Updated: Mar 28, 2020
Hope you and those whom you love are staying well. Many of us will be asking the question, 'If there's a God who's good and powerful, why is there suffering?' as #coronavirus cases rise around the world. Here is my second batch of jigsaw puzzle pieces to help your thinking. If you're starting here, check out The suffering puzzle #1 first.
God loves us. Whether life is easy or difficult (and there are few of us now for whom life is easy), the message of the Bible is that God loves us. Jesus says, 'God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not die but have eternal life' (John 3 v.16). Even in the midst of this pandemic, the Bible is really clear how God feels about humanity. Ever wondered why the whole of the Old Testament is there? After all, God could have sent his Son just after Adam and Eve sinned. Maybe it's there to remind us that, even though people mess up again and again, God is kind to people - he loves us and he rescues. This virus isn't happening because God hates us nor because God is indifferent - perhaps he's busy with some other minor planet in another part of the galaxy and has taken his eye off the ball that is the earth (Yes, I know it's actually a bumpy, oblate spheroid but that didn't read as well). We can be totally certain that in this difficult time, God loves us.
God calls us to love really practically those who are suffering. It has been beautiful and humbling to see people stepping up to love their neighbour: medical staff putting themselves in danger day after day to save lives, others leading exercise classes from rooftops or singing songs from balconies, teachers offering help to pupils stuck at home and thousands offering to run errands for people in isolation. The Bible has masses to say about loving orphans, widows and the poor. Even while being crucified, Jesus showed practical love to those around him, asking a disciple to look after his mother and asking his Father God to forgive those executing him. Following his example and command, Christians have been at the forefront of sacrificial kindness for centuries. Look up people like Gladys Aylward, Martin Luther King Jnr, William Wilberforce and William Booth. When suffering comes, God calls us to look outwards rather than looking inwards, not complaining, nor feeling sorry for ourselves nor losing hope, but continuing to give ourselves to other people in love and service. In our youth group, we call this CHERISHING.
God has a plan. Look in the Bible and you'll find suffering in which God was still working out his plan, like Joseph being sold as a slave in Egypt and wrongly jailed for years, yet later saving all of God's people (read his story in Genesis 37-50). Jesus dying on the cross is another example, being followed by the resurrection that broke the power that death held over humanity. God has a plan, but many people have died and will still die from Covid-19. Christians shouldn't be going around saying, "Cheer up! Sit tight and it's all going to be fine." Life is more complex than that and God is more complex than that. We help those in need and we mourn with those who mourn but we do not lose hope because we know that God has a plan. We may never see individually what God's plan is through Covid-19. Some things that I think God often does in times of suffering: he reminds us of our humanity (the reality is that all of us will one day die - we are not invincible), which should encourage us to think of eternity, he takes away other things that generally absorb our time and energy, like our jobs, education or our comfort (which may encourage us to look for something more meaningful and long-lasting and in so doing, we may find that the God who created us and saved us is looking for us) and he shows us our need of him - we need strength, wisdom and help beyond ourselves - and many of us will be looking for him and crying out to him in these dark times. Whether we see what God is doing or not, the Bible is clear that God has a plan and he will achieve his plan. Frustratingly, for those of us who want a quick end to isolation, discomfort and pain, God's plan stretches out into eternity.
Again, this might seem simplistic but there is more to come. And as I said earlier, Christians can add some pieces but not all of them. Here's another challenge for you: how would you answer the questions: 'What is the big plan for the world?', 'How does Covid-19 fit into that plan?' and, 'What's my part in the plan?'
You can read the next part: The puzzle of suffering #3. I think it includes the most challenging piece of all!
Dave Thornton is author of 'Raising the Bar: Nearly everything you need to know about Christian youth ministry'. Find out more here.