In the early days of Covid-19, Professor Aisha Ahmad, University of Toronto (who is no stranger to suffering) offered this insight:
Global catastrophes change the world . . . the legacy of this pandemic will live with us for years, perhaps decades to come. It will change the way we move, build, learn, and connect. There is simply no way that our lives will resume as if this had never happened.”
Then she added this hopeful note: Covid can instill in us a “wisdom born of suffering, because calamity is a great teacher.”
Easy enough to just want to get beyond 2020 and the dark days of Covid-19. Vaccines that are now available make the end of this deadly pandemic more real. Still, if Professor Ahmad is right (and I’m convinced she is because the Bible contains the very same message) then there is more to Coronavirus than we might think.
The point is not that there’s a silver lining somewhere in the relentless suffering, death, and heartache that we experience in a broken world. Rather the point is that God works through these dark places to change us and help us grow. Looking back over our own journeys, we often realize that the hardest places are where God did some of his deepest work in us. We can learn that truth through the stories of legendary biblical sufferers like Naomi and Job.
Both lost everything. Both felt abandoned and betrayed. Both were embittered by their losses. Both believed God had turned against them. Job questioned God’s justice; Naomi questioned his hesed (his unending, always, and forever love).
God never answered their questions. Instead, he took them to a deeper understanding of his character—for Job that he is good and can be trusted, no matter how things look; for Naomi that his hesed is never ending, never changing and doesn’t have anything to do with how her culture ranks or devalues her.
When Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann expressed his conviction “that any serious crisis is a summons for us to reread the Bible afresh,” the “serious crisis” he had in mind was the coronavirus pandemic. He practiced what he preaches with a new book in which he digs into scripture to process what is happening in the pandemic and how it impacts us.
In Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Anxiety (which I have read twice so far) Professor Brueggemann leads us to the heart of issues that the pandemic raises for Christians and offers help to those who long to learn what God might teach us—about himself, ourselves, our neighbors, about how we might honor and share in the grief of those whose loved ones are among the staggering 300,000+ who have died, and about God’s call to look after one another.
Brueggemann’s book draws from some of his earlier writings and includes fresh reflections that the current pandemic has prompted. He doesn’t simplify or explain the whys of suffering. Instead, he engages the struggle and invites us to join him in searching scripture to learn, change, and grow.
I am also re-reading God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Bonhoeffer was part of the resistance in Hitler’s Germany and was arrested in 1943. The book is a collection of Bonhoeffer’s reflections and letters he wrote during his two-year imprisonment at the close of World War II. His story ended tragically. Just ten days before the Germans forces began to surrender, Hitler ordered Bonhoeffer’s execution. He was 39 years old.
From prison, he described his situation to a friend when he wrote, “One waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other—things that are really of no consequence—the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside.” His book is a treasure during Advent, and his reflections are fortifying when faith is tested through adversity.
Both books are well-worth reading again and again. Each reading brings deeper understanding of truth and wisdom we all need in this devastating time of global trouble.
I find it comforting to know that, even during shutdowns and quarantine, we have wise friends who have traveled similar paths and who can guide us to rich wisdom and a deeper trust in God.
Christmas Blessings to all! Please say safe everyone and wear those masks!