As I write this, around 210,000 people have died worldwide as a result of the coronavirus.
Many people find it difficult or impossible to believe that a loving God can exist when something like this happens. Why wouldn’t he do something about it?
As a Christian I see life as a gift from God.
Today we tend to think that life is a right, something which we are entitled to simply by virtue of being human and which nobody has the right to take away from us.
This can lead us to believe, even if only subconsciously, that God is somehow obliged to preserve our lives and keep pain and death away from us.
As I see it, he isn’t obliged to do any of those things. He gave us life as a gift, one which we do not deserve and which is given on his terms, not ours.
Nowhere in the Bible does God promise that human life will be easy or free from pain and suffering. Not even to Christians does he promise that. In fact, he warns that becoming a Christian may actually lead to life becoming more difficult than it was before.
The early Christian leader Paul puts it like this:
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:12–17)
Here Paul describes the two priorities for a Christian’s life.
First, to receive “training in righteousness” by learning from God’s message and from the example of Jesus and other Christians how we ought to live, so we can be ready for “every good work”.
Second, to accept that happiness and comfort in this life is not our goal. What is? “Salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”.
What does that mean? It means that a Christian’s hope lies in the world to come after Jesus returns from heaven, not this one.
For a Christian, this life is really a time of preparation for the day when they meet Jesus. How we respond to the pain and suffering in our lives, and in the lives of others, will shape our character and determine the person Jesus sees in us when that day comes.
At a time in his life when it looked likely that he might die, Paul wrote:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:21–24)
For a Christian, life is an opportunity to prepare oneself to meet Jesus and to help others do the same, and death is simply the last waking moment before we meet him.
Suppose you were to be given a trial or probationary period by an employer with the promise that after a certain period of time your performance would be reviewed to determine if you were to be offered a permanent position within the organisation. While this isn’t a perfect analogy (Christians don’t earn eternal life from Jesus through good performance!) it does illustrate that the life we have now is only a temporary time of testing which will (and should) inevitably come to an end.
God gives us this life as a gift, but that gift comes with certain responsibilities and instructions on how it ought to be lived. It isn’t for us to do whatever we like with and indulge ourselves. God is perfectly entitled to take it away again if we haven’t used it responsibly or if we’ve ignored his instructions.
Moreover, God isn’t being unjust or unkind to take away this life if he has an even better one to offer.
But where do our priorities lie?