We, of the Christian persuasion, have some motivation to think about God’s will. What is it? How do we know? How do act with that? Unless/until God gives us some kinda directive – “Go preach in Nineveh” – we’re kinda stuck with trying to figure it out using the Bible. That ain’t always clear. Or so it seems. I think the Bible is clear enough because a knowledgeable friend once said to me “I believe in the Bible, and when I say “the Bible”, I mean the New Testament, and when I say “the New Testament”, I mean the Gospels, and when I say “the Gospels”, I mean the red parts.” (In some Bibles, the words attributed to Jesus are printed in red.) I’d never thought of it that way, but my knowledgeable friend summarized my own position exactly, and that is, in reverse, how I prioritize what’s in the Bible. What Jesus said beats anything else.
Matthew 22:36-40 beats everything. Jesus said so.
But there’s a global pandemic going on and that’s kinda bothersome for a lotta folks and it would seem ministerial to address it in some way. Pandemics and such are the sorta stuff atheists like to point at as proof that there is no intelligent, benevolent deity, which is no argument whatsoever, but those things do occur and making sense of them is something people try to do. So, I’d like to first cover the concept of natural law.
Natural law is whatever phenomena are verifiable and consistent. All living things reproduce their own kind. Gravity. Entropy. Cats are weird. These are things that simply are and nobody disputes them. That’s natural law. The Creator of the Universe created natural law. Ergo natural law is God’s will.
I’m an alcoholic. If I drink alcohol, my brain does a different thing than the brain of a non-alcoholic, which causes me to drink more and more alcohol. I can’t stop the process once it starts. I am also, as shown by my past behavior, unable to avoid starting. Alcoholism is one natural law. However, I haven’t had a drink in over twenty-one years, not because I’m breaking the law, but because there are other laws. I don’t claim to fully understand the process, but if I behave in certain ways, do certain things, the compulsion to drink doesn’t happen. Having a relationship with God is one of the things I do to that end, and it works.
Think about airplanes for a minute. Airplanes don’t fly because they violate the law of gravity. They fly because they utilize other laws involving the density of air, forward motion and the shape of a wing – I don’t know how to explain it, but airplanes do fly. There are ways of getting around natural laws.
At the same time, there are natural laws that can’t be got around, that people continue to violate no matter what the consequences are. If you read the Old Testament, you’ll find a lot of plagues, famines and general mayhem. These are always the result of people violating natural laws. It always happens that the people – the Semites, or Israelites – violate the Law of God, which is natural law. They start worshiping Baal or some such, and then they start acting like assholes. It never happens that the people start worshiping another god and their behavior improves. They always fall into decadence, violence, neglect of their responsibilities to the poor, and so on, and then they get smacked down hard. The narrative presents it as divine retribution, but I think it can be understood as natural law. If your society loses its morality, there will be consequences.
At the end of the Roman Empire, Rome had massive wealth inequality, the leaders were decadent and corrupt, the law was ignored or applied selectively. No one was watching the borders. Shit was fucked up. Then it crumbled. because a society in that shape can’t avoid crumbling. Natural law. God’s will.
Viruses mutate. That’s exactly how viruses behave and we’ve known that for a while. We’ve also known that pandemics occur at a fairly stable rate. COVID19 was a few years late, but still within the expected time frame. Most people don’t pay attention to these things, but the information was out there. I’d been expecting some kind of pandemic for a while. Being Christian doesn’t mean I ignore science. Actually, I think science is the best tool we have for understanding Creation.
But I ain’t in charge. And the people who are in charge shit the bed on the whole coronavirus front and now 130,000+ people are dead and there’s no reason to think it’s gonna get better soon. The way people behave pretty much ensures that a viral mutation in a market in China will become a global pandemic if it can.
I’m not gonna bother with how this shitshow coulda been avoided, other than saying that it coulda been, but only if society had been structured differently. Future catastrophes will all be traceable to humans being assholes. Not that humans being assholes are the cause of viruses and earthquakes &c., but humans being assholes are why those natural events become catastrophes. Thousands died in Haiti in 2010 because the US was happy to have Haiti poor. The people of the United States didn’t give a collective shit about the people in Haiti. We did not love our neighbor. If the US had collectively loved Haiti, and followed the Bible’s many injunctions to help the poor, Haiti would have had infrastructure that could withstand the 2010 earthquake. Some lives would have been lost – these things happen – but it wouldn’t have been a catastrophe. Haiti hasn’t recovered, by the way.
Okay, what about AIDS? Did that happen because God hates homosexuals? No. Lesbians are just as homosexual as gay men, but they were not affected by AIDS the way gay men were. Also, AIDS affected heterosexual people, IV drug users, Haitians, pretty much everybody. It did affect gay men in much higher numbers than other populations – because gay men were, generally, behaving in ways that made viral transmission incredibly easy. That doesn’t mean God hates gays – it means having unprotected sex with multiple partners is one way HIV gets transmitted. Again, natural law. And again, everybody had access to that information.
I’m writing this in Virginia, end of August. It’s raining. It’s rained pretty much everyday this August. That is really weird. August used to be a hot, dry month in Virginia. Now, it’s a monsoon. Science, and my own senses, tell me that man-made climate change is a real thing. Science, and my own senses, tell me that COVID19 is happening because people behave in ways that ensures the global spread of a viral mutation. Obviously, there ain’t fuckall I can do about that – but I can behave as God’s Bible instructs me. I can try to help the poor, love my neighbor and love God. I can use science to understand the causes of natural events. I can stop bitching about shit and do something.
I was called to ministry, and I did/do perceive that as a direct communication from God. I am certain that continuing my path to rostered ministry in the ELCA is God’s will for me. Other people who haven’t gotten that kind of direct communication have gotten access to the same Bible and the same science I have. We all have clear information about God’s will. We just need to use it.