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Naming or blaming?

It’s a name that always gets my attention. I’ve known it all my life even though it’s not my own name. And when it appears in print — especially in a public publication like a newspaper — I take notice. So there it was in a headline a couple of weeks ago. The name of God.

We expect to see the name of God on church signs. In the religion section of a newspaper if there is such a thing. Maybe lurking around cemeteries as if it’s a good idea to think of the Creator who sets us on this good earth and then receives us beyond it when we are buried in it. But God was named in this headline because someone somewhere had taken a poll of somebodies about whether the coronavirus means anything more than life-sucking leach on the population of the world.

OK — the somebodies identified themselves as “believers,” presumably meaning believers in God. (There’s that name again!). The first person quoted in the article (released by the Associated Press) claimed to be a believer but not part of organized religion. That’s ok too… there are lots of people walking this good earth in that category. This person offered: “It could be a sign, like ‘hey, get your act together.’ I don’t know.” Precisely. We don’t know.

Stuff like this virus is a challenge for us. We like to understand, to know. We prefer to have the pieces of our lives fit together, make sense, like a puzzle. To do that, we need a frame to hold it all together. God is a good one, we believe, and plenty big enough. So we name God. Or do we blame God?

It’s a bit of a slippery slope to believe in God and believe that God is all-powerful. But to believe that God is a divine being with limited power trips us up as well. Would God like to get our attention? Sure. Does God intentionally send destruction and disaster and death to this good earth and to we who walk upon it to do so? Hard to say. We don’t really know. There are stories in the Bible that seem to say so. But stories are subject to interpretation which means that human beings add meaning to what they hear. Like the name of God in a poll. Or a headline.

If we trust and accept what is recorded in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, God has long been communicative. The prophet Elijah experienced God in a “gentle whisper” or “the sound of sheer silence” (different translations!) not in the windstorm, earthquake or fire [I Kings 19]. Hebrews opens with the assertion that once upon a time God spoke through prophets but then God chose to speak through Jesus [Hebrews 1]. And what do we know about Jesus? Jesus healed, helped, harbored those most crippled by living in a culture of cruelty which cropped up on God’s good earth. Not exactly coronavirus.

Maybe it’s just that we know we need the message of changing the way we live. So maybe we’ll accept it, pay attention to it more seriously if we name God as the source of it. I’m ok with that. It’s like hearing a parent’s voice reminding us to eat our vegetables because they are good for us. So maybe God is hoping we’ll wake up to the precious miracle of life while we walk this good earth before we’re buried in it. I’m ok with that too. I’ll name but not blame God.

The Rev. Rebecca Taylor is pastor at First Presbyterian Church. She can be reached at rebecca@presbyterianwarren.com

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