Marcus Lamb, co-founder and CEO of Christian Daystar Television Network, and a strong opponent of the COVID-19 vaccine, died November 30, 2021 after contracting COVID-19. He was 64. Lamb is just one of several vaccine opponents who have died of COVID-19 in 2021. This includes Bob Enyart, who also mocked AIDS victims, and anti-vaxer activist and QAnon supporter Veronica Wolski.
How can we understand the COVID-19 plague? Buddhists and Hindus can blame it on bad Karma, but members of the Abrahamic religions face a greater 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 which indicates many people are searching for deeper meaning in the devastating COVID-19 plague.
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. For example, Jassper Brodin, the boss of Ikea told the BBC "I actually think Covid is teaching us to take the collective human challenges in a more serious and responsible way. Recycling will become ever more important in minimizing the impact consumption has on the planet. Ikea's mattresses in the future cannot be based on virgin material."
As a Rabbi I think there is even some good news: 26% of Americans polled say their sense of faith or spirituality has grown stronger as a result of COVID-19. Only 1% say their sense of faith or spirituality has weakened.
Islam and Judaism maintain that all of us are tested personally as individuals; and as organic members of a religious community, a nation, a society and even the whole of humanity.
We are tested as individuals as the Qur’an states: “Indeed We shall put you to 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)
Trust in God is taught by the Quran: “Put your trust in Allah. Allah loves those that trust [in Him].” (Quran 3:159) Notice that the actual text does not end [to Him]. If we take the text literally, it states “Allah loves those who trust.” which means believers themselves should learn to persevere; and never abandon optimism and hope in the future.
'And give good news to those who persevere, those who say, when a misfortune strikes them, Surely to Allah we belong, and surely to Him we will return, these are the ones on whom blessings from their Lord descend, and mercy, and these are the ones who are rightly guided'. (Quran 2: 155-157)
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, a religious community or a 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).
One good thing that has come out of the coronavirus pandemic in the USA is that national hospice organizations are reporting that facilities are seeing double-digit percentage increases in the number of near death patients being cared for at home.
And for people who believe that God’s tests help those of us who live through the challenges to become stronger; there are good reasons to look forward to a much healthier 2022.
Religious people should always remember that anxious atheists and unbelievers die a hundred deaths; while faith-filled believers die only once.
Allen S. Maller is an ordained Reform Rabbi who retired in 2006 after 39 years as the Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California. His web site is: www.rabbimaller.com. He blogs on the Times of Israel. Rabbi Maller has published 450+ articles in some two dozen different Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. He is the author of two recent books: "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You? A 21st Century Kuzari".