12 April 2020
10.30 Sung Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer
One of the unexpected blessings of the current period of isolation is having all my children back under one roof
They are of an age when, at least two of them, will soon be making their way in the world
The third is still at boarding school and away for much of the year
However, these are precious times and, one of the most enjoyable events of the day, is when we all sit down for dinner
My daughter is at the end of her first year at University where she is reading Philosophy and Theology
Never one to shy from an awkward question I asked her “Where is God in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis?”
In my view, every theology student, and priest, should be asking themselves the same question
It is a seemingly impossible question which is why I asked it
the question of suffering has, seemingly, never been more pressing than it is at the moment
Just in past fortnight
Doctors, nurses and care workers have died
The elderly and vulnerable have died along with young children
The rich and privileged, along with the poor and disposed, have lost their lives
Coronavirus does not seem to discriminate and sweeps men and women away in its path
At the time of writing this sermon there have been over 82,000 deaths and 1.5 million infections world wide
This crisis poses acute questions for Christians
If God is all knowing why does he knowingly permit suffering?
If God is all powerful, why doesn’t he intervene to put a stop to all of this?
If God is all loving why does he allow those he loves to suffer so horribly?
And if he isn’t “all knowing, all powerful and all loving” then he cannot be God
The question of suffering is an eternal riddle which continues to perplex us to this day
The question of suffering is not new
The Book of Job is the first to wrestle with this issue over two and half thousand years ago
The principal character is Job who “was a righteous man” “blameless and upright… who feared God”
If anyone was underserving of human suffering it was him
Yet, like so many in our own times, he loses his livelihood – his cattle and his camels
He is then afflicted with running sores from head to foot
And not unnaturally, he asks God why?
God answers him in a fashion
He asks Job “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?” “or laid the corner stone thereof”?
The book touches on a very important point about the limits of human reason and how little we know of God’s creation
If we don’t know all there is to know about God’s creation, why should we presume to know the reason for suffering?
God’s answer is complete in a s sense, but one that is unlikely to satisfy the human thirst for understanding
I recently re-read “The Plague” by Albert Camus
The book deals with an outbreak of plague in the French Algerian town of Oran and is extraordinarily prescient
In the book, the town of Oran is forced into a period of quarantine
And revolves around a number of different characters and how they respond
Like our own times, there are those who bravely go about their duty, those who rise to challenge and those who resist the restrictions that are imposed upon them
The book also includes a Catholic priest who tries to wrestle with the question that I posed my daughter
At first, the priest suggests that the Plague is the visitation of God on the sinful
When that does not hold water, he changes his approach and argues that the plague is sent to test us and develop our compassion
This explanation is severely tested however when an innocent child dies in hospital
The priest, increasingly cornered, demands us to accept his explanation, or risk rejecting God altogether
He presumes that no one would want to reject God – but perhaps he is wrong
My daughter, to my surprise, came up with a radically different answer citing a theologian called James Lovelock
Lovelock presents an explanation called the Gaian hypothesis
The title takes its name from the primordial goddess Gaia who personified the Earth in Greek mythology.
The core of the hypothesis is that the outlook of humanity is incorrect.
Mankind today sees itself as of utmost importance and selfishly asks “where is God for us”?
However, it neglects to consider the planet as a whole
The answer for Lovelock is that God is not absent in Covid-19,
But simply that humanity is simply failing to recognise the importance of the ecosystem as a whole
For Lovelock, the planet needs correction in order to prevent ecological life from becoming untenable
Look how much the world has recovered in just one month
Indeed if we took heed of this we could, literally, save the world
Today is Easter Day
We have travelled through Lent and through Holy Week during the most extraordinary chapter in our national life that any of can remember
Like our Lord, we have been in some very dark places
Like our Lord, we have been tempted and have suffered
And, like our Lord we too have asked when the cup might be taken from our lips?
And will continue to do so for some time
Perhaps like Job, we too are tempted to ask the question I posed to my daughter
“Where is God in the midst of this crisis?”
But the answer is in the reading this morning
Like us, the disciples are grief ridden and have suffered the darkest hours of their lives
When they get to the tomb, it is empty but is not devoid of meaning
Because the message is clear
“He is not here” “He has been raised”
Jesus Christ has defeated death and today we can proclaim him as our living Lord
Returning to the question I posed to my daughter, I don’t have an answer to the question of suffering either
But I do know that my Redeemer lives
And in the midst of this world, and in the midst of our national and personal suffering
There is no greater news
There is no greater answer than
“Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia”