Humans love patterns. This has led to both crazy superstitions along with many useful discoveries. Pestilence is not a new thing. Sometimes it is a direct punishment of God (eg Num 25, 1 Chron 21). Other times it was a sign of significant events – like AD 70 in Luke 21:11. But are such events always sent by God for a purpose?
Perhaps the Black Death opened the way for the Enlightenment and the Reformation. But the Spanish Flu of 1918 did little. So too many other less famous outbreaks, like the 1789 smallpox outbreak which decimated the Aboriginals around Botany Bay. Covid 19 may or may not have significance. We can all see patterns which might not be there.
Sometimes suffering has reasons we can’t fathom. Job suffered for the capriciousness of an unknown agent. Despite suggestions of the satan being “X”, the Bible never identified satan nor resolves the satan’s issues. Instead Job suffers seemingly for no purpose or resolution. At the end he is blessed with an abundance and family again. But was it ok? Can you ever replace dead children with new ones? No parent would assent to such a proposition. I doubt Job’s sorrow ever vanished, even if there were new sources of joy as well. If there is any resolution of sorts perhaps it is this – learning. In Job 42:2-6 Job realizes God’s ways are unknowable and humans are not entitled to an explanation. The reasons (if any) may be beyond us but God remains in control of His creation was the message from the whirlwind. Job declares in v5 “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye has seen you”. He had a better adjusted view of God’s power and justice in a confusing world. For all his wisdom, God was more than he could explain. There are no reasons given, no happy ending (really) just a man left with a broader understanding of God and a need to rebuild the community, starting with his misguided friends.
Suffering can inspire us to speak to God in new, courageous ways. God through the Psalms provides blunt and raw precedents of how we can talk to him. Psalm 22 which opens with “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? I groan in prayer, but help seems far away“. Life was not good, the writer feels abandoned and talks to God about it. Psalm 44 is a darker Psalm where the faithful appeal to God due to a national crisis – they are being killed. There is neither a reason for their trial nor any relief. Despite the silence they maintain their faith. They frankly say in v24 “Why do you look the other way, and ignore the way we are oppressed and mistreated?”. There is no reason for the suffering, no resolution, and no answer to their faithful prayer. Maybe there won’t be with Covid 19 either, but we can talk honestly to God about our fears and frustrations.
Through faith we know The End. Job will finally see his judge face to face and his faithful patience will receive a reward, while the satans will be condemned. The suffering of the faithful in Psa 44 is taken up in Rom 8:36ff as an identifying hallmark of those who one future day will be saved –“in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us”– and the abandoned lonely sufferer of Psa 22 ends up with the declaration of Messianic victory –“I will proclaim your name to my brothers; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you“– a declaration of the risen Saviour (Heb 2:12).
Will we find reasons for Covid 19? Probably not, there might not be one. This doesn’t mean God is absent from our world and our lives. We can find more time to communicate honestly with Him. And we can be confident that, despite today’s suffering, God has a victory He wants to make us part of.