In a previous post I had some comments about whether the Coronavirus pandemic could be seen as the wrath of God, and if so in what way. Now we have the one-two punch of a pandemic and racial unrest that reveals a soul-sick society still in great need of redemptive healing. And the voice of one segment of that society cries out in rage.
Let me just re-iterate the basis of my comments on the virus founded in a Pauline notion of the divine: that God is not a being “out there somewhere”, somehow separate from their creation, but is “over all and through all and in all,” and “in whom we live and move and have our being.” A reality that transcends creation, but that creation is a part of, that we as humans are integrally connected with, and which is ultimately defined by one word: love. In that way, who we are and how well we reflect that definition will in part define the health and wellness of God themselves.
I combine that with the story of a man who is said to be the ultimate example of what that reality would look like as an actual human being living among us. He was an ethnic minority living in territory occupied by a nation obsessed with its own power and economic well being, daily witness to all of the injustices which accompany that. A nation with a political structure that was in bed with religious leaders who used a fear and shame based religion to keep people subjugated physically and spiritually. A system controlled by religious and political leaders who based their power and privilege in defining who the outsiders were and who was less than equal.
The God-man raged against it. He excoriated the religious elite with no-holds-barred teaching to lay bare their hypocrisy. He raged through the marketplace with a whip, disrupting commerce and calling out their unjust and unequal economics for the ungodly travesty it was.
That was the wrath of God. That was the voice of God raging against the injustice that is the opposite of love. Today that is what I am hearing in the rhetoric and seeing in the overturning of tables.
I began with the notion that the voice of one segment of our society cries out in rage. I hear in that voice the wrath of a God crying out in sickness and pain, who is still not well, not entirely whole. Because we shouldn’t be able to even describe our brothers and sisters as a “segment” of our society. It has been 2,000 years since a movement began with the declaration that there are no segments, we are all one and a part of the one that is all. But here we are.
The winds and the rain are beating against our house, revealing a foundation that is cracked and unstable. It remains to be seen if the great crash is what’s next, and if so whether we are able to rebuild a better foundation in order to construct something more durable.
I had a conversation the other day with someone about whether the Coronavirus outbreak is going to be considered an “act of God.” This apparently has some financial implications related to insurance and stuff, but for my part I was wondering how it is those who purport to be followers of God would think about something like this, if it is indeed a deliberate act.
I start with the presumption that the usual way to think about deliberate acts of God like this have something to do with God being angry and pouring out judgment, the so-called “wrath of God.” For a long time now I’ve thought a little differently about that phrase. Wrath, or orge, is derived from the notion of a plant swelling with liquid and “crowding out” what doesn’t belong. To me, that’s a perfect analogy to our immune system: if we are attacked by something like a virus our immune system sends white blood cells to attack it and drive it out.
Combine that understanding with how I have evolved theologically (my term: not everyone would consider it an evolution) to think about God more along Pauline lines: that God is “over all and through all and in all,” and “in whom we live and move and have our being,” but especially that God is love: absolute compassion in action. The leads me to think of the "wrath of God" as their immune system: a built in response that crowds out whatever does not conform to that ideal.
A couple of examples of “natural disasters” which were also “acts of God” described in the bible come to mind. One is the great flood annihilating everyone because the earth was corrupt and full of violence. I no longer subscribe to a dualistic view of God as a deity out there somewhere full of anger who devolves into a genocidal maniac. However, there is a story here that says something true: bad things happen when we are corrupt and hostile toward one another. But when the waters have subsided there are always those left who have evolved to understand peace better and able to declare “never again.”
Likewise, the sin of Sodom was that “She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49) We know what the “act of God” was in that story.
This is a god-awful mess we’re in right now. But is it an act of God? I’m hoping so. Not as a deliberate judgment from a wrathful deity being poured out on us from elsewhere, but an immune response that will help us make progress in crowding out those things that do not conform to love, to compassion in action.
As I write there is a conversation going on as to whether it is worth sacrificing potentially millions of lives on the altar of the markets. I pray that God’s immune response during this crisis will help to crowd out and destroy that kind of thinking. There are even so-called “Christian” leaders joining this pathetic godless chorus. I pray that this will help to hasten the demise of that particular “strain” of Christianity.
I hope you don’t mind me referring to it as that. I’m not suggesting that brand of fundamentalism is a virus that humanity has contracted.
Really, I’m not.
I pray that God’s immune response will help us to evolve beyond the lessons of coronavirus into ways of thinking about our economic systems that advance the cause of justice, what the Bible calls righteousness: everything working right for everyone.
I pray that God’s immune response will help us to evolve in our understanding that our common humanity knows no borders and we are all in this together because we are all one thing, God in us and us in them.
I no longer believe something like the Corona epidemic could be a deliberate act of God who decided for whatever reason to do this to humanity. I could never even like a God like that, much less love them. But I have no trouble thinking of this as a divine immune response that will help us to be stronger and better as a human race on the other side: a people more just, more compassionate, and more committed to the systems and processes that will achieve that kind of wellness: that kind of salubris.
