Thousands of people have lost jobs, superannuation funds are worth substantially less and relationship issues are becoming more apparent—those are just some of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are infected, health care workers are stressed and families are grieving; everyone is suffering.
The virus and its affect do not surprise God, but what is He doing about it? This question assumes two characteristics about God. Firstly, that God is love and wants to help people—the Bible affirms this love (Exodus 34:6; 1 John 4:8). Secondly, God has the power to intervene in the suffering—the Bible affirms this power (Genesis 18:14; Matthew 19:26). God even accepts our questions about suffering (Psalm 13:1-4; Revelation 6:10).
From my reading of Scripture, God relates to suffering in three ways.
God suffered because of what people do to each other. In Genesis 6:5,6, “The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness. . . . It broke his heart.” Think of the fighting, murder, sexual abuse, exploitation, greed and stealing that occurs every minute of every day. God sees it and it breaks His heart. He suffers because of what we do to each other (see also Exodus 3:7-10; Hosea 11:3-9).
God suffered with the people (Genesis 3:8-10). When Adam and Eve sinned it hurt God, but He went into the garden to talk with them. Jesus, God’s Son, came and lived as a human just like us (John 1:14; Matthew 1:23). God is not distant in suffering—He is there with us to understand and comfort.
God suffered for the people. After discovering the consequences of their sin, Adam and Eve were still naked with very temporary covering. Sin would lead to death, but God took first blood—an innocent animal to cover the consequence of human sin (Genesis 3:21). God would deal with sin ultimately—He provided a substitute who suffered for the people, His own Son (Isaiah 53:1-15; Hebrews 2:9-18; 1 Peter 2:21-24).
Whatever suffering we experience, let us remember that God suffers because we suffer; with us; and ultimately, for us—so He can put an end to such suffering once and for all (Revelation 21).