Like never before, the whole world is united, at war with a common enemy. The enemy I am speaking of is not the novel Coronavirus, the so-called COVID-19. Even if naming it according to where it is thought to have come from, or where it currently seems to be most villainous creates a certain sense of control, no one fully understands, at least not yet.

When anything disrupts our plans, or worse, upends our belief that our routines and expectations in the world can save us from its uncertainties, we often start questioning whether God is really with us, or even exists at all. Mother Teresa is said to have once quipped that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans! Our real enemy could be our certainty — the one thing that is certainly not uniting us. But that is not the enemy of which I speak.

Some have offered their prophecy that God is punishing us, that this is the wrath of God, something more than a biological phenomenon. I am not sure what the “this” is in their thoughts. The viral pandemic itself? Or is it something about how it got started — purportedly in a lab or through unsavory commercial practices or whatever, human vice being the triggering factor? Either way, according to this way of thinking, biological or theological, human beings, or at least some humans are to blame. It is somehow the moral failure of those who have sinned. But “those” sinners are not the enemy I have in mind.

Nor is the enemy which unites us fear of the unknown or even fear itself, though there is evidently a cottage industry in stoking panic and despair. But the users and abusers who cannot afford to let a pandemic go to waste without feeding their own egos or agenda are not the enemy uniting us. If anything, they are as frightened and ignorant of the enemy we face as anyone they exploit. Perhaps more so, for they are afraid that when they let go of their power rush, there may be nothing under their feet to stand on. Even they are powerless in the face of the real enemy.

No, I think the real enemy is Evil itself. By Evil I don’t mean only personified Evil, Satan himself. The Devil is certainly among the opportunists, exploiting the current pandemonium. By Evil I mean all who hate or destroy life, especially human life and human relationships, and are joined in the solidarity of Evil. This Evil can also unite us in the solidarity or communion for Good, where God lives, to love and cherish all life, especially humanity, the crown of God’s creation. All creation is good and reflects the goodness of the Creator, since nothing good comes from nothing, the good being a creative force. But something about humanity uniquely reflects the image of God.

Evil is not creative, but destructive. It abhors harmony and cannot stand loving relationships. Our faith tells us that God IS love, in essence ONE precisely in his love and, therefore necessarily, also a Trinity of persons since love is always relational, seeking to love another, neither partner for its own sake alone, but generating together yet another beloved. In God, this is essential, but it is also reflected in all true friendship and especially, sacramentally, in holy matrimony.

As this worldwide crisis unfolds, we are seeing so many instances of death-dealing blows. As I read in a post sent by a friend, one can almost hear Satan say, “I will cause anxiety, fear and panic. I will shut down business, schools, places of worship and sports events. I will cause economic turmoil.”

This is the path that leads to despair and the feeling that God has abandoned us. Some will even take a certain sick delight in this — what the Germans call Schadenfreude — if it takes down some of the entities that, for different reasons, have given joy or profit or peace to those whom they despise. But there is another voice out there. The One who with a loud voice summoned Lazarus from the tomb, where he lay for four days.

One can hear the voice of the Lord saying: “I will bring together neighbors, restore the family unit, I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table. I will help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters. I will teach my children to rely on me and not the world. I will teach my children to trust me and not their money and material resources.”

Both of these voices can be heard now. Which one will you and I respond to? Which one is the voice of our common enemy, Evil, and which one is our good friend? Satan never offered himself to humanity as our friend for he is all about himself. His design has always been to destroy what makes us human, our relationships with God and one another. His game, chaos and destruction.

Jesus calls us friends, each person by name. He reveals to us a God who never gives up on us. God loves us before it even occurs to us there is a God, or that he wills us into being and chooses to save us from our sins even before we are honest enough to own up to them. For he always meets us where we are.

Our “social distancing” and the tomb-like silence in our churches may offend the dignity of our humanity by driving us away from where we belong, from where we discover our true identity, not just as individuals, but as persons-in-relationship with others and with an essentially personal God. Let that awaken a deep “holy longing” within us, a hunger for relationship.

Those inclined to view the pain and sorrow we are experiencing as divine punishment may find their inspiration in many of the psalms, where God’s anger flares up. Yet always, inevitably, he relents, showing mercy to the repentant sinner. Why should the death that Evil brings not perturb God? That word — perturb — was an English rendition of a curious Greek phrase in last Sunday’s account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead in John’s Gospel. The startling Greek phrase literally means Jesus “snorted in spirit.” Commentators ask why so, suggesting his deep, emotional revulsion to death and the terrible pain it brought to this family that he so loved — Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary — and with whom he often dined. God loves life.

One thing we can be sure of: God is with us in our pain and sorrow, our loss and our abuse. He may wait awhile with us as we sort things out and be working with us as we do it. Jesus waited four days after Lazarus had died to revive him. Why? If God waits, then we, too, have to wait and see. But we don’t lose faith. God uses everything. Even occasions of sin, our temptations, can become near occasions of grace, if we trust God’s love that always surrounds us.

Do not lose hope! The most diabolical — Satan-like — temptation is that of discouragement. Don’t yield.

In the economic and social calamity that attends this pandemic, some of us may be driven to near despair out of fear we cannot provide for our families. Which voice will we listen to? The one that tells us we are only worth what we have, earn, feel like or can put out? Or the one who assures us we mean so much more to our families just by being present to them. As Jesus is to us. For those who doubt their own value, remember, you may be the only Jesus another person may ever know. It may be you — and only you — who Jesus is calling to be his presence to others. God never gives up on us. Nor should we — on God, ourselves or one another.

 facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd
 @AlbBishopEd