So this is the “year of the bible,” or it’s supposed to be according to someone. I have no idea who decides on these things but I’m thinking that if I ever got volunteered for that committee I would subsequently be ejected with all due haste. In any event, hearing that this year had been designated as that by those in the know reminded me of one of the great “here’s how we should think about the bible” passages that I grew up with, towit:
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb. 4:12,13)
So yeah, that is how most “bible believers” think about the bible, and the mental image I also had of it growing up: as a sword doing those things that swords do, in this case including judging us because this is, after all, a metaphor regarding the way God wants to weaponize their word. But I find myself wondering if this is actually how the author is suggesting we really think about it? Keep in mind that the bible he’s talking about is the Old Testament, the law and the prophets and the writings. Here’s what he has to say about that as he sets the tone at the beginning for the rest of the book:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (1:1,2)
That is, if you’ll excuse the expression, a big but. That’s how God used to speak to us. We’re on to a new reality here, something characterized by things like entering God’s rest and being freed of the slavery of our fear of death. Allow me to side-step into a geek moment and say that although nobody knows who actually wrote Hebrews, I’ve always thought of them as a disciple of the apostle Paul. Death for Paul is code for living in a reality of shame and condemnation because you think you’re still subject to religious rules, which is why he can speak of the Old Testament law (specifically the 10 commandments) as the “ministry that brought death,” because it is the “ministry that brings condemnation.” (2 Cor. 3:7-9) It seems to me that the author of Hebrews agrees when he speaks of the work Christ did for us as cleansing our conscience from “acts that lead to death.” (9:14) That phrase is nekron ergon. Dead works, useless rituals: religious rites we think we have to perform to appease God.
So, I’m suggesting that perhaps we can read the passage in question differently from what we’re used to. What if the author isn’t affirming these aspects of the “word of God,” but critiquing them as the ways in which we used to think about it but should be over with in the new reality? Let’s be honest here: just how is it that we ever thought that being skewered by a sword and sliced up was a positive metaphor? That’s how people get killed. Spiritually speaking, that’s what will happen if you allow the “word of God” to make you feel judged for failing to comply.
So by all means, let’s make it the year of the bible. A time when we can finally get past thinking of it as God’s little book of rules to follow or else we’ll get spanked. After all, getting skewered and sliced in half makes it really difficult to approach God’s throne of grace with confidence to receive mercy and find grace. (4:16)
As stated on my home page, Salubris means wellness, or wholeness. It is also the Latinized version of the Greek term soteria as well as the Hebrew term yeshua. As a former pastor with a Master of Divinity, it is interesting to me to note that this is the term which is often-times translated as salvation in the Bible.
I used to think of salvation as a transaction that occurred between an individual and God, something that was necessary for us to be allowed into heaven when we die since we don’t qualify based on the bad things we have done or simply by virtue of being born human, which automatically makes us unacceptable to God.
I imagine that over time I will explain just why I have concluded that most aspects of that narrative lie somewhere on the spectrum between problematic and toxic, but for now let me just say that I think of the concept of salvation, of salubris, in broader more nuanced categories these days.
In the New Testament, the authors interpret the events they are describing as the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophetic concept known as (among other things) the “day of salvation.” This has implications that range from the individual to the cosmic, since it is spoken of as the achievement of a “new creation,” the wholeness and well being of the entirety of the created order.
Our salubris is certainly individual, of course. The Old Testament prophetic description of the new creation that is referenced by New Testament authors refers to a time when “those who fail to reach 100 will be considered accursed.” Nobody could accuse me of being a Biblical literalist these days, but this nevertheless speaks to me of physical wellness, and certainly causes me to reflect on the current science that we are all naturally equipped to become fully functional centenarians, free from chronic disease and physical and mental incapacity. Salubris, wellness, is wholeness: total functional integration of all the component parts of a system, and any disease is essentially a lack of integration, some part of the system not playing nice with all of the others in the complex relationship between body, mind and spirit that is the human condition. As I have mentioned to some of my friends, if I am approaching my triple digits and am feeble, stupid, angry or depressed, it won’t be because I didn’t do the things I knew I could to avoid it. Doing what I can to make available those things, as I have to date identified them, is a part of what the Salubris website is about.
Salubris is also relational, in our local as well as societal and global contexts. For instance, Isaiah describes the day of salvation as a time characterized by economic justice, when people fully enjoy the fruits of their own labor and nobody is left out. In quoting that prophet to declare that he was the one to inaugurate this new reality, Jesus affirms that it will be characterized by things like good news for the poor and freedom for prisoners and the oppressed. The new creation is to be the home of righteousness, which is the word for justice: not a lack of bad behavior by individuals, but things working right on a societal level. We do not get to wellness as individuals in isolation: we have to be integrated into a system that supports that goal for everyone. In the bigger picture, we read that the “wolf and the lamb will feed together,” prophetic imagery that envisions the politically and economically powerful no longer in domination over the weak. Just as we as individuals achieve wellness when all pieces of the system are integrated and nothing fails or is left out, so the human race is spoken of as one body, one “new humanity”, and the same principle applies for our wellness: there is none that is the “other,” and none with lesser value. If this site can advance the conversations we need as to how to achieve salubris at those levels, that would be a work I would consider worth being a part of.
The implications for those conversations with regard to the complex systems that make up our natural world are self evident, but here the picture is also even bigger. Modern quantum physics informs us that the universe is getting more complex and more integrated, and more and more theologians are seeing in this a trajectory toward something continually better, or more loving if you will, on a universal scale. If you agree with Paul that God is “over all, and through all, and in all,” then it is no stretch to say that God themselves are in the process of becoming “saved.” In all of the little and large ways that we advance the kind of lovingkindness that achieves wellness for ourselves and others, we play a part in that. That is our gift, that is our call.
That is how I think of salvation, of salubris, these days. It is small, and it is large and everything in between. Not a transaction but a process of achieving wholeness and wellness that affects every part of us and every aspect of what and who we are a part of.