God in the coronavirus
by Bernardo Cervellera

Our global society has been hit by a scourge similar to the plague of the 1300s and 1600s, the cholera epidemic of two centuries ago, or the Asian flu of the last century. Discovering our impotence and fear of death. The apocalypse and escape. For many Christians in Asia it is not a question of escape: they have found God in the coronavirus. Political powers see God as an enemy (in China) or as an unnecessary encumbrance (in the West). God is our greatest ally.

coronavirus feed the anguish in many people in Asia, Italy and the world. When the epidemic emerged in China and Hong Kong, we were amazed to see the rush for surgical masks, to stockpile on non-perishable foods emptying supermarkets, racist attacks on Chinese people.

Then the same things happened in the rest of the world, as the virus spread across different latitudes. We could never have imagined that in the 21st century we would witness our global society hit by such an elusive and tenacious scourge: we were convinced that such things were consigned to the history books: the plague of the 1300s and 1600s, the cholera epidemic of two centuries ago, or the Asian flu of the last century.

We who live in a world where science and technology guarantee us well-being and offer a solution for every pain, have realized we are not omnipotent and that nature’s fantasies can continually surpasses our control skills. While several labs - driven by the desire to capitalize on the disease - promise that there will be the medicine to eradicate this evil in a few weeks, the most serious scholars admit that it will take maybe a year before finding a vaccine. In the meantime there will be more deaths, more infected, more fears.

The unruly and often violent way in which people react to anguish is a clear result of the discovery of our helplessness and fear of death. It would take someone more powerful than the virus, more capable than doctors, more capable of guaranteeing our lives to restore calm. It would take God.

But precisely this God, the reference to an absolute guarantee of meaning to expectation and illness, seems to be the most distant in our contemporary world. Together with God, the source of life, we would be more secure in experiencing death, more courageous in being close to those who suffer, more diligent and humble in the search for the famous vaccine.

Does this epidemic and this coronavirus have anything to do with God? As in past ages, apocalyptic preachers arise here and there claiming that the epidemic is now the last chapter of the end of the world, the last step in the hands of an avenging God against intelligent, but proud man.

For many, then, the only salvation is to flee: away from society, to some atomic shelter, or to the mountains, as if you could save yourself and live alone, while the world is being shaken.

For many Christians in Asia it is not a question of escape: they have found God in the coronavirus. There are people in Hong Kong who instead of worrying about finding masks for themselves, are concerned with buying and distributing them to old people in their neighborhood who are unable to move. Even long periods of isolation at home have become an opportunity for silence and prayer, rediscovering that humility close to God that the frenzy of omnipotence had almost obliterated.

Even in China, where the government has decreed the closure of churches indefinitely, the faithful strive to remember the Lord and transform their living rooms into houses of prayer with the Bible on display, flowers, a crucifix. And even if the powers-that-be forbid religious activities in unregistered places - such as private homes - families meet together, together with their children to ask for mercy for them and for the country. And they do it together with their children, whom the government normally bans from attending mass.

The political powers of the world, from the Chinese to the Italian, try to show themselves adequate, confident, capable of defeating the threat that is hanging over their peoples. They keep factories and shopping centers open, but not churches, fearing that they will have to confess their closeness before God and people. They see God as an enemy (in China), or as an unnecessary encumbrance (in the West). And instead He is our greatest ally in these bitter times: to create solidarity among people, now as the economic crisis overwhelms us; to treat young and old with dignity; to hope for a life-without-end, now that we realize we are not the masters.