Brueggemann’s The Virus – Part 11 Conclusion

Reflections in this blog and in those that follow, are based on Walter Brueggemann’s recent book, Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Anxiety (Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon), 2020. Brueggemann is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Colombia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia. This is part 11 Conclusion.

Brueggemann asserts that God is doing a new thing “in, with, and under” the COVID crisis (57) There is a difference, he argues, between causing the virus and using it. Brueggemann sees the possibility that God is “checking arrogance and curbing hubris” (57). He writes: “We now see curbed the absolute world of technological certitude that faces a mystery beyond calculation. We see that our immense power is unable to fend off threat that is for the moment beyond our explanation. We see that our great wealth is not able to assure us of security.” (57) And the outcome? Brueggemann hopes for “a new neighborly normal.” (57)

Brueggemann has been describing a process that has been moving us into ourselves as we have needed to isolate; re-evaluate our priorities; find new ways to go to school; go to work; adapt without work; gather – worship and minister as church; be family and neighbor. If despairing, we collapse in upon ourselves. Divorce rates and abuse rates have climbed at pace with the rates of infection. Alcoholism and drug use have risen. Risky, careless behavior has enabled the virus to spread. However, rethinking, risking, re-imagining, we have been able to hope for “a possible world not yet in view.” (58)

Governments have provided financial supports for businesses, industries, small businesses, and social programs. “Daring imagination” is becoming “historical possibility.” There is emerging a “moral imagination” that is “congruent with God’s hope for neighborliness.” Brueggemann writes, “That moral imagination is rooted in promise; at the same time it is grounded in the realities of dollars, laws, natural resources and social conditions. The prophetic task is to submit our awareness of dollars, laws, natural resources, and social conditions to the hopes of the creator God. Such imagination is indeed, ‘The assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen’ [Hebrews 11:1] (58)

We could surrender to self-protectionism, seeking to insure our own well-being and safety at the expense of others. But that really is not security or safety or freedom. And when this COVID crisis finally recedes, the greater climate crisis will still remain. We cannot go back to normal. We are becoming a people with a new future. “The new thing God is making is a world of generous, neighborly compassion.” (58)

But this is going to be costly. It will be dangerous. There will be “labor pains, cries and demands.” (61) Christians would call this the way of the cross. “This process (emphasis his) … is a process of pain that is very deep, so deep that it cannot be lived through quietly or serenely, perhaps not by either the creator or by the creation.” (62)

Brueggemann has written elsewhere about the theme of “neighborly compassion.” He has also written before about the necessity of “breaking the silence.” This goes al the way back to the story of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. God confronts Cain asking, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:10) The Hebrew children cried out in Egypt, groaning in their slavery. (Exodus 2:23). In defending his innocence, Job invited the land to cry out against him with weeping and thorns and weeds, if he were guilty. But such an outcry was not necessary. (Job 31:38-40) When some Pharisees challenged Jesus to have his disciples stop their ministries, Jesus replied saying, “I tell you if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19:39-40)

There must be an outcry. As these passages illustrate, the silence must be broken to accuse the guilty, defend the innocent, share the anguish and proclaim the expectation of God’s deliverance.

So, as we have seen in these weeks of reflection, the virus draws us into ourselves, but then we are drawn beyond ourselves, into the Other and then beyond the holy Other into the one shared wholeness and well-being of all the others.

The change God is seeking is not the next step of progress. It is neither a technological given, nor the evolution of human dignity. Brueggemann calls it a “mystery shrouded gift from God.”

He writes, “The truth of newness from the human side is that God’s gift comes at huge cost, the cost of acknowledging that old creation has failed and is dysfunctional, the awareness that new creation requires disciplines, intentional reception. As a result, the move from old to new entails bewildering loss of control that comes in relinquishment.” (65)

He continues, “The move from an old creation marked by rapacious acquisitiveness to the new world of justice, mercy, compassion, peace and security is one that in socio-economic, political terms necessitates renunciation, repentance, yielding, and ceding of what has been.” (65)

Brueggemann reminds Christians that in the ritual of baptism we are asked, “Do you renounce Satan and all his works?” Barely audibly, we respond, “Yes, with the help of God.” But Brueggemann also reminds us of “a renunciation of economic and political dimension that will be experienced as deep loss and that will evoke deep groans of a quite concrete, practical kind.” (65-66)

If we cannot shout out loud, “Yes! I renounce them!” then we must at least groan as deeply and as loudly as is required. “The groan is the mark of shock, bewilderment, and recognition that stands between the old world of death and the new world of life…. The Groan is the gate to the future of God’s new creation.” (66)

There must be an outcry.

It is possible to have a groan with no future. Here there is pain and despair and disillusionment. There are no gifts. There is no justice. Instead of going ahead, we go back, to the familiar, the normal, the exploitive and unjust. We act too late. We do too little.  The tipping point is reached. There is no recovery. Creation, though not destroyed, becomes intolerable.

It is also possible to have a future with no groan. We continue with a global economy, with no denial, no cost, no global fair share, no investment in change.

But Brueggemann sees something more. “It is known among us that the new creation, from the human side, is a new network of care that requires the end of domination and exploitation, the end of controlling truth and monopolies of certitude, the end of an oil- based comfort that makes every day one of ease, comfort, luxury, extravagance and self-indulgence. That new network of care depends upon a willingness to think of creation not only as a wondrous gift but also as an uncompromising limit.”

So, as I take the vision of Brueggemann the prophet to heart, I ask, “Are we groaning enough?… Who are we groaning for?… Who are we groaning with? …”

Conclusion:

This virus can draw us into a deeper relationship with God. Or not. And when the COVID crisis wanes, the environmental crisis remains. This is an even greater crisis. A more urgent summons. With deeper, more desperate groaning.

When we answer the summons to lose ourselves – to live more deeply, more simply, less selfishly, we will find ourselves more deeply related to God. And more deeply relating to God, we will find ourselves more deeply relating to others – all others, human and non-human, creatures and elements, above and below, beside and within.

But we must join the chorus of groaning. And, by grace, the groaning will become less about noise and more about chorus.

Imagine.

