“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one…" (NIV) Hebrews 14:15.
I am sure you are somewhat familiar with this question. It is the question that is asked by both believers and non-believers alike when people face adversity such as natural disasters like tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes wiping out several lives or when a child dies from cancer. Although this question can take several forms, it is often called the “problem of pain/suffering”, “mystery of evil” or “theodicy”. It is a question that many theologians and saints have dealt with over the century. And once again, COVID-19 and this pandemic take us back to this millennial question: “where’s God in all of this?”
To start, theologians make a clear distinction between ‘natural evil’ and ‘moral evil’ – natural evil emanates from natural disasters whereas moral evil is suffering flowing from the actions of individuals (and here Auschwitz readily comes to mind). Despite the relevance of this distinction, it does not quite cut the pain of the sufferer – Why? To ease the pain, many people over the centuries have debated this issue and have sought to offer reasonable explanations. And in all of these, two main explanations stand out. The most common is that suffering is a test of faith and thereby strengthens it. Here, the Letter of James comes handy (James 1:2-3). As one columnist and priest were apt in pointing out: “sometimes this helps in explaining persecution and sometimes minor trials but fails in the most painful human experiences”. And for pain resulting from a viral infection like COVID-19, this explanation may fall short.
This brings us to the second common explanation which is gaining a foothold in our contemporary secular age although that is also not a recent explanation. And that is the fact that suffering is a punishment for sins. Perhaps, you may have seen posts from believers seeking to suggest perhaps this COVID-19 is a punishment from God to a world that has turned their back against Him. There is a high probability that some believing Christians have died from the COVID-19, so why would God punish them when their sins have been forgiven? And also, this argument seemed to have been rejected by Jesus himself in Luke’s account (see Luke 13:1-5). Even still, recently people have suggested that viruses are part of the natural order and somehow contribute to life. But once again, this explanation fails to provide meaning to people who have lost their loved ones and are in pain.
As you can see, there are no easy answers! Perhaps, in the end, the proper and indeed a more genuine response to the question is “we don’t know”. But we don’t stop short at that response. So where does this leave us? – Here is where the Savior, who is both man and God, offers a more assuredly comfort. For the Christian, the answer is Jesus. In the Bible, we see Jesus, who is both fully divine and fully human, born into a world of illnesses and epidemic. We also see God who is touched by our infirmities and pain (Hebrews 14:14-16). In the gospel of Mark, a leper approaches Jesus: "if you are willing, you can make me clean". We are told that Jesus, moved with compassion, reached out His hand and touched the man saying, “I am willing,” He said. “Be clean!”. This leaves me wondering why Jesus would touch the leper. He could have just spoken like he did other times to other infirmities, but rather touched the man to identify with him.
In these difficult times where it is so easy to be caught up in this panic and fear, Christians may find comfort in knowing that when they pray to the Father through Jesus, they are praying to someone who understands them not only because He is divine and all-knowing, but because he (as a human) experienced all things. And we can also model the life of Christ – show love and be moved with compassion to help those who may need help that we can supply while at the same time following the necessary precautions our Health Authorities or experts through modern medicine have advised – in these frightening times. In the end, we may not have a solid response to the question “where is God in a pandemic”, but we can sure follow the Person who understands our pain and problem. Amen!!!