New York saw our first confirmed case of coronavirus in early March. Since then, our state has been leading the nation in cases and tests. At the time of this writing, over 100,000 New Yorkers have tested positive and about 18,000 have recovered. Sadly, about 10,000 New Yorkers have passed due to the virus. My heart aches for every family connected and impacted by this great crisis. Tribute after tribute, obituaries plastered on my Facebook pages—I feel so helpless. Nothing will ever be the same. When serious events happen, we must be mindful of both technical responses (new advisories, regulations and behavior changes) and faith-based responses. We are whole people responding to environmental stimuli.
Simply put: it’s not just our bodies that respond to this crisis. It’s our spirits, too.
Our mental health was already fragile. And for many, faith is how we make the leap from “what the news says” to “what God desires for us.” It’s how we go from “what is” to “what should be.” With all of its flaws and holes, belief in something bigger than ourselves can help folks feel grounded. For example, when someone demonstrates irritation that I’m the guest preacher for the day, I dig my feet into the words of Acts 2. When I have body-image issues, I remember the words of Psalm 139 and remind myself that I am “wonderfully made.” I look to the liberating vignettes in the Bible to fortify myself and others.
So, as a Christian who believes God can and does use all of us to make the world a better place, I refuse to believe that this moment is an opportunity to point fingers at already vulnerable people. And yet, there’s a specific passage that has been tap dancing on my last nerve in the last few weeks:
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
This scripture can get really sticky if you’re not careful.
On one level, imprecise and vague sprinklings of this scripture feel like a petty way to be homophobic, elitist, misogynist, and so much more. It feels like a passive aggressive, nice-nasty cop-out. But we know better. Many of us have had to learn to wade through dog-whistle waters and read between the lines, so we know who you mean by “wicked.” Y’all are not low.
A perfect example: A viewer recently called in to The 700 Club to ask, “How can God heal our land and forgive the sins when abortion and same-sex marriage are laws and many people are anti-Israel? Doesn’t this prevent his healing and forgiveness?” Pat Robertson’s response was expected. Helifted that very scripture on his broadcast saying, “The Bible says … turn from their wicked ways. We are not turning when we have done terrible things. We have broken the covenant that God made with mankind. We have violated his covenant.”
Such an argument puts already targeted people at risk by giving credence to an abusive God. Thanks to this idea, we will see a rise in hate crimes against anyone who does not adhere to social norms. We’ve already seen a rise in violence against Asian people. Instead of blaming the right folks for this moment, we’re blaming the same people who have been used as target practice for centuries. You could blame gay people and people who have had abortions like Pat Robertson, or you could lay responsibility at the feet of the one who eliminated the job of pandemic response coordinator.
There are real reasons why we are in a season of death and crisis. But it is not The People’s fault. If you are reading this and you are wondering, Is this a punishment for___? I don’t think so. Coronavirus did not sweep the land because women hold hands in the street. It did not come because your cousin asked you to call her by her new name. It did not come because women “twerk instead of cooking” or because women don’t respect the authority of a man “these days.” It did not come because God needed to teach us a lesson. God did not need to humble us.
This moment is here because sometimes, sadly, bad things happen. We want a clear explanation for why we suffer—it’s a very human need. When we lose someone, we want there to be a reason. But sometimes, there is no reason. I wish I had a clear answer to the question: Why is the virus here? The shame comes as we watch governments and states in denial about its potency.
However, if anyone is wicked, it is the one hoarding wealth and paying employees pennies. The wicked are the chain restaurants accepting small business grants. The wicked refuse to practice adequate health care based on your insurance, your skin color, your BMI, or your zip code. The wicked have been claiming “this is all a hoax, nothing worse than the flu” and have rushed to “reopen the economy.”
The wicked ones are millionaires and billionaires asking everyday people to donate when they are richer than God Herself. If anyone is wicked, it is the one who feels no shame evicting tenants in a pandemic, expecting full rent in a pandemic, pressuring tenants for sex as payment in a pandemic. The Wicked are the ones who expect full and uninterrupted productivity in a pandemic. The Wicked are the ones who have exploited this crisis.
And those Wicked absolutely need to turn from their ways.
Perhaps if they did, God wouldn’t need to intervene to heal the land. By that point, though, the land would heal itself.
Candace Simpson is an educator, minister and writer. She believes that Heaven is a Revolution that can happen right here on Earth. She invites others into that philosophy at www.fishsandwichheaven.com