In December 2004, my family and I vacationed at Railey Beach on the coast of Thailand. As a ten-year-old girl, it was a blissful dream; palm trees, sunbathing, snorkelling, eating chocolate crêpes and vibrant sunsets.
But the day after Christmas, everything changed.
Our holiday went from bliss to my worst nightmare.
Early in the morning, my two sisters and I were playing on the beach. Suddenly, all the water surrounding the island left. The fish were flopping around everywhere. We did not know what was going on. In the horizon was a thin white line, growing larger with every second. People starting shouting and running in different directions. Some people froze in fear, their bodies refusing to function. There was a sense of terror, uncertainty and panic thick in the air.
The source of danger was a 25-metre tsunami!
It was approaching our island at a rapid speed. My mom shouted, “RUN!” at the top of her lungs as my father gathered my sisters and I together. We sprinted up a hill, knowing our path to safety was at the top.
By the grace of God, my family made it to the top of the hill. The grip of death was mere metres away as the powerful tsunami raged over the island.
This unforgettable Boxing Day marked the death of almost 280,000 people.
WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SUFFERING?
I share this with you to show I am no stranger to suffering. I know how it feels to doubt whether your life will continue another day. I have been overwhelmed by feelings of panic and fear. I have felt desperately worried about the lives of loved ones.
My guess is, so are you. Right now.
Covid-19 has spread like wildfire across our globe, taking with it our freedom and for some, their lives. You, like me, may be wrestling with these questions: How can God allow suffering? Why did He allow Covid-19 to happen?
There is no easy answer. As Christians, we live with a contradiction; a loving God and yet a world of pain. Facing this contradiction, some of us are morally outraged and may feel the temptation to abandon our faith. How can we believe in a loving God who lets misery happen? This is the living tension between the cross and the resurrection.
Suffering is a fact of this world. In the face of suffering, the teachings of the Christian faith helps us make sense of the rawness we feel because they reveal there is something wrong with the world — it is fallen (Gen 3–4; Rom 3:23). Things are not as they should be. We live in a world in which good and evil are at play on the world stage and in every individual. God is good, but evil is also real and influential. So, at first glance, it seems that suffering gives us a valid reason to rule out God’s goodness. But actually, the opposite is true. It is only if God exists that our outrage at suffering finds a basis. If there is no true goodness, then outrage at true evil is ultimately pointless.
WHERE IS GOD IN OUR SUFFERING?
Suffering is inevitable in our lives. But you will be surprised by the God who meets you in suffering. I was shocked by the God I experienced at the top of the hill. God the Son suffered with us and for us. When we groan, God the Father hears us. More than this, God the Spirit is within us groaning and longing for our freedom as we suffer under the weight of affliction.
Jesus continually sought out those who were suffering. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus wept over the death of his friend Lazarus, along with his community (11:33–35). Jesus is still the same today. In the face of Covid-19, He joins us in our grief. And just as Jesus raised Lazarus to life as proof that He is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25–26), He continues to prove He is our redeemer today.
The reality is, however, that God’s redemption might not take the shape we hope for right now. Covid-19 will probably not disappear overnight. But remember, He is the Father, and we are His children. His redemption will be delivered with love and grace to mixed addresses: A funeral home. A hospital. An airport. A lawyer’s office. These are common places for our tears, cries and screams.
God’s love does not always change the circumstance, but it offers enough to carry us through the pain. And He remembers every tear of misery we have shed (Ps 56:8). Love does not take us out of the tunnel, but it accompanies us to the end. Love guides us toward hope, especially the hope that there will come a day when Christ “will wipe every tear” from our eyes as “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev 21:4).
God is greater than Covid-19 and tsunamis.
In Him we trust.