In the past few weeks, millions of people around the world have started to fear the Covid-19 pandemic. The sheer horror of this fast moving infection is worsened by its sudden onset. There is panic, fear, anger, sadness, confusion and despair.
Why is this happening?
The question is essentially the same that people ask when an earthquake wipes out hundreds of lives or when a single child dies from cancer. It is called the “problem of suffering” or “the mystery of evil” and it’s a question that people have
grappled with for decades. The question of “natural” suffering (from illnesses or natural disasters) differs from that of “moral evil” (in which suffering flows from the actions of individuals like Hitler and Stalin). Is there any answer
to the rising death tolls, struggle with stories of physicians forced to triage patients and photos of rows of coffins in this Covid pandemic?
Many answers have been offered about natural suffering, all of them wanting in some way.
For Christians the most common is that suffering is a test. Suffering tests their faith and strengthens it: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing
of your faith produces endurance,” James 1:2.
But while explaining suffering as a test may help in minor trials (patience being tested) it fails in the most painful human experiences. Does God send cancer to “test” a young
child? Yes, the child’s parents may learn something about perseverance or faith, but that approach can make God look like a horrible monster.
Is suffering a punishment for sins?
Some people say God punishes people. But in Christianity, Jesus himself rejects this argument when he meets a man who is blind, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,”
says Jesus. John 9:3.
This is similar to why God did not heal St. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (which may have been an illness). Galatians 4:13, 15. Paul’s suffering was not a punishment for sin but an opportunity for God’s
grace to be revealed. That’s why God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. 2 Corinthians 12:9.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus responds to the story of a stone tower that fell and crushed a crowd of people: “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you.” Luke 13:4
Not every natural evil should be seen as a punishment for sin. In fact, God usually allows the world to unfold according to the laws he built into it. Miraculous healing can occur but not the rule. Because we live in a world governed
by natural laws, we should start with the presumption that any natural evil, whether personal and communal, is a byproduct of those laws and not a specific punishment for sin.
The overall confusion, for some, is in what is called the “inconsistent triad". It sounds like this. God is all powerful, therefore God can prevent suffering. But God does not prevent suffering. Therefore, God is either not all powerful
or not all loving.
In the end, the most honest answer to the question of why the Covid-19 virus is killing thousands of people, why infectious diseases ravage humanity and why there is suffering at all is: We don’t know. This is the most honest and accurate
answer. Viruses are part of the natural world and in some way contribute to life's problems, An important question for us in times of suffering is this: Can we believe in a God that we don’t understand?
Has Jesus Christ an answer for the sufferings in the pandemic?
Christians believe that Jesus is fully divine and fully human. Yet we sometimes overlook the second part. Jesus of Nazareth was born into a world of illness and disease. The environment in which Jesus lived was “filthy, malodorous and unhealthy.”
In his public ministry, Jesus continually sought out those who were sick. Most of his miracles were healings from illnesses and disabilities: skin conditions, “leprosy”, epilepsy, a woman’s “flow of blood,” a withered hand, “dropsy,” blindness,
deafness, paralysis. In these Covid pandemic times, Christians may find comfort in knowing that when they pray to Jesus, they are praying to someone who understands them not only because he is divine and knows all things, but because he
is human and experienced all things.
But for those who are not Christians they can also see him as a model for care of the sick. When caring for someone with coronavirus, one should take the necessary precautions in order not to pass on the infection. But for Jesus, the sick
or dying person was not the “other,” not one to be blamed, but a brother or sister. When Jesus saw a person in need, the Gospels tell us that his heart was “moved with pity.” He is a model for how we are to care during this pandemic: with
hearts moved by pity.
We don’t fully understand why people are dying, but we can follow the person who gives me a pattern for life. Jesus taught that some evils occur without any connection to sinful behavior.
There is no evidence that Covid-19 is a divine punishment. Yet God always brings about good when an evil occurs, and this pandemic provides a reminder that we must repent from our sinfulness while we have time to do so.
In reference to the tower that collapsed in the Gospel of Luke. What mattered was not why the people died, but whether they were able to repent before they died, or as Jesus bluntly put it, “unless you repent you will all likewise perish”.
You and I may or may not contract Covid-19. If we do, we may or may not die from it. We also may never know why God allowed some people to get this disease and not others. But what we do know is that you and
I will die one day and come face to face with our God to be judged.
In times of trouble and distress the Bible tells us how God can overcome our fears. Here are some truths from the Bible which will give us peace while
we wait for the pandemic to pass by
God will not condemn us. Romans 8:3 God works for our good. Romans 8:28 God guarantees our good. Romans 8:32 God will never separate from us. Romans 8:35, 37