“Lost both of my grandparents in the past 24 hours to covid-19,” wrote Steven Nash on Twitter. I sent him my sincere sympathy. I couldn’t do much else, except to ask, “Where are You, God, in this COVIDn-19 Disaster?” In the midst of a three part series on Loving Our Enemies (found here and here), I want to take time out to reflect on our current crisis.
How can God allow the unleashing of a pandemic affecting the whole world? So much tragedy; so much death; and so much suffering. Where are You, God, in this COVIDn-19 outbreak? Where are you, God, in our disaster? To ask such questions in times of tragedy, in this case, not simply personal or national tragedy, but world-wide tragedy, is normal. We can’t get our heads around the idea. It’s taking time for us to adjust to the stark news on our TV screens daily. Here is what I found on Fox News today, Tuesday, March 25, 2020.
So many new cases, so many deaths, boggle our mind. Two weeks ago, I volunteered to set up chairs at the counseling ministry where I volunteer. “Three feet apart,” the leader of the meeting after mine insisted, to my irritation. “Social distancing,” she explained. Well, okay, I thought. Maybe this is a new type of experience for the members assembling later. Instead, I eventually learned, this was illness prevention protocol that would change the behavior patterns of our whole country.
“Unexplained tragedy, unspeakable suffering and inconceivable circumstances of all kinds have marked humanity down through the years,” wrote Jim Daly, President of Focus On The Family. He reported that he’d received many questions related to, “How can an all-powerful God allow the coronavirus?”
Not A New Problem
As we all ask, “Where are You, God in this COVIDn-19 Disaster?” I have also pondered that question at some length. Daly is right: this is not a new problem. Periodically we face circumstances in our personal, family, or national life that stops us in our tracks. In this case the whole world reels from the impact of this highly contagious virus. I’ve looked at this issue of tragedy from the viewpoint of seeking to understand the message of the Bible Book of Job. The author of Job had these issues in mind when he created, collected and penned the series of speeches in dialogue and monologue form that led to our present Bible book. Few people read the story of Job from cover to cover. But to do so helps provide a spiritual and emotional experience as we encounter God through a catastrophe.
Perhaps a brief overview of Job’s story will refresh our memory. For our purpose, I deal only with Job’s life. Beginning with a story of material success, coupled with a righteous life, we trace Job’s experience of multiple major disasters. From grief upon grief, including losing his businesses, employees and children, Job sinks into abject despair. Pouring out his feeling that he prefers death to a life of suffering (Chapter 3), Job engages with three colleagues who attempt to straighten out his view of God as unjust (Chapters 4-27). They insist Job’s disasters resulted from his sin. “Where are You, God, in this disaster?” Job asks. For Job, God was silent, absent, and even at times seemed hostile. We entertain those same questions, thoughts, and feelings.
Where is God in Chaos?
Job is important for us because he speaks for us. In a disaster beyond our control, we also question God’s presence and goodness. Halfway through, the structure of the book shifts from dialogues to monologues: On wisdom (28), Job’s climatic defense (29-31). Elihu, a fourth friend (32-37), who attempts to bridge the gap between Job and the other friends, urges him to repent after his healing, and to admit his sin of pride.
God responds (finally!) to Job’s outcry (38-41) with a new perspective on his suffering. He describes two monsters, not amenable to human control (40-41). Behemoth and Leviathan, perhaps depictions of a hippopotamus and crocodile, and/or, perhaps also mythical creatures represent massive chaos, life run amok, out of human control. But not God’s: “… his Maker can approach him with his sword” (40:19).
Where Are You, God, In This COVIDn-19 Disaster?
As circumstances stand now, we are still out of control with COVIDn-19. We need ventilators, hospital beds, a vaccine, and medications, some of which have been found effective in the treatment of the disease. We also need money to tide us over until we can restart our economy and get back to work. In addition, we need leadership from every level of government. And, finally, we need God’s perspective. God spoke to Job; perhaps he will speak to us. One Twitter picture showed empty shelves no longer of toilet paper–of Bibles! God had a perspective different from what Job expected; perhaps his perspective will be different from what we expect. We need to live lives, so that, like Steven Nash’s grandparents, whatever happens, we love each other, and we love Jesus.