Do you think Christmas is a burden

The theologian and Protestant pastor Margot Käßmann is one of the best-known religious representatives in Germany. The 62-year-old was bishop of the regional church of Hanover for more than ten years and held the council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) from 2009 to 2010.

SZ: Ms. Käßmann, the corona policy is currently being aligned with Christmas. This year, governments and the number of infections will decide how to celebrate. Is Christmas overloaded with it?

Margot Käßmann: That definitely increases the pressure on Christmas, and that is not good for the festival. At the moment the motto for politics is: If we hold out until December 23rd and everyone is brave, then, and only then, can we celebrate Christmas together as a family. The festival will not be able to live up to these immense expectations. It has already been observed in recent years that the Christmas days were overloaded with claims. Children have already said that they are afraid of Christmas with the family, because everything should then be particularly harmonious and perfect at home. And then it is December 24th. but no different from everyday life. If Christmas turns into a political test case in this pandemic, then the requirements are far too high. Instead, this year it is even more important than usual to focus on the biblical Christmas message: "Do not be afraid!"

How would you translate this message into this year?

Corona is of course a great burden for all of us. Many people will be alone on Christmas Eve, even with their fear or need for existence. The Christmas message is especially aimed at them this year. And this year it can give a lot of support.

Nevertheless, many people are afraid of the pandemic, of loneliness.

The Christian faith and the Bible tell of a life that knows about suffering. The idea that a person will not suffer or get sick if they only pray often enough is simply not tenable. I am convinced that this year it can be very helpful to remember that people have celebrated Christmas under completely different circumstances - during famine or war. For example, I am always moved by the story of the German and British soldiers who came out of the trenches on Christmas Eve during World War I to celebrate Christmas together.

Do you notice in conversation with believers that Corona makes people doubt?

Surprisingly, I am often asked whether Corona is a punishment from God. We as humanity would have lived against nature with our airplanes and cruise ships, and now God is punishing us for our way of life. As if Corona were our deluge.

And is that it?

No. The Bible has a completely different story to offer. In the story of Noah's Ark, after the Flood, God says that he will never destroy again. The rainbow becomes the symbol of the promise. God doesn't punish us for how we live. He does not send diseases or accidents. God does not send a pandemic. Jesus made it clear to us humans that suffering is not the result of guilt. And he knew what he was talking about because he himself experienced suffering.

In 1755 there was an earthquake on All Saints Day in Lisbon, killing up to 100,000 people. It is considered the origin of the theodicy problem: Many believers wondered how a good and almighty God could allow such a thing. Does the corona pandemic have a similar potential?

No. That was a natural disaster, it cannot be compared with Corona.

Why not?

We cannot blame people for earthquakes or tsunamis. It can be explained how they arise, but the "why?" is much more fundamental in the event of a natural disaster, because it is beyond our understanding. They just happen for no human error, apparent reason, or trigger. Much of what we experience with Corona, the cause, the number of infections or the measures we suffer from, are man-made.

Then what do you say to people who have doubts about Corona?

That suffering is something we have to deal with. I think we have forgotten that in the past few decades. Death, for example, is a topic that we have largely suppressed from society. Trends are towards people being buried anonymously in the sea or in the forest so that nobody has to go to the cemetery. It's a very helpful ritual. And then suddenly we get pictures from Bergamo, where the military is transporting coffins, or from New York, where refrigerated trucks are standing in front of the hospitals. Young people in particular are shocked because they realize that life is finite. The question of one's own finitude then becomes very concrete.

Doesn't the pandemic leave you in doubt?

Doubt is part of my faith. I am a Lutheran. Luther translated the Bible so that they could all read for themselves and make their own thoughts about it. It was about mature faith. To believe does not mean to stop thinking. I too ask and I too have doubts. When we are sick, many ask: "Why me?" The question "Why not me?" appropriate. I am not protected from suffering just because I am a believer or a Christian. Suffering is part of the world, belief does not change anything. But he can help me come to terms with the suffering.

In another interview you once said that God is powerless against evil. How does this fit in with the Christian creed, which is directed to "God Almighty"?

In theology this is actually one of the greatest challenges: to think God's omnipotence and God's powerlessness together. So there is no simple answer to that either. I do not believe that God directs everything. He - or she - is not a puppet player.

Can God then be omnipotent?

Yes. I can speak the apostolic creed with a clear conscience because God is greater than our powerlessness. I like to talk to natural scientists about it, who then make it clear to me how little knowledge we actually have about the world and the universe. No matter how many probes and satellites we can put into orbit, there is much that we will never know. And that's just as well. Because God is not a riddle that we can solve. But God remains a mystery. And I can live very well with a secret if I have confidence.