One hundred twenty nanometers. That’s about how large the novel corona virus is. For reference, that’s about the length that your fingernails grow in about two minutes. Yet, this microscopically small virus has brought the world to its knees. Thousands of people have died, and the numbers keep climbing. Over a million people have been infected with the illness. Financial markets have lost trillions of dollars. Schools, and businesses have closed their doors. Hospitals are at capacity, and medical staff are stretched to their limits, caring for patients.
And the effects of this pandemic are intensely personal. Some are not only grieving the loss of a loved one, but are also grieving the inability to grieve well, since funerals in many places are not possible. Some have been laid off or are worried about losing a business they have spent a lifetime building. There are many who have planned the trip of a lifetime, a wedding, a graduation--only to see these plans fall victim to “social-distancing” requirements. In all of this, we are wondering, where is God when the world seems to be falling apart?
This isn’t a question tied to only the pandemic either. Some of us have had our hearts break because a spouse walked out on us. Others are at our breaking point, caring for a special-needs child, or an elderly parent, and we aren’t sure where to go with our weariness, pain, or anger. We feel as though God has walked out on us, or maybe he was never here to begin with. So, where can we go when our world is falling apart?
We must be cautious that we don’t make the foolish mistake of Job’s friends who offered simplistic explanations to Job in the midst of his heartache. While the bible tells us clearly that we live in a world that still groans under the weight of sin (see Genesis 3, and Romans 8:18-18), the bible doesn’t explain why your child was born with a genetic disorder, or why your wife had the affair, or why the novel corona virus has been able to do as much damage as it has to this point.
That said, the bible helps us process our pain and our questioning with God. The Psalms are God’s gracious gift to us, because they give us words to express what we might not otherwise have the words for when we are hurting. Consider the following themes that the Psalms bring out:
When the test comes back positive, or when the divorce is finalized, or when the casket is lowered into the ground, one question runs through our mind over and over again: “Why?” Perhaps you’ve been taught to believe that questioning God is irreverent, and wrong. After all, God knows what he’s doing, right? Who are we to question Him? Psalm 13 opens with raw and honest questions: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will I wrestle with my thoughts, and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” Far from being off-limits, the Psalmist gives voice to and gives us permission to express in prayer the tough questions that race through our mind. But notice that the Psalmist asks these honest questions from a place not of doubt and skepticism, but a place of connectedness. The Psalmist expresses his uncertainty and confusion over where God is in the midst of his pain, yet he does so with a posture of trust that God will respond to his cries for help because God’s love is unfailing.
Perhaps in the midst of your pain, you’ve felt like you’ve simply needed to accept what is happening to you without expressing any of your honest questions to God. Perhaps in your journey through suffering, God is inviting you to come to him honestly, to pour out your questions and your hurt before him. Use the words of Psalm 13 to help you put these questions into words.
“Social distancing” has entered into our vocabulary, and we will remember these words long after this crisis has passed. This oxymoron is such a sad reality because it violates our very nature. We are not designed as “socially distanced” creatures; we are meant to live, work, shop, play, and even suffer, in community. Our present situation has left many of us feeling lonely and disconnected. Our children miss seeing their friends at school. Small groups miss meeting for dinner and bible study. It’s difficult, maybe impossible, to visit loved ones in the hospital or to gather to mourn the passing of a friend. Suffering is alienating, and this is especially true in our relationship with God.
When a spouse’s hidden sin is exposed, the friend betrays you, or your health fails, it’s not uncommon to feel far from God. We feel as though our prayers don’t make it any higher than the ceiling. We find it nearly impossible to sing the songs at church. Does God “socially distance” himself from us when we are writing? Psalm 34 was written after-the-fact; David had experienced a crisis in which his life was threatened, because of someone who was out to harm him. The Psalm suggests that David felt far from God. Yet after God had stepped in to save David, he is able to look back at his experience through a different lens. All of Psalm 34 is worth reflecting on, but one verse stands out in particular: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” We may not always see it in our darkest moment. But when we are hurting and broken, God never, never, abandons us. Cry out to him; you are his beloved child, and he will not turn his back on you. It’s true that God sometimes allows us to walk through seasons of darkness, but when we cry out to him, he will not abandon us. How can we know that? The answer to that is found when we reflect on the final of our three Psalms.
As I write these words, we are approaching Good Friday. Many churches will hear the words Jesus spoke on the cross: “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus wasn’t speaking these as his own words; he was quoting Psalm 22, which details a person’s experience alternating between trusting in God, yet coping with the harsh realities of betrayal, rejection, humiliation, and abandonment. In the midst of this agonizing experience, the Psalmist cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). Jesus takes these words on his lips while hanging on the cross, the place where he experienced the greatest agony, anguish, and abandonment possible. On the cross, Jesus cried out, “How long? Will you forget me forever?” and the Father turned his face away from his son. Jesus was crushed and brokenhearted, but his Father was not near to him. He was utterly forsaken by God, why? So that God might never forget us, so that God might be near to us when we are brokenhearted and crushed, and so that we might never be forsaken. Jesus experienced the depths of hell, so that we might know the joy of heaven.
God’s word assures us that even as this world is groaning, we may trust that one day, we will enjoy a new heavens and a new earth, a place where the cries of the Psalms are ultimately and finally answered, a place where “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”(Rev. 21:3-4).
These are uncertain, and anxious times. We know very little about how long this “normal” will be normal. God invites you to bring your cries to him, trust that He is near to you, and be assured that one day our broken world will be made new.