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Last March I was asked about the spiritual dimensions of a disease epidemic. Now we’ve been struggling with the pandemic for nearly a year, so it seems appropriate to revisit the issue.
The Psalms, a collection of poems in Hebrew scripture, portray an intimate relationship between God and human beings. These poems are frank concerning the human condition: “The span of our life is seventy years, perhaps in strength even eighty; yet the sum of them is but labour and sorrow, for they pass away quickly and we are gone.” (Ps 90, v. 10). We are subject to disease and wasting: “[M]y strength fails me because of affliction, and my bones are consumed.” (31:10). God promised freedom and a good land to the people; but requires obedience, and punishes faithlessness: “They provoked [God] to anger with their actions, and a plague broke out among them.” (106:29). Nevertheless, God is merciful – the gracious source of healing: “Then they cried to God in their trouble, and God delivered them from their distress . . . healed them and saved them from the grave.” (107:19-20). Those who are faithful see the hand of God in the world and in their lives: “Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! whose hope is in the Lord their God . . . [w]ho gives justice to those who are oppressed, and food to those who hunger.” (146:4,6).
Perhaps not so many people nowadays think of God as both the all-powerful creator of the universe and as close to our own lives as a parent or a spouse. The composers of these ancient poems, though, dared to look unflinchingly at the realities of life – the good and bad things that happened to them, the evils that they themselves were at times responsible for and the righteousness that they were called to exercise – and asked hard questions regarding the meaning of existence.
As we look forward to emerging from the pandemic, we might do some of the same: What have we been called to see and learn in the past year? How have we been affected, for better and for worse? How have we grown? What are we called now to do – for ourselves, for one another, and for the earth?
The Rev. Reid Hamilton
St Vincent’s Church