With the current pandemic of the COVID-19 throughout the world, we have an opportunity to unite as a human family, serve those in need, and ask some broad spiritual questions.
Such questions include: Why do such viruses occur? Why does God allow such harmful things?
The Christian tradition traces all evil, disease and suffering to the original fall of our first parents. When Adam and Eve rebelled against the goodness and benevolence of God, our human nature and creation lost their harmony. The interior balance within the human person was thrown into disarray. The tranquility of creation was disrupted and no longer in the order ordained by God. As a result, disorders of the body and soul – such as threatening viruses – emerged and reemerge throughout history. The human family suffers from these evils.
Christian belief, therefore, sees suffering and illness within the theological context of the Fall from grace and acknowledges them as evils within human life. They are not seen merely as the consequences of the actual sins of any one person after the Fall, but as a dark inheritance from the original sin of our first parents and the subsequent fallenness of human nature itself. From the Fall, human history now includes the sorrow and drama of illness and suffering.
As such, the human story is marked by questions about evil, inquiries about suffering, debates over human dignity and quality of life, medical battles against illness and the care of the sick, and struggles with faith and understanding about moral goodness and responsibility.
For the Christian believer, answers to questions about evil begin with the Fall as the source and cause of suffering and illness in human life.
But, God sent a Savior and Redeemer to us. The divine Son became a full human being and experienced all things truly human.
No discussion of human life, or the presence of a dangerous virus, would be complete without addressing the full array of suffering, not only within the soul but also in the body. In experiencing the fullness of human life, Jesus Christ understood and accepted all forms of suffering, and he desires to teach humanity the scope and truths surrounding human suffering.
From humanity’s Fall from grace, suffering is an evil within human life. In taking on our human nature, Jesus Christ accepted the suffering of humanity, body and soul.
From his life of poverty, to living as a refugee in a foreign land, to being hunted down as a criminal, to the frustration of learning a trade, to the death of his foster father, to his experience of being tired and thirsty, as well as misunderstood, rejected, and unloved. All of his sufferings culminated in the cruelty and torture of his Passion, and the humiliation and asphyxiation of his Death.
In all these sufferings, Jesus Christ chose to accept, enter, and use suffering, which has been such a pivotal dilemma and source of anguish in human history, as the very means to manifest his love and self-donation for humanity. Suffering itself would become the instrument of salvation.
In taking on human suffering, the Lord Jesus went directly to sin, understood as the source of suffering in human life. He sought to destroy sin, and its consequences of suffering and death, from the inside out. He endured the totality of harm, shame, alienation, grief, confusion, and the full panorama of darkness caused by sin, and converted them all into a means of grace, a source of light, and a summons to selfless love.
And while the ministry of Jesus Christ has destroyed the kingdom of sin and death, the consequences of sin still remain in the human experience. We still get sick. We still have viruses. We are still afraid. We still suffer.
The difference, however, is that suffering – while an evil caused by original sin in its core – can now become redemptive for the person and the community. Rather than seeing suffering in merely negative terms, the example and ministry of Jesus Christ now shows the human family a positive way in which suffering can be seen and accepted in human life.
Suffering can be a share in the work of the Redeemer. The very things that once beat up and robbed the human spirit are now means by which we can encounter and share such spiritual gifts as eternal wisdom, hope, thanksgiving, and love.
In these ways, the work of the Lord Jesus allows for an abundance of surprisingly good things to come from even the worst and most fearful of evils.
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