“Owwwwwwww!” becomes “Wowwwww!”

They sound the same.

But they begin differently.

And end differently.

“My God, how long?!” becomes “My God!”… becomes

Alleluia!

If you have followed this whole series, these eleven blogs, it has taken a long time to get here.

God issued a summons, an invitation.

No, you RSVP to an invitation.

You show up to a summons.

We have not known how long this virus was going to take to get here.

To the Incarnate Christ, time means everything.

To the Cosmic Christ, time means nothing.

Time takes what it takes

for the care of creation….

DMS

Brueggemann’s Virus – Part 10

Reflections in this blog and in those that follow, are based on Walter Brueggemann’s recent book, Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Anxiety (Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon), 2020. Brueggemann is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Colombia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia. This is part 10.

Brueggemann uses Psalm 77 as a description of a life at first preoccupied with self but reoriented to reliance upon God. This “recontextualization” allows for the possibility of a life once closed in upon itself, being opened to God and beyond God to others. The constricted life, bound and blind by self-absorption, is opened to a new imagination, a capacity to see by faith a future that is about to come.

Let us look at this quickly. The psalm begins with a person in deep lament. The focus is on “I.” I cry aloud to God… I seek the Lord… my hand is stretched out… my soul refuses to be comforted… I think of God… I moan… I meditate… my spirit faints… my eyelids are kept by God from closing… I am so troubled I cannot speak… I consider the days of old… I remember the years of long ago… I commune with my heart… I meditate and search my spirit.

And then the person questions the nature of God. “Will the Lord spurn forever and never again be favorable? Has steadfast love ceased forever? Are [God’s] promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has [God] in anger shut up [God’s] compassion? (vv. 7-9) But even as the psalmist questions God, the accusations are with reference to himself. This God has failed me. This person cries out day and night without comfort or relief. Something in God has changed (v. 10)!

Then in verse 11, something in the psalmist has changed. The obsession with present suffering is replaced by memories of the past. And the address is no longer to God out there, in the void, but to “You”, as though present and engaged.

The God the psalmist has always known or presumed to know, the God who is supposed to act as the psalmist expected is not there. It seems God has turned away. God does not care. God has forgotten.

The psalmist has lost faith. The faith that once was is now broken. There is nothing more to be seen, nothing more to be said. “The right hand of the Most High has changed.” (v. 10) So, in this broken faith, there is no God…. Or, the psalmist must relate to God in a different way.

So, the psalmist remembers the mighty deeds of God. Not what God failed to do in the life of the psalmist but what God has done in the history of God’s people. There is more to God’s story than this one simple, and not so simple, story. God’s arm has seemed impotent in the psalmist’s story. But there have been other mighty deeds – and wonders – and experiences of redemption. Even when the footprints of God could not be seen, there was a path through the sea, and God had used others, like Moses and Aaron, to lead the people like a flock.

The psalmist has come a long way. Waiting and longing and suffering and emptiness have become like death. The God who is supposed to provide and protect and comfort and console and bless… doesn’t always do that. Relating to God can be hazardous! This is not the world the psalmist imagined. So, either there is no God and faith is pointless…. Or the psalmist needs a new imagination. Not a fantasy, not a fairy tale, or opiate for the masses, but a new way of seeing, beyond himself or herself Brueggemann will call this “a new neighborly normal” (57) with a  moral imperative.

But that means letting go. That means dying, so something else may be given new life.

Brueggemann says this is the heart of preaching. “We do not know how any faith-speaker makes the leap from the preoccupation with self to an imaginative acknowledgement of the primacy of the other. But that is what happens in this psalm and in all serious biblical faith.” (51)

Brueggemann affirms this is counter-cultural. “The narcissism of our culture… is precisely aimed at not ceding self, not relinquishing. (emphasis his) The psalm models the very move of faith that our cultural ideology wants to prevent. The whole consumer perspective concerns the retention of self and satiation of self.” (51)

Against this backdrop, consider the I-I-I-I emphasis we have seen during the pandemic. The focus for so many has been on my job, my freedom, my right to congregate as desired, my right to refuse a face mask. And then as the vaccine has been rolling out… my right to have it, even if it means I jump the line or travel outside the country to get it…. Because I can.

Consider the I-I-I-I mentality that insists on ripping the top off of a mountain to get coal… or insists on taking away indigenous land and water and way of life in order to mine lithium. We will worry about the water later and the fish later and we will leave oil wells uncapped and ocean drilling platforms abandoned. And we will bundle up bales of still usable, but no longer desirable clothing and ship them off to other countries. We will fill containers with electronic and chemical waste and ship them away for someone else to dismantle, dispose or simply bury. Let someone else get sick. We do not want any of that in our neighborhood!

Brueggemann’s thesis throughout this tiny book is that the virus is a summons to faith in a time of grief, loss and anxiety. And faith calls for imagination. Faith calls for new relationships. Faith is not easy. It is work. It is costly. It is hazardous.

But as faith remembers other mighty deeds, as faith imagines new works, just works, holy works, the eyes and the heart turn away from preoccupation with self to new awareness, new dedication to the other. First the holy Other, and then beyond to the many others that are brothers and sisters, even to the seventh generation to come.

But that will mean listening to the cry of creation and to the cry of the poor. All creation is groaning (Romans 8:22). And people of justice, compassion and faith will not likely stop that groaning. No, rather. They will join it!

And that is the subject of our next and last blog in this series….

Brueggemann’s Virus – Part 9

Reflections in this blog and in those that follow, are based on Walter Brueggemann’s recent book, Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Anxiety (Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon), 2020. Brueggemann is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Colombia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia. This is part 9.

Every day our chief medical officer gives her report of the numbers of new COVID cases, the numbers in ICU, the numbers who have died.  And without fail she graciously expresses her condolences to all the families who grieve the loss of loved ones, saying. “My thoughts and prayers go out to all those who have died and to those who mourn.”

