My dad was a vibrant and healthy 67-year-old when he caught COVID-19 and died a few weeks before Christmas.
It was an abrupt and jarring experience for my family. I was left heartbroken and enraged. I was angry at this seemingly never-ending pandemic and honestly, at God for creating such a broken world.
For days after my Dad died, as a way of praying my pain, I imagined myself standing outside the gates of heaven hurling insults and rocks at the Divine. I kept thinking of the story of Job and how he refused to curse God. In this moment, I fully realized I am not Job.
Day after day, I kept showing up at the gates, heaving accusations and a flood of obscenities at God. Perhaps I was trying to provoke God; I wanted the gates to open and for the Divine to step out and give me some explanation.
I will be clear that my theology does not embrace the idea that God caused my father to die for God’s glory. Yet, I am hard pressed to understand why God would allow a world where a virus can, within months, destroy the lives of so many people — 468,000 deaths in America at the moment I write these words. More than 2.3 million deaths worldwide.
What the hell, God? Do you not care for us? So many tears and so much grief. Tears for breakfast, lunch and dinner. What is wrong with you, God? Do you delight in seeing us suffer?
One day, when my grief was particularly heavy, I brought a battering ram along on my trip to heaven’s gates and attempted to break them down and hold God to account. (I fully understand the absurdity of this statement, but I have always believed God can handle our emotions, including our rage and soul-crushing grief. Plus, where else could I go?) As I pounded away at the pearly gates, unexpectedly, an image of God heartbroken and enraged came to mind.
“It is easier to blame God than to admit we have failed one another.”
Then, this uneasy truth washed over me: It is easier to blame God than to admit we have failed one another.
The thought came: What if God’s rage and sorrow matches my own? After all, more than 2 million of God’s beloved children have died. Their lives cut short. They did not have to die; so many lives could have been saved.
Then, I envisioned God with clenched fists and tears streaming down, red, blocky cheeks stomping around earth demanding we give an account for our behavior. “Why didn’t you listen?” God demands of us. “Why didn’t you care?”
The thought came that maybe it was God speaking through scientists and medical experts and warning us this could happen. God pleading with us to take this seriously, to don our masks, wash our hands and keep our distance. But too many of us refused to believe or listen.
Maybe it was God begging us not to throw Fourth of July and Halloween parties and to forgo holiday celebrations with our families just this one year. But too many of us rebuffed the warnings, preferring personal pleasure and touting individual freedom over concern for the common good.
Our treasured rugged individualism has cost us so many lives. When will we learn that interdependence, neighborliness and community are the real virtues?
“When will we learn that interdependence, neighborliness and community are the real virtues?”
The problem was exasperated by our leaders, who stuck their heads in the sand and underestimated the threat for months. Preferring profits to people. Even when it became clear how deadly the virus was, they failed to lead by example. Allowing some false sense of bravado or machismo, to create a culture of “I ain’t scairt of no virus.”
While they swaggered, the bodies piled up. In this nation, which loves to claim to be “Christian,” we were so cavalier with our siblings lives. When will we learn that we belong to one another?
I thought even now, we do not feel the full weight of our decisions. But God does. For the last year, God has sat by every bedside where beloved children took their last breaths. God held their hands, including my Dad’s, when their loved ones could not. God heard every wail of devastated families, witnessed dreams shattering and counted their tears. God watched as nurses and doctors collapsed under the weight of it all.
God also has borne the brunt of our failure. God has suffered.
Carol McEntyre serves as senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Columbia, Mo., and is moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.