Updated: May 16
As Covid-19 causes suffering across the world, it's important to ask, "If there's a God, why is there suffering?" This need not damage faith, but may strengthen it. I speak of this in terms of a jigsaw puzzle where Christians have some but not all of the pieces. If you're starting here, check out The puzzle of suffering #1 and The puzzle of suffering #2 first.
The resurrection. God knows what it is to suffer, but in a world where suffering is never far away, joyfully, that is not the end of the story. God's plan didn't end when Jesus died on a cross, Jesus rose from the dead. An angel announced: "He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay." (Matthew 28.6). Our pain, suffering, even death are not the end. There is resurrection. There is new life. And this is not just a hope for after our earthly life is finished. It starts in this life, as we put our hope in Jesus and get to know him. Paul writes, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." (2 Corinthians 4.16).
An end to suffering. John sees a vision of eternity and hears a voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21.3-4). Covid-19, whatever it brings to us, is not the end. Because even death is not the end. An end to pain and suffering - that's the end. This is the good news of the Christian gospel. One day, the fear and the suffering that comes with Covid-19 won't even be remembered (Isaiah 65.17).
The tower of Siloam. This piece is one that I discovered relatively recently. It's challenging because Jesus was told about people who had suffered. Read it in Luke 13.1-5, How did he respond? I bet no Christian would start in the same place that he does. "Did suffering and death happen because of people's sin?" He responds, "I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." Jesus reminds us of the bigger picture. All of us are sinners, deserving death (Romans 3.23, Romans 6.23). One day – hopefully a long time from now, but maybe sooner, maybe even because of Covid-19 - we will each die. Are we ready for that day? Salvation is available through Jesus, but have we repented like Jesus encouraged his hearers to do - have we turned away from going our own way and ignoring God - and have we grabbed hold of that salvation and gained the eternal life that can be found in Jesus who suffered for us? So disasters like Covid-19 shouldn’t turn us away from God, but should turn us towards him to ask him for forgiveness and salvation to eternal life.
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 end of the story?' and, 'How should I respond to suffering like Covid-19?'
You can read the final part at The puzzle of suffering #4.
Dave Thornton is author of 'Raising the Bar: Nearly everything you need to know about Christian youth ministry'. Find out more here.