It is said that when there is nothing more one can do, pray. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 reminds us that women and men of faith pray without ceasing. We begin our reflection on Brueggemann’s thesis with these words. “The eyes of Israel are on YHWH in the temple, because there is no alternative help. Where else could they look!” (40)

We begin today at the dedication of the Temple according to 1 Kings 8:23-53. Here King Solomon urges the people of Israel to pray in all circumstances. He does not merely teach about prayer, but he models it. There follow seven examples of urgent need… sin against a neighbor (v. 31) … defeat in war (v. 33) … drought (v. 35) … plague (pestilence) blight, mildew (v. 37) … prayer of a foreigner (v. 41) …in time of war (v. 44) … in captivity (v. 46). Each crisis is named, a petition follows beginning in every case with “Then hear in heaven” (v.v. 32, 34, 36, 39, 43,45, 49). The people will pray in this temple and God will hear in heaven. For the sake of God’s covenant with Moses, God will hear and will respond. This Temple is for the people to pray and for God to hear.

One can imagine the distress when the Temple later falls and is destroyed.

The Chronicler tells the same story (2 Chronicles 6:14-42). The formula is the same. The same crises are named. And with each petition there are these words “May you hear from heaven,” in most cases followed by “and forgive.” Forgiveness is the context from which God will respond to the people of Israel. But not for the sake of Moses; now for the sake of the covenant made with David.

The temple is a place for prayer. The people can pray with trust. But not with certitude. That is to say, the people are assured that God will hear, but the outcome may not be as they might plead.

Does prayer work? What does that mean, work? Is God a vending machine, dispensing the favors people seek if they but give voice to the right words with the right faith, in the right tradition and liturgical format?

No.

Is prayer simply fantasy and magical thinking? God’s response to processions and prayer breakfasts, royal displays of drama and public relations? (41) “Just say your prayers and all will be well.” As President Trump assured Americans concerned with the COVID virus, “One day it will all disappear… like a miracle.”

No, God and the people are free agents. Each with the capacity to come and to go. In the case of the people, to act faithfully, to fall away, and to respond again to God’s faithfulness with repentance and renewed obedience. God also is free to respond as requested, or in some other way, or at some other time. Prayer is not mechanical. The people are free, but in their freedom there is the capacity for relationship.

Brueggemann affirms, “The texts do not linger to describe the disasters, nor do they spend much energy on YHWH’s affirmative answer. Rather, the accent is on faithfulness in uttering the prayer and readiness to trust that it will be heard. That is, the accent is on the effectiveness and reliability of the relationship that re-contextualizes the disaster” (emphasis his) (42)

He continues, “The decisive concern is not transactionalism but faithfulness. On the other hand, while Israel is invited to trustful petition, the accent is in turning, repenting, and being humble before YHWH, that is, on re-engaging a loyal way of covenantal existence in response to the purposes of YHWH. When it is recognized that Israel’s part is a restored covenantal life and YHWH’s part is performance of old promises, the outcome of such prayer is a reinvigoration of covenantal relationship” (emphasis his) (42).

The focus shifts in prayer, from dire circumstances to trusted relationship. In our time, the matter is no longer about the virus specifically, but about the faithfulness of God who accompanies, consoles and lifts up. The subject at hand is no longer disaster but the rule of God.

“The virus is thereby robbed of its capacity to disorder daily life. In effect the texts decisively change the subject from disaster to the rule of YHWH. Such a changed subject revises how we may live in the neighborhood when it I under threat.”

This transformation will be developed in a study of Psalm 77 in the next blog.

Brueggemann’s The Virus – Part 8

Reflections in this blog and in those that follow, are based on Walter Brueggemann’s recent book, Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Anxiety (Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon), 2020. Brueggemann is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Colombia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia. This is part 8.

Brueggemann describes two sacred tasks in ministry. “The first is to engage in relentless uncompromising hope (emphasis,his). This is more than a civic assurance that ‘We will get through this.’ It is rather the conviction that God will not quit until God has arrived at God’s good intention. There is a purpose at work in, with, under and beyond our best resolves. That holy purpose is tenacious, steadfast, and relentless that we and all God’s creation will come to wellbeing.” (32)

“We will get through this together.” Those words are spoken often as a pep talk by politicians, health care workers, and business keepers. But is it wishful thinking? Or hopeful thinking based on a solid foundation of faith?

And is it even true? “We will get through this together” has a corollary: “We’re all in this together.” And we have come to realize that that phrase certainly is not true. That is not true for the poor who have limited access to health care. The poor without access to vaccinations. The poor who are the frontline workers doing necessary, menial jobs, without benefit of working from home, expected to show up exposed to greater risk. They do not experience COVID like others do.

Their “getting through” will be a miracle of steadfast love.

“But the second task of ministry is the work in the meantime to be witnesses to the abiding hesed (tenacious solidarity) of God (emphasis, his) that persists amid pestilence.”( 32)

What does that look like? Brueggemann mentions “the neighborly gesture in time of fear.” (32) A bag of groceries – some baking – a bouquet of flowers – a bag of prescriptions – left on the doorstep. Ring the bell. Step back away. Smile with the eyes peeking above the mask and wave.

Brueggemann also mentions “neighborly policies in a time of greed.” (32) What does that look like? Financial assistance for business owners. Grants for those without income. Cancelation of debts for students. Churches that provide services, Bible studies, coffee hours virtually.

“Jeremiah anticipated that the wedding, singing and dancing would begin again, perhaps soon. In the meantime, he waited with truth-telling honesty and courage.” (33)

“Truth-telling honesty and courage.”

Pandemic has meant that many cannot breathe. But “I can’t breathe!” has taken new meaning as the hidden virus of racial prejudice and white supremacy has been revealed.

Now we realize what has been hidden in the vulnerability of a secure sustainable food chain.

Now we realize that the global, extractive, competitive economy as we know it cannot continue.

The COVID crisis and the racial crisis and the environmental crisis and the food crisis and the crisis of economic injustice have all crashed through the curtains of privilege, dishonesty and denialism.

It seems like hell. The dancing has stopped.

But not forever.

Brueggemann’s The Virus – Part 7

Reflections in this blog and in those that follow, are based on Walter Brueggemann’s recent book, Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Anxiety (Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon), 2020. Brueggemann is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Colombia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia. This is part 7.

