It is traditional for Anglican bishops to preach in their cathedrals this evening. There will be a temptation for some of them this year to place their own interpretations upon the Covid-19 pandemic, to look for meanings and messages and to discern some outworking of a divine purpose in the suffering and death of the past year.
Perhaps people who become bishops are the sort of people who will always be inclined to impose their own frame upon history, who will always believe their explanation of events to be the one that is closest to the truth. But to attempt to place Covid-19 in a theological context would be to misunderstand both the pandemic itself and the Christian theology they purport to expound.
Covid-19 is not amenable to explanation, it is random and purposeless. Viruses do not have meaning, they just are. They are a vivid demonstration of how natural selection operates. The B.1.1.7 mutation becomes dominant because it is more transmissible. In the natural world, that which survives is that which adapts to its environment, that which is fittest to survive.
To attribute meaning to the virus would be an act of extraordinary insensitivity when the deaths have been predominantly among the weak and the vulnerable and those with compromised immunity. To try to make a point that rests upon the deaths of tens of thousands of people would be as crass as the preachers a century ago who tried to use the tragedy of the Titanic to make points in their misanthropic sermons.
The virus is meaningless, random, arbitrary. To suggest that it could make a theological statement would be to posit a cruel and arbitrary deity. It would suggest a God unidentifiable in Jesus of Nazareth.
The Christmas story is a random event. Mary and Joseph end up in a byre because there is nowhere else to go, they end up there because it is the plight of the poor to have to endure whatever circumstances in which they find themselves. Were it to be suggested that the Christmas story was not a random event, then the Christian belief in the incarnation would be challenged. If Christians believe Jesus to be fully human, then that belief necessitates him being subject to the randomness encountered on a daily basis by every other human being.
To do other than to accept the pandemic is as random as it is, to do other than to suggest that Jesus had to accept a life that was sometimes arbitrary and purposeless, would be to deny both science and theology.