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Is God In Charge of Covid-19?

I’m hearing a lot of my Mormon friends talking about the novel corona virus in terms of religion. Is it a plague sent by God to punish us — or certain part of our communities? Is it a sign of the end times, when Jesus will come again and the wicked will be burned and the righteous saved? More specific to Mormonism, I hear a lot of prayers of thanks that we have a prophet who worked as a medical doctor for much of his life and therefore acted quickly in certain ways. There are plenty who claim that his advice to “take your vitamins” was prescient.

And then there are the ex-Mormons who listen to this and shake their heads, frustrated at the stupidity and sheep-following mindset they imagine this indicates. Or worse, ex-Mormons who are being called to a final repentance by family members expressing concerns about their spiritual and physical health if they don’t return to the fold, the one true church, before they face possible death or life-altering circumstances. Now is not a time to be an individual, these people seem to be saying. Now is the time to follow the tried and true path back to God.

What do I think about all this? I have zero fears that this is the Second Coming of Jesus. All you have to do is study a little history to realize that Christians have been using every crisis on the planet, from wars to the Black Plague, to call everyone around them to repentance and to warn them this is the last chance, that Jesus is coming and then they’ll be sorry they didn’t rejoice with the faithful. If there is a God (which I often seriously doubt even though I’m trying to believe again), I don’t believe God intervenes in events like this. I cannot believe in a God who punishes the innocent and the guilty at the same time in earthquakes, floods, and pestilences. And honestly, I don’t hope that the guilty are punished much, either, because I end up feeling any judgment of other humans lands me in a place I don’t much like where I imagine I am somehow superior to them.

But what I do see in this is the tendency to comfort ourselves by congratulating ourselves on how right we always have been. In Mormons, I see this especially with food storage. In the 70's and 80's, there were a lot of apostles giving talks about how important it was to have a one- or two-year supply of food in your house. It became a kind of virtue signaling, asking for food storage gifts for Christmas, people giving each other cans of whole wheat or dehydrated onions. Most of us who were adults in that time still have basements full of food storage that I suppose may come in handy if for some reason supply chains break down (which isn’t high on my list of worries at the moment). I personally went into debt to get my food storage (something I seriously regret now), but I thought it was worth the spiritual safety I thought it was providing. And the fact that we haven’t heard about food storage for a decade indicates to me that maybe it wasn’t that important, after all. Just a way to show how Mormon you are.

I also see Mormons (and nearly everyone else) projecting their own fears onto other people. Ex-Mormon friends tell me that they are finding it easy to do social distancing from Mormon family members since they’re happy to avoid all of the conversations circling back to hopes of returning to activity. But these are really just the Mormons talking about their own fears of God punishing them if they aren’t good enough or faithful enough or meticulous enough in following every single rule. This was my mindset for most of my life, so I’m well-acquainted with it. Anything bad that happens, you look around for what you did wrong and fix it. Then you feel safe and in control of the universe again. And you want to share this sense of safety with others.

Living in a world, instead, where there is no safety, where God isn’t in charge of anything, from Covid-19 to child sex trafficking, authoritarian regimes, people being tortured in illegal prisons, or those being detained on the border and held in cages, is scary and painful. Guess what? It can also be empowering, because we don’t have to wait around for God to fix these problems, either. We can do it all by ourselves. We humans are in charge of our own fate, at least on a collective level.

So, if you’re dealing with old fears resurfacing, remember that this is a pattern of thinking that is hard to get rid of. It doesn’t mean that God is going to punish you. It doesn’t mean that you need to go back to whatever religion you were raised in that taught you to think this way. It just means that you need to sit with your own thoughts and pick them out one by one, identify where they came from, and then visualize throwing them out. Those patterns aren’t useful ways of living in the modern world. I personally am dealing with plenty of fears about Covid-19, but they have nothing to do with supernatural retribution. I’m going to focus on what I personally can do to help other people. And I’m going to leave the toilet paper on the shelves because we have enough for our needs.

Written by

Author of The Bishop’s Wife mystery series, The Mormon Sabbatical Podcast, Princeton PhD, fiction editor at Exponent II, autist, she/her

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