be always on the lookout lest they be bitten by a snake. If you or I were God surely, we would be smarter! What a hell (literally) has He formed? But then, the votaries of God resolutely defended their God. And they said, if this is a mess, it is not the Creator’s problem, but it is a messing up by the creature. Just consider it! A potter, good in character and efficient at work, make a pot which has chinks. There are three possibilities: (i) either he is corrupt; (ii) or he is not efficient; (iii) or the clay is not good. If the potter is like God, then possibilities (i) and (ii) stand no ground. The potter cannot be corrupt (just as God cannot be wicked), and he cannot be inefficient (just as God cannot be powerless). Then how to account for the chinks? Yea, it is the clay that is not up to the mark. If life here is strewn with agony, strife and death, the blame is to be squarely put on man’s shoulders, not God’s.
Now enter Covid-19, and this oft erected smokescreen of human sinfulness for anything that goes awry is gone with the wind. Economy is in shambles; millions are now jobless; thousands have got uprooted; billions are staring at a bleak future. How to account for all these? Whom can we point the finger at? Even if we put man on the dock is this punishment in any way justifiable? Is not the remedy worse than the malady?
The tendency, whenever anything goes wrong, to hold humankind responsible has been challenged long time ago by the author of the book of Job. Three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to console Job in his suffering, but end up doing just the opposite! The crux of all their accusations against Job is in 4:7, “Can mortals be righteous before God? Can human beings be pure before God?”But Job is belligerent. He is cocksure that he has not done anything to deserve this. So he challenges their theology, and at the end God Himself: “I would speak to the Almighty; and I desire to argue my case with God” (13:3). Job’s friends were adding insult to injury, and so the author of the book brushes aside their theology with a curt statement: “The LORD said [to them]: ‘My wrath is kindled against you… for you have not spoken of me what is right…’” (42:7).
Now, there are many things that God speaks to Job, and we focus here mainly on chapter 41. There God speaks of the incessant fight being waged between Him and Leviathan, the incarnation of all evil. A few verses are especially worthy of careful consideration: “Lay hands on it [Leviathan]; think of the battle; you will not do it again! Any hope of capturing it will be disappointed; were not even the gods overwhelmed at the sight of it? No one is so fierce as to dare to stir it up. Who can stand before it?” (41: 9-10). What God says is this: Leviathan is yet to be brought under His complete control (but certainly, he would be). He continues to be evasive and keeps sowing troubles all over. And so God is engaged in a relentless fight with him.
Both Job and his friends are wrong; their bone of contention is “who is responsible for all the suffering here?” Job blames God; his friends Job. But for God evil is not something to be theologically explained but existentially addressed. God does not explain why there is evil; it is just there. And surely it has to be fought against.
All the prophets joined this fight of God against evil. None of them was metaphysically explaining evil, but was fighting it tooth and nail. Jesus too took upon himself this mantle to carry on God’s fight. Naturally he, then, could not escape the fate that awaited any prophet. And we call this person Jesus Christ, which is, in fact, an oxymoron like square-circle. They knew who Jesus was: the one who met with a brutal murder. They knew who Christ was: the anointed one – the Messiah. David, Cyrus, Simon bar Kokhba were all Messiahs for them for some time. How can this Jesus be, who bit the dust, Christ? How can night be called day? And yet that is precisely what the centurion did pointing at the man on the cross: “Truly this man was Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).
When the apostles saw the resurrected Jesus as the one who still carried those five wounds, they grasped what the centurion cried out: Cross is the mark of Jesus’ divinity. He waged God’s battle against all evil paying the ultimate price, and hence God recognized him as His own Son. Jesus compared his glorification to a grain bearing fruit through decay (cf. John 12:23-24). What John says in 12:32-33 is still more revealing in this regard: “‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.” So, suffering and glorification are inextricably linked together. Cross is the other side of divinity. According to Phil. 2:6-11, Jesus is given a name above all other names because he was unwilling to be browbeaten by the threat of a brutal death while executing the will of the Father (who is still fighting against Leviathan).
If God is uncompromising
in His fight against evil, this God can be witnessed only by taking up the cudgels on His behalf. The more you fight like God the more you are godly. So, witnessing God is much more taking forward God’s fight than putting up defence for Him. This is evident in the life of Paul. He claims that he portrayed Jesus as the crucified one (Gal. 3:2). And how! In 2 Corinthians he narrates his agonies: five times thirty-nine lashes, three times beaten by rods, once stoned, three times ship-wrecked… the list goes on and on (11: 24-28). When he claims that he carries the marks of Jesus branded on his body (Gal 6:17) it was not just a figurative expression. He must have been licking his wounds when wrote it down! Wounds on one’s body is the unequivocal witness of standing with and for God. Paul’s life was patterned after the self-emptying of the Lord (cf. Phil 2:5-11). How he actualised it is given in his own words: “The Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. But I have made no use of any of those rights…” (1 Cor. 9:14-15). Just as Jesus did not count equality with God as something to be clung on so too Paul did not claim what is his due. Giving witness to the Lord is not a matter of being victorious but a matter of suffering the ignominies of life and the insecurities of a fight.
Turning to our times, the question uppermost in anyone’s heart who takes God seriously is, how to speak of God in these difficult times? The answer is that we need not be too anxious about that, just as God was not worried about defending Himself when Leviathan challenged Him. What is required is that we join Him in the fight against all evils, and let our wounds do the talking. A picture that captivated the attention of the entire world is still there before our eyes: that kneeling Sr. Ann Rose Nu Tawng blocking the march of Myanmar police. Where is God when this dictator regime is riding roughshod over popular sentiments? He is present precisely in that kneeling nun who refuses to go into hiding when faced with brutality. The sister is joining God’s fight against everything wicked. Why so much of brutality, so much of pain? This is a metaphysical question – a luxury that the nun could not afford. Who is the cause of Covid? Man or God? Let those who have time engage in such verbal gymnastics. The Scripture says that God is out in the open field engaged in an incessant fight with all that is evil. The challenge is: Can you and I join the fight? The mark of divinity is not the victories we register but the wounds we suffer.