Why doesn’t God eradicate the Covid-19 virus that is causing so much distress for people, and disruption for businesses and healthcare around the world? Must we conclude that – because no end is in sight for this crisis – that if he is there, God does not care about us?
This question reminds me of a memory Elie Wiesel recounts from his time in a Nazi camp during the second world war. As he stood in a crowd watching the authorities execute a young child, people were rightly horrified by the scene. The child was so emaciated that he took a long time to die as he hung there. The suffering was terrible as he died. Suddenly, the horrified silence was broken as someone shouted from the crowd, “Where is God!”
We aren’t facing such a stark horror ourselves. But – I imagine many people might be asking this question to themselves, if not anyone else. If there is a God, then where is he right now? If he exists, doesn’t he want to help us? When he reflected on the incident with the child at the end of a rope, Weisel concluded this. God was there. He was suffering at the end of a rope along with the child.
So – does that make God powerless and weak? No. Christians believe in a God who is not distant, but intimately involved in the lives of those who allow him access to them. He’s even generally supporting the lives of those who want nothing to do with him. So where is God during times of suffering? He’s in the midst of the suffering. All of it.
Christianity is built upon the life of the man Jesus who himself endured suffering. Think of the worst kind of humiliation that could happen to someone. Well – in his culture, this is what Jesus faced by being nailed to a cross. Jesus wasn’t just executed. He was publicly humiliated in the worst possible way in front of the authorities, and the people he grew up with and lived life with.
Yet – the point of his suffering is profound. Jesus accepted a period of defeat and humiliation so that the powers of evil in the world would themselves be defeated. His suffering ultimately leads to God’s offer of victory to us. He died on a cross on Easter Friday, but he rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. And he holds out the offer of life to each person who believes in him.
The Bible puts it this way:
Christ also suffered. He died once for the sins of all us guilty sinners although he himself was innocent of any sin at any time, that he might bring us safely home to God. But though his body died, his spirit lived on (1 Peter 3:18, The Living Bible)
But now God has shown us a different way to heaven[f]—not by “being good enough” and trying to keep his laws, but by a new way (though not new, really, for the Scriptures told about it long ago). Now God says he will accept and acquit us—declare us “not guilty”—if we trust Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, by coming to Christ, no matter who we are or what we have been like. Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal; yet now God declares us “not guilty” of offending him if we trust in Jesus Christ, who in his kindness freely takes away our sins. (Romans 3:22-23, The Living Bible)
So – what can we do during our time of uncertainty and suffering right now?
First – know that there is a God who cares and knows what suffering is like.
History shows that when the black plague swept the world, many people ran from it. But it was the Christians who ran TOWARD those who were suffering. Even though this placed them at personal risk. Why? Because Christians know a God who is with us in our sufferings, and asks his followers to be like him. To help and support those who are in a bad place.
Perhaps we would love to have supportive people in our lives today – but we just don’t see it. All we see are folks panic buying supplies and emptying shelves so that we cannot feed and protect our families, acting thoughtlessly and in a self centered way. That’s not what God’s like. Its not what we see in the life of Christ, and its not what he calls Christians to. My hope and prayer is that you can know encouragement from a Christ like Christian church community. This is one of the things the church is here for.
Second – consider the claims that Jesus made and the offer he holds out to all people.
You may not consider yourself a follower of Jesus. But, at this time of possible self-isolation and down time, why not pick up a modern copy of the Bible. I would recommend starting with Mark’s Gospel in the New Testament. I’ve been reading it myself recently, and it’s fast paced and easy. Its only 16 chapters long. Reflect on the person that you find in those pages – look and consider who this Jesus is. He’s still alive, and even though you can’t physically see him, he’s involved in the world in more ways than we might realise. All God calls us to, is the decision to give our lives to follow this living person Jesus. And when we do that, we find God starting to transform our hearts from the inside out.
Third – persevere in and through this time of suffering.
It will not last forever. As is often said, “this too shall pass.” There is more for us to experience and do in our lives. But persevering through suffering is a very Jesus thing to do. He persevered because he knew what great things were waiting for him and for us on the other side of his suffering.
Perhaps God’s permitting this global crisis because he wants us to wake up to these realities. He’s forcing us to think about eternal things, things that are facing us at the end of our lives. When we invite Christ to be in and part of our lives NOW, this fresh perspective opens up for us too. It might be tough right now, but we have wonderful things to look forward to not just in our natural lives, but in the reality to come when with Christ’s help, we return safely home to God.