Is COVID-19 Really A Divine Test?

Prayerful and stressed health care professional on break at window (photo: iStock by Getty Images).

Recently there was a new Pew Research survey of 14 countries. These countries have advanced economies with significant secular populations. According to the survey in the United States, 28% of Americans said they were most likely to say the COVID-19 pandemic made their faith stronger.

Nearly half of white evangelicals in the U.S. (49%) said their faith grew stronger due to the coronavirus outbreak — more than any other group. U.S. Catholics came in second, with 35% saying their faith increased. Among mainline Protestants, 21% said the pandemic bolstered their faith. Even 5% of Americans who do not affiliate with any religion said their faith grew.

"Americans' greater proclivity to turn to religion amid the pandemic is largely driven by the relatively high share of religious Americans," the report said. By contrast, in the U.K., only 10% said the COVID-19 pandemic made their faith stronger.

The survey did not ask those who said the COVID-19 pandemic made their faith stronger; how they avoided blaming God for the coronavirus.

While Buddhists and Hindus can blame the COVID-19 plague on bad Karma, members of the Abrahamic religions face a more theological challenge. In the USA, the coronavirus has prompted almost two-thirds of American believers to feel that God is telling humanity to change how it lives. According to a poll conducted by the University of Chicago Divinity School and The Associated Press, this finding was established. This indicates that many people are now searching for deeper meaning in the devastating COVID-19 outbreak.

The U.K. Office for National Statistics data shows that mortality rates have been twice as high in deprived areas as they have been in wealthy areas. Much of this is due to decades of growing income inequality.

The poll found that 62% of Americans who believe in God feel strongly or somewhat strongly that the virus is a sign from God telling humanity to change. At 43%, Evangelical Protestants are more likely than others to believe this way, compared with 28% of Catholics and mainline Protestants. Among black Americans who believe in God, 49% say they feel strongly that God will protect them from the virus, compared with 34% of Latino and 20% white Americans.

As a Rabbi, I think the poll should have asked two additional questions about God's protection. Whether or not people get infected by the coronavirus depends not only on other people who infect them; but also on one's optimistic trust and faith in God. Studies have found that people with depression and schizophrenia had a higher risk of infection and death by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

A study of 7,348 adults who tested positive for COVID-19 between March 3 and May 3, 2020, found that people with schizophrenia were 2.7 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than people without that mental disorder, the second-highest risk factor after age. Many studies have shown that depression and negativity weakens one's immune system.

So the good news is that 26% of Americans polled say their sense of faith or spirituality has grown stronger due to the outbreak. Only 1% say their sense of faith or spirituality has weakened. All of us are being tested personally as individuals; and as actively participating members of an ethnic, national, religious group or society.

We are tested as individuals as the Qur'an states: "Indeed We shall put you to the test; some with fear and hunger, and some with loss of wealth, lives, and offspring. And (Muhammad) convey good tidings to those who are patient, who say, when inflicted by hardship, "Indeed we are of God and to Him shall we return;" upon them is the blessings of Allah and His mercy." (2:155)

And the Hebrew Bible states: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." (Psalm 23:4)

And we are tested as a nation, religious community, or society as God states: "So that I may test them, whether they will follow My law or not" (Torah Exodus 16:4) and "Remember the entire path along which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the desert, He sent hardships to test you." (Torah Deuteronomy 8:2).

"Or do you think that you will enter Paradise before Allah tests those of you who fought and (also) tests those who are patient [believers who sufferer]? (Qur'an 3:142).

Moreover, "Allah does not charge a soul except [within] its capacity. It will have [the consequence of] what [good] it has gained, and it will bear [the consequence of] what [evil] it has earned. "Our Lord, do not impose blame upon us if we have forgotten or erred. Our Lord, and lay not upon us a burden like that which You laid upon those before us. Our Lord, burden us not with that which we have no ability to bear. Pardon us, and forgive us, and have mercy upon us. You are our protector, so give us victory over the disbelieving people." (Qur'an 2:285-6)

Related Suggestions

The opinions expressed herein, through this post or comments, contain positions and viewpoints that are not necessarily those of IslamiCity. These are offered as a means for IslamiCity to stimulate dialogue and discussion in our continuing mission of being an educational organization. The IslamiCity site may occasionally contain copyrighted material the use of which may not always have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. IslamiCity is making such material available in its effort to advance understanding of humanitarian, education, democracy, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and such (and all) material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.