Biblically we have three explanations for how God uses pestilence. God brings pestilence upon a people  as punishment for sin. In time, upon repentance, God removes pestilence, heals and restores.

Alternatively, God may bring pestilence upon a particular people, in a focused way, in order to bring about a particular outcome. God did this with Pharaoh, his family, his people, even his livestock, in order to convince Pharaoh to release the Hebrews. Pharaoh and his kind would be touched but not the Hebrews.

Sometimes there is no explanation for pestilence other than mystery. No punishment. No particular outcome from a particular people. It simply is mystery. God can do this because God is wholly other, holy. God can do this. God does do this. And humanity is helpless.

So, we have three biblical explanations for pestilence. But each in its own way is unsatisfactory in explaining a pandemic like COVID-19. This cannot be punishment for sin. Too many innocent people suffer and die.

This cannot be a tool to motivate the rapacious, exploitive, extractive powers to change their ways and release the starving, homeless, poor and marginalized people – and the creatures nearing extinction – from oppression.

And if this is God’s holiness, if this is what God does because God can, then why does God not do something else instead? Especially since God promised never again to destroy creation – at least not with a flood. Where is the God of steadfast love and mercy, who promised in sacred covenant to bless, build up, protect and provide for people of the covenant, God’s chosen, God’s children?

Who can explain the mind of God? No one can. There are no explanations that fully satisfy. Not by reason.

But reason is not the only way of knowing. There is also revelation, imagination, the knowing – and hoping- that comes from story. Or poetry. Or prayer.

Brueggemann appeals to science for what science can do – and to preachers and prophets and poets for what they can do.

“The virus may indeed amount to a curbing of our worst social habits, and invite a slow down to the pace of creation’s reality. It may lead to gentler treatment of prisoners, and a more generous offer to the left behind. We may dare imagine with David that the final word is not pestilence; it is mercy,” (26)

We considered the story of David, who chose pestilence, instead of famine or war, as his punishment. Not because it was the least of three possibilities, but because, in God’s doing, by God’s hand, there was the possibility of mercy.

We considered a poem by Brueggemann that described a different reality than that which could be explained. A mystery that outflanks us and leaves us thankful.

Now, quickly, we look at the story of Jeremiah. There was in Jeremiah’s day a time when there were no weddings. And no one took the time to mourn the dead piling up (Jer. 7:34).

Gathering to feast in celebrating the betrothed or in honoring the dead was not allowed (Jer. 16:9).

The whole land will be in ruin, without the laughter of bride and groom. “This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste.” (Jer. 25:10)

Why tell this story again? Because at this time when people are forbidden to gather in groups larger than ten or fifteen, when worship is restricted, as well as weddings and funerals, schools and graduations – when people must be masked and stand nine feet apart – this is a familiar story.

And yet, this is not the end of the story. “The prophet anticipates that in this place of waste, disaster, and devastation, the sounds of festival celebration will be heard again.”

People lean into disaster and sing – “Give thanks to the LORD of hosts, for the LORD is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! (Jer. 33:11) (30)

God has steadfast love for God’s people. God will “restore the fortunes of Zion” (Jer. 29:1-4; 30:3, 18; 31:23; 32:344; 33:7).

“This is the conventional translation of the oft-repeated phrase in Jeremiah. That translation, however, is inadequate because the prophetic promise does not intend a return to “the good old days” or a restoration of a previous political- economic arrangement under an oppressive royal regime. The phrase rather intends to a land of promise that will be ordered, organized, and lived out freshly in faithful ways. That is “restoration” to the arena of God’s promise, but not a status that might invite some to nostalgia. God’s “restoration” is characteristically toward a new historical possibility through the giving of new gifts. This God has the capacity to restore, recover and revivify!” (30)

To restore the fortunes of Zion is not to go back to normal. There will be a new normal.

The God of hesed, steadfast love, is the God of Easter.(30).

“God’s “restoration” is, perforce, rendered in song and parable because it is a newness that accommodates none of the categories or explanations known in the past.” (31)

DMS

Brueggemann’s The Virus – Part 6

Reflections in this blog and in those that follow, are based on Walter Brueggemann’s recent book, Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Anxiety (Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon), 2020. Brueggemann is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Colombia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia.

Brueggemann’s thesis is that pestilence, something like the virus, can have the potential to draw humanity and Divinity back into right relationship. Reason does not discover this; it is known instead through imagination, the poetic.

Consider this poem of Walter Brueggemann…

Peeking into Mystery

Creator God, you have entrusted to us knowledge of good and evil.

You have permitted us knowledge of the world in which we live,

and

that knowledge has yielded immense gains for us,

gains of control, of productivity, of explanation, of connections

of causes and effects.

Only rarely – like now! – do we collide with

your hiddenness that summons us and embarrasses us.

We peek into your awesome hidden presence;

we find our certitudes quite disrupted.

Thus we pause at the edge of your holiness,

finding that your unfathomable presence is an odd mix

of mercy and judgment,

of generosity and accountability,

of forgiveness and starchy realism.

You dwell at the edge of your mystery for an instant… not longer.

Then we return to our proper work of knowledge, research,

explanation and management.

By that instant, however, we are changed… sobered, summoned,

emancipated, filled with wonder

before your holiness.

It is for that holiness that outflanks us that we give you thanks.

Amen.

It is at the edge of the knowledge of the world, the edge that reason and research cannot yet peer beyond or understand or control or manipulate productively or explain. … it is times like these, times of isolation and restrictions and risk-taking, times of broken routine and reconsidered priorities  that we find what cannot otherwise be found. Hiddenness. Hiddenness so real, so solid that we collide with it. It is embarrassing.

On this edge of holiness, where we think there is nothing more, nothing there, that we find the presence of the Divine. And all that we thought we knew, all that we could explain, all that we could connect into a pattern of reason and reliability is disrupted. Quite disrupted.

In these times, people die. By the millions. And many, too many, of those who survive will never be the same.

It gives one pause, on the edge of holiness. This is the edge. One is not immersed nor lost, swallowed up nor trapped. But one cannot escape, deny or avoid it.

Wise people do not venture into the wilderness. There are risks and dangers there. Thieves and monsters. The wilderness is where the wild things are.

