Have you ever fallen out with a friend? I did; when I was 12 years old, I fell out with my best friends, badly! I cannot really recall the cause of the rift; however, I vividly remember what it felt like to be outside of that close-knit friendship. It felt awful, I was unhappy, I was lonely, I was lost; it is not an exaggeration to say that I suffered terribly because of breaking up with my friends.
I share this experience because it helps me to explain the Christian response to the Coronavirus. When I think about the suffering caused by the coronavirus, I think of two Christian teachings, freewill and God’s unconditional love:
- Freewill: We are not robots? God created us with intelligence and emotion because God wants us to be in a loving relationship with him. Obviously, God doesn’t make us love him, how can you love someone if you don’t have a choice about it? So, God gave us freewill and our independence, but of course that opened the potential for suffering. If we have a choice we sometimes make bad or negative choices. A lot of suffering in the world is a result of the negative actions of humanity; global warming is a clear example of this. I suffered as a 12-year-old because I was too proud to make up with my friends.
- Unconditional love: The suffering of the innocent? But hang on I hear you say, what about all those completely innocent people who are suffering because of the coronavirus? They didn’t choose this, this is a natural disaster, is God punishing them unfairly? My simple answer would be no, this pandemic is not a punishment, God loves us! When God made the world and everything in it, it was perfect. But when humanity broke its relationship with God, when humanity fell out of love with God, the perfection was ended because the relationship was ended. That’s when suffering arrived in the world. The central storyline of the Bible is that God loves us unconditionally and wants us to come back to him and to love him once again! That’s why Jesus was born, that’s why Jesus personally experienced suffering and death. Jesus is God, God who suffers, God who died. So when humanity suffers in our imperfect world, God is right there; there in the intensive care unit suffering alongside those struggling to breathe, there with exhausted nurses and doctors beginning another shift, there with the care workers as they smile and reassure their clients. God’s unconditional love for us means that we are never alone, God is beside us in the darkness, in the silence; we may not recognise him or feel his presence, but he is always there, loving us and suffering with us.
So why does God allow coronavirus to exist? In a nutshell, God loves humanity unconditionally and wants to be in a loving relationship with us, so he gives us the freedom to make positive and negative choices in our lives. This freedom necessarily results in the potential for suffering as we live in an imperfect world, a world where there is the coronavirus and other naturally existing diseases and natural disasters. God does not abandon us to suffer alone, God suffers with us and offers us the hope that one day perfection will be restored, when humanity once again falls in love with God and “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more” Revelation 21:4
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