Crisis of Faith During a Pandemic

“How can a merciful and loving God exist when there is so much evil and suffering around?”

Most of us are familiar with the story of the apostle Thomas also called Didymus who doubted the accounts of the other disciples about their encounter with the Risen Lord. The story, which is the Gospel tomorrow, the Second Sunday of Easter, goes that on the first week after the Lord’s death, the disciples were huddled in a room with doors closed for fear of the Jews when Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them: “Peace be to you.” During this apparition, Thomas was not with them. The other disciples therefore said to him when he arrived: “We have seen the Lord.” But Thomas said to them: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said: “Peace be to you.” Then he said to Thomas: “Put in thy finger hither, and see my hands; and bring hither thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered, and said to him: “My Lord, and my God.” And Jesus said to him: “Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed.”

During this pandemic, many are having a crisis of faith. How can a merciful and loving God exist when there is so much evil and suffering around? If Christ has truly risen, why does He seem indifferent to the pain of those who are randomly getting sick and dying, abandoned by a dysfunctional national government that is focused on killing human rights defenders and social activists and closing down good things like Lumad schools while allowing the new variants of the coronavirus to rampage?

In fact, as wrong as it is, when rumors abounded that President Duterte was dead, many people expressed the wish that this was the case. I resisted that impulse and actually prayed for good health for the President that night before sleeping. Among others, he does have a family that will grieve his death. I do not wish a death on them as I don’t want it for my family. The variation of the golden rule applies: do unto others what you want done to you; don’t do (and wish) to others what you don’t want done to you or don’t wish to happen to you.

I wish, though, that Duterte would resign as President as he is unable to govern anymore and the country is in the worst shape ever with ten people I know dying this week. I would like him and his police and military officials indicted for crimes against humanity for killings in the war against drugs and the killings of human rights and environmental defenders as well as social activists. But I don’t want him to die until it is his time, so regardless of his legal and ethical accountability, he is given an opportunity to convert and ask forgiveness for what he has done to this country.

In his Urbi et Orbi last Easter, the Holy Father Pope Francis gives us the right way to understanding the Easter message in this time of the pandemic:

“The Easter message does not offer us a mirage or reveal a magic formula. It does not point to an escape from the difficult situation we are experiencing. The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor …In the face of, or better, in the midst of this complex reality, the Easter message speaks concisely of the event that gives us the hope that does not disappoint: ‘Jesus who was crucified has risen’. It speaks to us not about angels or ghosts, but about a man, a man of flesh and bone, with a face and a name: Jesus…

“The crucified Jesus, none other, has risen from the dead. God the Father raised Jesus, his Son because he fully accomplished his saving will. Jesus took upon himself our weakness, our infirmities, even our death. He endured our sufferings and bore the weight of our sins. Because of this, God the Father exalted him and now Jesus Christ lives forever; he is the Lord.

“The witnesses report an important detail: the risen Jesus bears the marks of the wounds in his hands, feet, and side. These wounds are the everlasting seal of his love for us. All those who experience a painful trial in body or spirit can find refuge in these wounds and, through them, receive the grace of the hope that does not disappoint.

”The Risen Christ is hope for all who continue to suffer from this pandemic, both the sick and those who have lost a loved one.

The Crucified and Risen Lord is comfort for those who have lost their jobs or who experience serious economic difficulties, lack of adequate social protection, those whose human rights have been violated, and yes for those out of despair want the President dead and who have given up on the country. Indeed, blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed.

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