Still foolish people, faithful people also find that God is there. Sometimes offering manna and quail. Sometimes drawing water from the rocks. Sometimes revealing the stars when the brilliance of civilization has faded.

In the wilderness there are no limits, but that can mean no boundaries, no rules, restrictions, defences. In the wilderness we are empty. Meaning open, available. As God is.

But then… that’s it. That’s all. Just when one sees that much, it’s over. The instant has passed. It is time to return to “our proper work of knowledge, research, explanation and management.” As though nothing happened. Or did it?

Are we summoned and sobered and set free, filled now with wonder, so much grander than certainty, familiarity?

Holiness confronted us. We collided. And when we turned aside, not to gaze at the burning bush, but to deny such a thing could ever be… Holiness outflanks us.

Thank God.

It is not reasonable to embrace mystery. Neither is it reasonable to deny it.  One could. Or one could embrace what has first embraced. It is not reasonable. It is revealed by imagination. Which is not made-up but made over. Re-viewed. A different perspective. A closer examination.

New priorities. New commitments. The possibility of becoming less self-reliant and more self-giving. Strangers can become neighbours where there is such imagination.

Instead of acquiring, accumulating, competing, defending everything one can in a world of scarcity. There is thankfulness, generosity and compassion in a world so abundantly full one can only wonder.

Someday… a year from now or perhaps two, someone will ask, “What was it like? How did you get through?” It is not likely that we will reply with charts and graphs and countless numbers. Rather, it is more likely we will tell stories….

Brueggemann’s The Virus – Part 5

Reflections in this blog and in those that follow, are based on Walter Brueggemann’s recent book, Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Anxiety (Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon), 2020. Brueggemann is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Colombia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia.

The sequence was broken by a timely story that needed to be addressed. American Catholic Bishops were advocating that President Biden be denied Holy Communion because of his responsibilities that appeared out of synch with Catholic thought and teaching. It gave one pause.

This is Part 5 in the reflections on Brueggemann’s Virus as a Summons to Faith. And here we turn a corner and move toward that development of his theme of inspiration, transformation, and renewal in relationship with self, neighbor and the Divine.

The last blog began by asking, “Who can explain the mind of God? Through the first four blogs we have considered three ways that scripture explains God’s use of pestilence. God uses the horrible work of nature to punish sin. Frequently God cautions humankind threatening that in response to sin, God will punish with sword, famine and pestilence. There are consequences to disobedience. And there are rewards to repentance. God’s wrath will not last forever. God restores and heals.

But is this a useful explanation for COVID 19? It is inadequate for several reasons. The scope is too broad. Too many innocent people are suffering. One could also observe that many who deliberately flaunt restrictions seem to go unharmed. Or perhaps they remain asymptomatic. If the horrible work of  nature is just, how can this be just?

There is another explanation. God may use the horrible work of nature in a focused way to achieve a specific purpose. The example is the use of plagues to get Pharaoh’s attention and break Pharaoh’s resistance in order that the innocent children of Israel may be set free. Again, perhaps this may explain the deliverance from Egypt. But applying that explanation to COVID, can we say that the poor of the developing world are being delivered; the starving and homeless, the people of color who suffer disproportionately the consequences of toxic waste, those who are denied access to treatment because of the unaffordability of health insurance – are they soon to be delivered from suffering, intolerance and exploitation? Not yet. Again, if God is focusing judgement on the high walls of affluence, defense, and urbanization, God’s aim seems more than a little off.

Maybe, (this is the third explanation) God’s ways are not our ways and we must simply kneel in humility and helplessness before the holiness of God. Again, not a helpful explanation, offering neither consolation, motivation, nor justice.

There is no explanation for the mind of God. Reason can only describe so much. Reason can only be applied so far to research and technology. Then there is mystery. We just don’t know. Or, we know only so much – in this manner.

Now Brueggemann turns a corner.  Science and reason are not the only ways of knowing. Brueggemann now appeals to the preachers reading his thesis, calling on the revealed knowledge that come through imagination, poetry and narrative. There is more to know. There is more to say.

So Brueggemann turns to story.

Brueggemann writes, “I do not think for one moment that there is any ready transfer from this narrative (the story of David, to be considered momentarily) to our real life crisis with this virus. The Bible does not easily ‘apply.’ The Bible does, however, invite an open imagination that hopes for the best outcomes of serious scientific research, At the same time, it affirms that deeply inscrutable holy reality is in, with, and under, and beyond our best science.” (25)

A story is told in 2 Samuel 24: 1-14, and again in 1 Chronicles 21:1-13, that adds another perspective to our limited explanations. King David has ordered a census. God is angered. Perhaps David needs to reconsider his tax base. Perhaps David needs to recruit another army. In either case, David is more reliant on himself and his own means and less dependent upon God. God is angry. God will punish. But he will allow David to choose his punishment from three options: three years of famine or three months of warfare or three days of pestilence. The effects of famine cannot be experienced evenly or equitably. Somme communities may get by; others will be destroyed. Warfare, David knows too well, can be brutal. David will take his chance with three months of pestilence, because only by God’s own hand may David have a chance at mercy. (24:14).  

David knows he has sinned. David knows he deserves punishment. Those realities are not in question. But guilt and punishment, the threat of pestilence, draws David back to God. Perhaps God will be merciful.

It’s a story. We do not know all the motivations or the outcomes. But we know that pestilence brings with it the opportunity to renew the relationship with the Divine, to seek God and be sought by God.

Reason will not reveal that. Only imagination.

There is more….

Some Catholic Bishops Challenge President Biden on Policy Directions – Seek to Deny Biden Access to Communion

[The series of blogs on the teachings of Walter Brueggemann concerning the COVID virus is interrupted briefly because of breaking news regarding efforts to deny the President of the United States access to Holy Communion    May 3, 2021 DMS]

When elected, Pope Francis personally called the President-elect to congratulate him. Francis also sent Biden a signed copy of his new book Let Us Dream. On inauguration day, the Pope sent a telegram congratulating Biden and “urging him to pursue policies marked by authentic justice and freedom.” (National Catholic Reporter, Christopher White, Jan. 20, 2021.)

