I cannot recall a period in my life when every social institution seemed to be facing uncertainty at the same time, considering what we are experiencing at this particular moment in history. The Coronavirus has upended all sense of normalcy here in the Pacific Northwest, across the United States, and throughout the global community. I intuit that people everywhere are struggling to make sense out of the world and more importantly, struggling with how to understand themselves amid the vicissitudes of life. As a constructive theologian with a liberative lens, I am asking the question: Where is God at work in these trying times?
My first source of hope says that God is indeed in this world and that this world is in God; God is infinite in the finite, the transcendent in the immanent, and the absolute in the relative (Perez 2007, 15). My consideration of the Divine brings me infinite comfort because I experience God with and through the earth as transition and transformation happen. The God of my understanding is present with us in our questions continuously self-disclosing, so that every situation presents an opportunity to discover the beauty of the unfolding of God. I understand the Biblical claim that God is love (I John 4:8) to explain the whole essence of the Divine. Love opens the whole creation up to life and calls all things into being. This understanding of God places a demand on my human vocation to oppose any tie that binds us to something less than the fullest expression of our humanity (Spong 1998, 66).
My second source of hope is that because I understand God to be love, God’s active work in the world is redemption. This is not to say that evil, pain, suffering, and distress are not present, but that even in the midst of the most dreadful of circumstances a redemptive narrative is always unfolding. Evil is that which has successfully resisted God. The risk of Divine love is that it creates a world in which real and terrible resistance to God is possible. Divine love as a source of tragic world order is also the vision of justice, vindication, and compassion that transcends tragedy (Farley 1990, 97-99). Love is always risky because it is also always vulnerable. My God-consciousness allows for the vulnerability of God to be a door for human flourishing.
My third source of hope in trying times is that at the heart of God’s radiant love, there is always human flourishing. If God is the ultimate source of life, then one worships God by living fully (Spong, A New Christianity for a New World 2002, 70). Chaos is then an opportunity for life to spring forth. The reality of our sociopolitical partisan dysfunction is that it provides the opportunity for us to reimagine the best of society. Upheaval in our institutions is the opportunity to create new institutions that reflect kinship and move past imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchal norms. Coronavirus is teaching us that we are one global community. It shows us what it means to be fundamentally human. It does not ask about our nationalism, it only tells us that we share the human experience. The global economy is suffering because we are dependent on each other for our collective survival.
What seems to be unmooring us is really the beginning of beauty. Beauty is sacred, unprecedented and intelligible – evoking awe and reverence. Every encounter with the Divine, the wholly Other prompts creativity. Beauty nourishes and restores because it incites a longing for what is true (Copeland 2010, 18). The world is in immeasurable chaos and each day brings more with it, but that chaos is unfolding into beauty.
Non schola, sed vitae,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Interim Director of the Doctor of Ministry| Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Copeland, M. Shawn. 2010. Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Farley, Wendy. 1990. Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion A Contemporary Theodicy. Louisville : Westminster John Knox Press.
Perez, Joe. 2007. Soulfully Gay: How Havard, Sex, Drugs, and Integral Philosophy Drove Me Crazy And Brought Me Back To God . Boston: Integral Books.
Spong, John Shelby. 2002. A New Christianity for a New World. New York: Harper SanFransico.
—. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: Harper Collins.