Where is God in times of Pandemic? Ezekiel and the God in Exile
The decision by the Federal Government to close the border in March 2020 has de facto banned domestic and international travel, even though the Australian Bureau of Statistics still registers thousands of arrival and departure by air. It has paved the path to the many lockdowns in various States. On the one hand, some have interpreted this step as a violation of human freedom and right of movement. On the other hand, the lockdowns have contributed to an increase of the presence of law enforcement eagerly employed by legislators. From a religious context, however, the closure of places of worship also poses a fundamental question of God’s presence. If the doors of the church are locked and worshippers are barred from attending liturgies and receiving the sacraments, then this question naturally comes into the mind of many religious people: Where is God in times of pandemic?
In an earlier article, I have raised and discussed the connection between COVID-19 and God’s anger. Is the pandemic a sign of God’s wrath? I have argued that the ultimate sign of the end of times is Jesus Christ who has revealed and inaugurated the Kingdom of God. By pointing to Jesus Christ, the authors of the New Testament intended to demystify the pagan divinisation of the nature. Now, it appears to me that the question of God’s anger during the prolonged time of the pandemic is perhaps no longer relevant since anger or wrath somehow still accepts the presence of God, albeit it is a negative manifestation. For many religious people, the pandemic seems to trumpet aloud the triumph of evil over an ineffective Christian God. Do we have here the return of Friedrich Nietzsche who once declared boldly that “Gott ist tot” (God is dead)? To give a final blow to any Christian hope, some will go as far as to state that “God remains dead. And, we have killed Him!”
Surprisingly, the Bible contains passages that appear to affirm this view. The Psalms are the primary source of doubt. In Psalm 42:10, the persistent experience of sufferings and exile has led the author to question the presence of God: “I am crushed by their insults, as they keep on asking me: Where is your God?”
In this paper, I would like to examine the question of God’s presence/absence from the perspective of the prophets who have witnessed recurring political ruins and finally the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE by the Babylonians. I will particularly give attention to Ezekiel whose important status amongst the prophets is clearly underscored since he ranks as one of the major latter prophets. No other prophet of the Old Testament has paid more attention to the Temple in Jerusalem than him. His admonition and call to repentance and renewal of hearts and minds modifies the traditional understanding of God’s presence in Jerusalem. There are various lessons that can be drawn from Ezekiel, ones that may help Christians to evaluate the current context of forced closure of places of worship. In spite of the difference in milieus, the locked church buildings may be perceived by some Christians as being forced into exile.
To understand Ezekiel’s theological reassessment of the Temple and its meaning for the deportees, it is important to examine the theological setting of the seventh and sixth centuries before Christ.
Read Part Two tomorrow.
Fr Joseph Lam OSA is the parish priest of St Finbar’s Parish, Glenbrook.
This essay is part of a series of reflections entitled ‘I Will Cause My Spirit To Enter You And You Shall Live: Biblical Theological Essays on the Pandemic’ by Fr Joseph Lam OSA.
The book can be purchased directly from Fr Joe for $AU9.99 plus postage, with all proceeds going to the Diocese of Parramatta’s Clergy Support Foundation. To order a copy, email Fr Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), there were 114,520 arrivals by air alone for May 2021. https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/industry/tourism-and-transport/overseas-arrivals-and-departures-australia/may-2021
 Friedrich Nietzsche, God is Dead. God Remains Dead. And We Have Killed Him (New York: Penguin, 2020).