Not all Catholic leadership has been so encouraging. Los Angeles Archbishop Joze Gomez issued a 1,200 word statement offering prayers for President Biden but also “outlining areas of policy disagreements, particularly on the issue of abortion, writing, ‘Our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils.’” As president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, Gomez cited abortion as “the preeminent priority” of the conference. At the time, there were possibilities of the U.S. legislature overturning Roe v. Wade. San Francisco archbishop Salvatore Cordileone added his support behind Archbishop Gomez.

A working group was established to challenge President Biden’s policies, stating that “Biden’s political positions did not match Catholic doctrine, specifically on abortion and LGBTQ issues.” (NCR Christopher White, Feb 15, 2021.) Secondly, the working group “proposed a document outlining church teaching on the Eucharist, ‘including the fact that our relationship with Christ is not strictly a private affair.’” The working group has been disbanded. But several Catholic bishops have in recent months suggested that Biden be denied Communion due to his support for legal abortion.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities and a member of the now disbanded working group, spoke in a homily to the National Prayer Vigil for Life, saying, “In effect, our Amen when receiving Our Lord is an affirmation that we believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God… We do not want a non-Catholic Christian to profess something that they do not believe. Similarly, integrity requires a Catholic not receive the Eucharist while acting in a manner incoherent with fundamental Catholic teaching.” (Christopher White, Feb. 15, NCR.)

May 3, Michael Sean Winters, NCR, published an article entitled, “Weaponizing the Eucharist: The Bishops, Not Biden, Cause Scandal”. In this article Winters wrote, “If we are honest with ourselves, all Catholics should approach the Eucharist in fear and trembling. It is like the words “Thy will be done” in the Lord’s Prayer: We say them sometimes without thinking of their dreadful meaning, when we should always ponder the crucified Christ when we utter those words. But we also should approach the Eucharist in hope and confidence. However great our sins, God’s mercy is yet greater….That goes for President Joe Biden too.”

Winters also wrote that Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, and Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix have each written statements or pastoral letters calling for a national policy favoring the denial of the sacrament. In Winters’ opinion this is all meant to cast doubt on President Biden’s leadership.

Winters wrote, “What is going on? Naumann, Cordileone, Aquila and Olmsted are not stupid men. They know that a bishops’ conference has no role in this matter, that Biden is a baptized Catholic, subject to canon law, and that canon law leaves this issue entirely to Biden and his pastor. They know, too, that persisting in this effort will further divide their own organization, pitting bishop against bishop on a highly public issue that is emotionally fraught and involving issues that are easily misunderstood and even more easily enflamed to affect emotional manipulation. They also know that a teaching document requires a two-thirds majority vote, and it is highly doubtful they would achieve that, and such a document requires the approbation of the Holy See, which is even less likely.”

I am not a Catholic. Nor am I a Lutheran bishop. No doubt there are theological, doctrinal and political points I am missing but this issue intrigues me. What would I do if I were pastor to the President of the United States? What would I do if I were the President? Winters cannot presume to know the mind of the President, standing in line to receive the sacrament. But he can imagine that the President approaches the altar humbly, carrying all the burdens of his office, and seeking the guidance, strength and mercy of his Lord Jesus Christ. President Biden has already shown the depth of his faith commitments in what has been included in his public appearances where religious inclusions are appropriate. He has invited pastoral leadership. He has included scripture, prayer, and blessing. He makes the sign of the cross as he begins and concludes prayer. On the other hand, Biden has been careful not to make a show of faith, excluding reporters and photographers from worship services. As Winters states it, “The Catholic Mass is never private — the angels are always present! — but Biden has never sought to exploit his attendance for politics.”

It appears this is less about eucharistic devotion and more about assuming a political identity under the marker of LGBTQ2S+ and abortion conservatism. There are other markers that could be identifiers as well. What about racism, misogyny, the endorsement of violence, nationalism, disrespect for indigenous people, as well as people of color, the poor, and disabled? What about the neglect of climate change?

I have a hard time imagining excluding someone from the table of Christ, if there is the possibility of pastoral care, instruction and personal transformation and repentance. [In the 60’s, my mother was denied communion because she had reported her pastor to the bishop’s office alleging professional misconduct. But that’s another story for another time.]

I understand that my Lutheran scholars and leaders will soon begin an exploration of teaching and practice around Communion. I look forward to that. In the meantime, I wonder whether anyone is ever worthy to approach the Table. My sense is that I come, together with those on my left and right, seeking what the Table offers, because without it, I have no hope for righteousness at all…

Pray for those beside you at the Table. I know, we cannot be physically beside one another in these times. Yet even now, we try to make the sacrament available, even virtually. Bless those who break the bread. Bless those who receive the bread, trusting that the words spoken over the bread are true: “This is the body of Christ broken for you.” And then, “Become what you have received.”

Pray for the President of the United States, for all our political leaders at every level, for Bishops and Archbishops, pastors and communion assistants and all who make the table a welcoming place, rather than an exclusionary place.

Pray for me. And for yourself. That Christ might look on our hearts and say, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.”

Brueggemann’s The Virus – Part 4

Reflections in this blog and in those that follow, are based on Walter Brueggemann’s recent book, Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Anxiety (Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon), 2020. Brueggemann is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Colombia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia.

Who can explain the mind of God?

Here are some answers from scripture…

Isaiah 14:27 – For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?

Isaiah 45: 9- Woe to you who strive with your Maker, earthen vessels with the potter! Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, “What are you making”? or “Your work has no handles”? 

Daniel 4:35- All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and [God] does what [God] wills with the host of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is no one who can stay [God’s] hand or say to [God], “What are you doing?”

As of April 19, 142.6 million people have been infected with the Corona Virus. 121 million have recovered. But 3 million have died. What is this virus all about?

How do we explain the existence, the virulence, the persistence of this virus and what it has been doing around the world for over a year?

Is this the hand of God?

