This pandemic is the first time that many of us have reckoned with a particular trouble that affects nearly everyone, and it has caused us to think more about God’s ways. Though the answers across the body of Christ will have different emphases, there are at least three matters on which we can have broad agreement.
“What do you think God is doing? Why is he allowing this pandemic?” he asked. Then he added, “I know you have thought a lot about this.”
I had not thought about it. I was “settled in” with my wife; we had plenty to do, and I left the details of COVID-19 news to her. But his questions—which are more global than personal—tap into something important. This pandemic is the first time that many of us have reckoned with a particular trouble that affects nearly everyone, and it has caused us to think more about God’s ways. Though the answers across the body of Christ will have different emphases, there are at least three matters on which we can have broad agreement.
As Christ’s church, we should be able to agree that:
1.We tend to overinterpret suffering. There is something about the human mind that prefers answers. When life-changing events befall us, we often interpret them as highly personal messages. We do this with individuals. Every person whose troubles are known to a church community receives specific “biblical” interpretations for the trouble, or is asked, “What is God trying to teach you?” We do the same thing with corporate and national struggles. Perhaps we want some sense of control by knowing precise causes. Perhaps we want to find a unique mission and purpose. Or perhaps we see how the Old Testament makes connections between human behavior and divine consequences and assume that we who have the Spirit should be able to make similar connections. Whatever our reasons, we overinterpret suffering. At our worst, we believe that the suffering of other people is God’s discipline upon them. Meanwhile, we wonder if our troubles indicate God’s judgment on us as his church, or if he is planting hidden signs in our suffering that will lead us to better decisions and back into his favor. We prefer answers.
But such answers are not ours to have. Our present, common hardship is a time for us to acknowledge that we are mere humans, weak and dependent children before our Father, who is both at work in the suffering, and has a steadfast love for us that never ceases (Lam 3:22). That is enough. If we want more details, we know that the kingdom of God has come in Christ, but it grows gradually, in conflict with the dark kingdom, and this conflict is overlaid on a groaning creation with its ever-mutating viruses.