Seventeen years ago, a phrase invaded my conversation and my theology. My mom had died of cancer, I was starting my work in a new place, and it seemed that we had a lot of challenges and griefs. Then, someone asked a question that started a journey for me.
“Do you ever wonder what you did to deserve this?” he asked. Frankly, I was shocked by the question. But the longer I live, the more I hear that kind of question. It takes on a much more inflated emotional import. “Is God judging us?” or “What have I done that I’m overlooking?” or “I don’t deserve what I’m getting, do I?” are the questions that have come in various forms. Our culture has developed a cause/effect kind of theology, partly because of the influence of health/wealth theology in our country. (That implies that health & wealth are signals of spiritual health. If you are pleasing God, you stay healthy and your wealth grows. And yes, I completely reject that!)
Answering these, I began to say, “It is what it is. Not more. Not less.” Every person who breathes, dies. Period. No exceptions. Every person in an economy that is faltering sees a negative effect. It’s not a matter of if, but of where, when, and how. My mom died of cancer that we could not explain, but she was going to die from something. It wasn’t a special judgment on her, or my family. It was part of living in a fallen, fractured world where disease and mortality find us all.
Our present state of pandemic isn’t a special judgment, any more than the plague, or smallpox, or polio, or any of the other epidemics were judgments on those generations. Sure, we can connect some conditions in our world or environment to our choices. We have more smog because we are an industrialized nation, but our air quality is better than some other countries because we have taken steps to reduce emissions.
So, this season of pandemic and racial unrest isn’t a specific judgment. It is reflective of a fallen world where viruses spread, where humanity’s brutal choices like slavery have long-lasting effects on cultures, and where that same humanity must decide if they will confront those choices with repentance and renewed attitudes. It’s reflective of the fact that, in spite of a host of kindness, we will still be confronted with brutal choices, selfishness, and greed.
Every day, we have a choice about what we will embrace and why. Jesus is our hope, and He modeled a life that He also called us to pursue. Living and loving like Jesus guides how we respond to medical issues and community infection. Living and loving like Jesus guides how we view people who are different from ourselves. And living and loving like Jesus CERTAINLY crucifies our selfishness and empowers us to SERVE other people, even when it is inconvenient, uncomfortable, or difficult.
It is what it is. And Jesus’ call on our lives provides both the hope and power to face life as it is.