In a chapter entitled “Sovereignty in a Time of Spanners” in Faith Across the Multiverse, Andy Walsh considers chaos theory, parabolas, and strange attractors in a discussion of God’s sovereignty and grace. God is sovereign, yet God has given the created universe, including humanity, some agency. People make mistakes. Errors occur. Mutations occur, as humanity is seeing now with the transmission of the COVID-19 virus from an animal to a human. But God’s creation is not so rigidly constructed that it can’t recover from mistakes, errors, and mutations.
The mutations resulting in COVID-19 have produced a plague, the magnitude of which humanity has not seen in a century. Left unchecked, the plague would likely sicken billions and kill millions or tens of millions. Eventually enough people would contract the disease caused by the virus and recover, or develop specific immunity through encounters with the virus that don’t make them sick. Humanity would survive. Then, if the virus were to reemerge in the human population years later, the people at greatest risk would mostly be those born since the first outbreak.
Scientists, governments, and health agencies around the world are racing to check the spread of COVID-19 and identify effective therapies, so the devastation to human populations will not be as great as it might otherwise be. That is not to say that the outbreak represents a manageable risk. Far from it; the risk from the outbreak to any one individual, or to the healthcare system in a given location, is still enormous. But the error-correcting capabilities, the grace built into the created universe, are at work through both medical science and natural defense mechanisms. As of this writing, more than 150,000 people around the world who were sickened by COVID-19 have recovered. Grace is at work.
Are there other evidences of grace in the moment? My wife is an elementary school teacher, and her students are currently learning at home. Recently she participated in a video conference with the students in her class. Some of them are using the time at home with their families to learn skills and engage in activities that they might not have time for otherwise: gardening, riding a bike, running, making home movies, cooking. Home schooling and remote instruction are not optimal in these circumstances, but families and educators are adapting.
My wife teaches in an affluent suburban district, and the children in her class have resources that children in urban districts only a few miles away do not have. Is grace is still at work in those districts as families adapt to cope with this disruption? I pray that it is.
Grace is at work as religious congregations, clubs, and other voluntary organizations are finding ways to stay connected by means that were unavailable even a few years ago, such as video conferencing. The church I where I worship has been holding services via Zoom, and it is so good to see the faces and hear the voices of people that I would ordinarily see in person every week. The congregation is filled with huggers, though, and I know hearts ache even now for resumption of in-person worship.
Grace is evident in the work of people who are still caring for at-risk populations such as those experiencing short-term homelessness, chronic homelessness, and food insecurity. Grace also allows those of us with means to support those efforts.
Is grace at work in the natural world? There is evidence that reductions in airborne pollution, including carbon emissions, can be traced to restrictions placed on travel and commerce in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. These reductions, unfortunately, are not sustainable in a world whose economy depends on global travel and commerce and where employees must look many miles from their homes for affordable housing, then commute long distances to their jobs. As the outbreak wanes in the coming months, those pollution-creating features of the global economy will return. Maybe, though, we are discovering during this time how much we don’t need some of the stuff that we have become accustomed to having, and that we can conserve the resources need to produce and ship them. That may be a long-term grace that this pandemic bestows on the creation.
I see grace that has no connection to the COVID-19 virus, but that might lift the spirits of those who are living with the fear and uncertainty of the moment. Spring seems to be lasting longer than it has in recent years, in spite of the warmer-than-usual February we experienced. The magnolia tree around the corner that blossomed many days ago still has flowers on it, as do the forsythias in our neighbors’ yards. In recent years March days with temperatures in the seventies would have accelerated the bloom-shedding process for trees and shrubs, but now those blossoms are lingering. We have a primrose in bloom in our front garden that doesn’t bloom every year. There are no dots to be connected, no lines to be drawn, between COVID-19 and what I see as a longer spring, but maybe God is leaving the beauty of these blooms around a little longer this year for a reason.
I’m not a Pollyanna. Because of my age I have an elevated risk of developing severe illness or dying should I become infected with COVID-19. So all of this is not to say that I am assured of passing through this pandemic unscathed. But individual cases notwithstanding, there is evidence of grace, bestowed on the creation by a loving God, all around. I hope you, dear reader, will take some time to look for it. I wish you and your family peace and well-being in this time of uncertainty and fear. Thank you for stopping by.