I was reflecting on God’s relationship with COVID-19 when the stay-at-home order short-circuited my medical search for a solution to the strong arthritis in my neck. What does God have to do with coronavirus and arthritic pain, after all?
When I have to stay home because of the virus, I can’t get the medical help for my painful neck, which robs my sleep and distracts me from God’s call to write. It also prevents me from being able to swim laps at three indoor pools five days a week for my health. As a result, I mull over the thought about where God is in all this struggle. That questioning is directly related to the thought about who he is.
Is God a loving God, an avenging God, an absent God, a sadistic God, or no God at all? Or maybe we don’t know who he is?
The correct answer to these questions makes all the difference in the world. If my starting point is my pain and the virus, God seems to be either far away or nonexistent. So where is the right starting point?
If I start with the world’s problems, the answer seems to overwhelm me, since there are so many.
However, my three kinds of pain started thirty-three years ago last month. At that time, I was at the depth of my horrible major depression that I had experienced for seven years. God used psychiatric means to get me in touch with my anger and anxiety, which I had buried in my unconscious mind. A few months later, God took my depression away for thirty-three years this past January. Later, he took away for more than fifteen years until now my seven years of daily migraines. However, he left behind my three kinds of physical pain.
Thirteen years after my pain started, I was getting tired the way I felt when I was depressed. I asked God, who had become my Psychiatrist, what was going on.
The clear thought came to me that it was my pain that was making me angry and depressed.
Well, in a similar way to the process that God had used to heal me of my depression, I began to have it out with him. In other words, I lamented or openly expressed my anger and anxiety to him the way Job and David did in the Bible. Every night for two months before I went to bed, I told God how angry I was with him for allowing pain in my life.
You can see that I was really angry at God. He never causes pain and struggles in believers’ lives but does allow them for their good–mine too! I knew that truth with my mind but lamented sixty times during those two months.
Toward the end of that time, thoughts came to me–I know from God–about the many benefits he had given to me because of my pain. I had become much more prayerful, dependent on him, and humble before him.
Not only had Jesus suffered much more than I was suffering, but his suffering meant that he was with me in my physical and emotional pain.
God’s lesson was that, because of my pain, I realized that I am very weak and that God is very strong. Therefore, I learned to pray constantly for his power to be able to preach and teach as a pastor. That lesson continues into the present in the media ministry that God has given me in retirement.
What did I learn about God’s nature from that experience? Among other thoughts that agree with the Bible, I learned that God is far away as my Creator and at the same time he is close to me in my need. That last lesson came at the end of those sixty angry prayers when God gave me permanent peace; all my anger disappeared! I thank him for that change. “The pain” as my enemy had now become “my pain” as an accepted part of my life.
The question why God has allowed the last thirty-four years of pain also came to me as time went by. God directed my thoughts about that question to 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, in which Paul shares his struggles with what he calls a “thorn on the flesh.” No one knows what that “thorn” is, but I think that he leaves it a little vague so that we can all relate to his struggle. He asks God three times to take it away, but God gives three very-instructive responses along with his “no.”
First, Paul observes that the “thorn” is Satan’s messenger in his life. God inspires Paul’s understanding that God does not cause our viruses but that the evil one is the direct cause along with humanity’s rebellion. However, just as in Job’s horrible suffering (Job chapters 1 and 2), God permits the devil’s attacks to strengthen our prayerful commitment to him among other kinds of spiritual growth.
Second, he gives Paul a teaching which is throughout the Bible. He says that his power is made perfect in human weakness. This answer comforts me with my struggles to control my muscle, nerve, and joint pain.
Third, God assures Paul and us that his grace (free acceptance) as part of his unlimited power is good enough to support all of us believers as Paul and we go through the struggles with the COVID-19s in our lives. We need to pray for his powerful grace through trust in him as our great Creator, our close Rescuer Jesus Christ, and our intimate Comforter Holy Spirit living in us.
Thus, the source God taught me to use in these struggling experiences is his Word, the Bible, which comforts me with its teachings that are from God. Then, I need to apply it to my struggles.
By the way, last week God used my calls to the medical people to open up the CT Scan I need and my appointment with the surgeon in a short time, medically-speaking. I praise him for his inspired Bible and his love.
Yes, God is a loving God!! But sometimes he shows Christians his tough love for their good. I invite your responses with your beliefs and experiences.