Thus far in this blog series, we have unpacked Walter Brueggemann’s explanation of the virus in terms of how the Bible has looked at other experiences of pestilence. Brueggemann described pestilence as punishment from God, something of a transaction. When humankind disobeys God; God responds with punishment. When humankind repents; God heals and restores the people. But if humankind persists in disobedience, escalating from a mistake to intentional disobedience; escalating further to rebellious disobedience; escalating further to hostility – as disobedience increases, so does the punitive response from God.  Quid pro quo (pp 2-5) Such consequences are described in Leviticus 26. That is one explanation.

Could this be a reason for the pandemic? God has seen the sin of the last two hundred years, the extinction of many species, the desecration of mountains and forests and topsoil, the economic exploitation of developing countries and disproportionate suffering of the poor and people of color. Could it be that the virus is both a warning and a punishment? But the suffering is in all countries, borne by people totally innocent from the decisions and the actions behind climate change! This is not a satisfactory explanation.

Another explanation is the “purposeful mobilization of negative force to effect God’s own intent” (p. 5-10). This process is depicted in the story of ten plagues specifically focused on the people of Egypt in order to force Pharaoh to release the Israelite slaves. (Exodus 8-12).  Now, is God using this virus to reveal the social, racial, and economic injustices that have been buried all these years? Is this virus intended to liberate the innocent, poor, homeless and voiceless?  If so, the use of force is not as incisively targeted as in the days of Pharoah! Again, too many innocent fall under the justice of God. True, the intention of the biblical prophets is to pronounce judgement – but also to announce another way, to proclaim a different vision. Today, this experience is weighted too heavily toward despair. The people respond. “It’s too late!…There’s nothing we can do!… Civilization as we know it is finished!”

Again, this is not a satisfactory explanation.

There is one more explanation of pestilence in the biblical tradition: the holiness of God.

Who can explain the mind of God?

The passages above give the answer: No one. God is God. God is free. God is almighty. God is accountable to no one.

Brueggemann writes, “This third possibility concerns the sheer holiness of God that God can enact in utter freedom without reason, explanation, or accountability, seemingly beyond any purpose at all.” (10)

The best example of God’s destructive activity and the demand of humanity to explain these actions is the story of Job. Job loses his fields and crops. Job loses his livestock. Job loses his children. Finally Job himself is covered in sores. “The classic textual example is in the whirlwind speeches in the book of job where God declares that God’s forceful creative actions are beyond any capacity of Job to master, explain, or comprehend.

God is holy. The holiness of God is awe inspiring. And frequently terrifying as well. How can one explain the nature of God or the actions of God?

People of faith say, “Our times are in God’s hands.” God can inspire, bring courage, convey insight. God offers life and hope. In God’s hands we feel blessed. God is indeed holy. It is wonderful. But suddenly a busload of hockey players is hit by a truck. A gunman shoots innocent people in a grocery store. Then the sense of praise and confident wonder is changed to a wonder rooted in panic. We ask, What? How? And the big question, Why? Who can explain the mind of God?

Why do we need to name God at all?

Brueggemann writes, “So why bother with the interpretive categories of biblical faith when in fact our energy and interest are focused on more immediate matters? The answer is simple and obvious. We linger because, in the midst of our immediate preoccupation with our felt jeopardy and our hope for relief, our imagination does indeed range beyond the immediate to larger, deeper wonderments…. Beyond these demanding immediacies, we have a deep sense that our life is not fully contained in the cause-and-effect reasoning of the Enlightenment that seeks to explain and control. There is more than that and other than that to our life in God’s world!”

Listen to the politicians: “The future is ours to choose…This is humanity’s greatest challenge… We have the solutions and technologies at our fingertips to solve this problem… We get to build the future we want…!”

Confidence? Or hubris?

God is holy, free to be who God will be (Ex. 3:14)

“It may be that some human practices and policies evoke wrath” ( p. 18)

“It may be that ‘the purposeful mobilization of the negative forces of creation’ may be turned against ‘the high tower’ and ‘the fortified wall’ to perform God’s intention. (p.18) Perhaps climate change and the Corona virus will indeed set some free and bring others down.

It may also be that the virus is some wild force of nature “untouched by out knowledge.” In the face of “God’s raw holiness” we are left with no explanation. “I don’t know.”

Humbling, isn’t it?

A careful reading of this and the prior blogs will confirm that Brueggemann in looking for an “explanation” of the virus turned to earlier biblical “explanations” of pestilence.

But each of those explanations is insufficient. For all that each might reveal, there is much that remains hidden. These explanations say nothing about God’s covenantal commitment, God’s mercy, God’s love, even the nature of God’s intended justice.

We speak of the covid crisis as a “war.” And one does not fight a war without intending to win.

We speak of the “problem” of the Corona virus, a problem we must solve. Surely, we can; surely, we will.

We speak of the Corona virus as something wild which we must control with restrictions and protocols and vaccines. And while we may have some success with the scientific, technical elements, we still have the human element, the unexplainable need for some human beings to deny reality, defy authority, take unnecessary risks, and assert individuality over the common good. We must “slow” the infection rate, “bring down the curve,” “analyze the numbers” seeking some confirmation of the efficacy of all this.

But for a time, perhaps forever, we are bound by our limits.

We cannot explain the virus. Explanation is only one way of understanding. So far, even with three possible explanations, we are unable to have a complete understanding.

Here Brueggemann turns a corner. Praising science for all it can do, Brueggemann turns now to another way of knowing. Limited by what we cannot explain or control we turn to another way of knowing, so we may find another way of acting, another way of being. This is the remainder of his book.

To be continued.

Brueggemann’s The Virus – Part 3

Reflections in this blog and in those that follow, are based on Walter Brueggemann’s recent book, Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Anxiety (Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon), 2020. Brueggemann is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Colombia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia.

You won’t find the words “Corona Virus” in the Bible. But that does not mean the Bible is silent about how to live with the pandemic. Brueggemann believes the virus brings a call that can transform society and bring the world closer to God and one another. This is the call, the intention of all the biblical prophets.

Brueggemann begins with exploring the curse of “pestilence.” He observes there are three interpretive approaches to pestilence. He describes the first curse as a “transaction;” there is a quid pro quo nature. The curse is a warning that God will punish disobedience. Psalm 1:6 cautions “for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

And Leviticus 26: 23-26 describes punishment proportional to disobedience.

“If in spite of these punishments you have not turned back to me, but continue hostile to me, then I too will continue hostile to you: I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. I will bring the sword against you, executing vengeance for the covenant; and if you withdraw within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into enemy hands. When I break your staff of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven, and they shall dole out your bread by weight; and though you eat, you shall not be satisfied.”

There are consequences to disobedience. And if there is no appropriate response, the punishments continue. And if the disobedience escalates, becoming defiant, so too do the punishments.

Brueggemann recognizes a formula in the progression. The curse brings sword, pestilence, and famine. As well as the possibility of captivity. And God’s behavior is responsive to the behavior of humanity, hence the transaction formula: “If you will… then I will…”

Is Covid transactional? Is the pandemic a judgement against the commodification and exploitation of creation, the extinction of species, the social injustices that are borne by the poor and people of color, the extreme imbalance of wealth and poverty? If COVID is an example of transactional curse, it seems unfair that the warning belongs to the rich and powerful but the suffering belongs to the innocent and disadvantaged. Perhaps the prophet should bring the warning to the world’s three most affluent countries, producing the greatest amounts of carbon emissions and still realizing profits during the pandemic while the majority have lost their jobs, may lose their homes and amass increasing debt, individually and as countries. Perhaps the curse should fall upon the executives and administrators behind top one hundred polluting companies.

“Just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988”, The Guardian , Tess Riley, July, 2017. Since 2016 the Political Economy Research Institute, PERI, has tracked and published the top 100 air, water and greenhouse polluters globally.

While the prophet warns the unjust with judgement and another possible vision, the prophet also consoles those whom God watches over with steadfast compassion and mercy.  Something in this interpretive approach is not satisfying.

Which brings us to a second understanding of the curse of pestilence. Brueggemann cites “a second interpretive trajectory,” which he calls “YHWH’s purposeful enactment of force in order to implement the specific purpose of YHWH” (p.5).  He cites the pattern of “the plagues” in the Exodus story. “That sequence of ten episodes constitutes ten mighty exhibits of power in order that Pharaoh may discern the power and wonder of YHWH.” (5). He continues, “The aim is to exhibit the capacity of the creator God to mobilise the various elements of creation in the service of divine intentionality” (5).

Rather than a curse applied with a broad, free-ranging force of suffering, this curse is quite selective.

Exodus 6:6-    Say therefore to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.

Exodus 6:7-   I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians.

Exodus 14:4-7-    I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” And they did so. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.

God intended to free the Hebrew slaves. Pharaoh recognized the people as “Hebrews”, outsiders, without dignity or recourse, a people to be subjugated. God, however recognized the people as “Israelites”, people of the covenant, people with identity, promise and a home in God’s heart. To “emancipate” the people, the curse would fall upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians selectively.

Exodus 11:5-7-   Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock. Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again. But not a dog shall growl at any of the Israelites—not at people, not at animals—so that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.

Brueggemann observes that there is a distinction between the livestock of Egypt and the livestock of Israel (Ex. 9:4). Hail shall fall upon the land and trees and fields of Egypt, but “where the Israelites were, there was no hail” (Ex 9:26)

Brueggemann concludes “The narrative is at pains that this wild destructive “force of nature” is not random or indifferent to historical distinction….the destructive event is not any “natural event”; it is the accomplishment of an intentional agent who has a specific historical intent.”

The Exodus is not the only example of this “purposeful enactment of force in order to implement the specific purpose.”

Brueggemann cites the prophecies of Isaiah chapters 2 to 5. In poetic imagery God announces both the judgement and the deliverance of Judah. Judah will be delivered. The mountain will be established; the people will come; instruction will be given again; justice will thrive; swords will be beaten into plowshares. The rule of YHWH will be maintained. However, Brueggemann writes, “the target of the terror of YHWH is identified only by poetic allusion: proud, lofty, lifted up, high, cedars of Lebanon, oaks of Bashan, high mountains, lofty hills, high tower, fortified wall, ships of Tarshish, beautiful craft, haughtiness. The imagery tumbles out!” (p.8). God is “against” all of these things. Ten times it is stated that God is “against” these things (Isa. 2:12-16) Judah is guilty of seven sins (Isaiah 2:8-23): greed, self-indulgence, cynical materialism, perversion of standards of morality, intellectual pride and self-sufficiency, intemperance, and loss of integrity. All that Judah has claimed as advantageous and virtuous will collapse.

Brueggemann writes, “The religious brokers will not save. The royal treasury will not save. The military establishment will not save. The idols will not save; Israel will throw them away in order to travel lightly into the caves. The security system of “The Man” is impotent and irrelevant before the terror of YHWH!” (9).

“These two texts together, from Exodus and Isaiah, bespeak the capacity and resolve of YHWH to act in massively destructive ways against any historical ordering that contradicts the intent of YHWH. YHWH, it turns out has many tools of sovereignty beyond the force of love.” (p.10)

What does this have to do with the Corona Virus? Is this virus a judgement from God? Is this a “purposeful enactment of force” to deliver the oppressed and exploited, the homeless and displaced? Perhaps God is looking at the hubris of humanity, tallying seven sins similar to those of Judah. Again: greed, self-indulgence, cynical materialism, perversion of standards of morality, intellectual pride and self-sufficiency, intemperance, and loss of integrity. Perhaps God is looking at the consequences of environmental injustice and crying “Enough!” The collapse of the global economy and crying “Enough!” The collapse of the fossil fuel industry and crying “Enough!” Perhaps COVID-19 is a selective use of force for the specified purpose of challenging racism and delivering the world’s environmentally displaced, people of color, Indigenous and Asian people, crying “Enough!”

Is that the call of the prophet, intending to draw people to God, to free and unite humankind and the creatures? There is something that is still lacking in this explanation of COVID as a tool of God. Neither this interpretive trajectory of selective force, nor the earlier interpretation of transaction satisfies the groaning of creation, consoles the suffering of despair, or calls sufficiently the unjust to repentance.

Brueggemann has one more interpretive trajectory to explain the curse of pestilence and the necessity of COVID. And then Brueggemann will take an entirely different approach….

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