Job and the Pandemic
At certain times we do well to say only what is necessary and only about a subject we know and understand. Young wiseacres, on the other hand, at precisely those times, offer themselves up as as experts in everything, and end up sticking their feet in their mouths. This seems to be the case in much of the growing social media commentary about this new SARS-CoV epidemic, especially as fueled by the overload of information by the "new" media.
Suddenly, everybody becomes a medical expert and uber-journalist. Bless the true doctors of the body and the faithful communicators of truth, but God forbid I be a yellow journalist or pseudoscientist.
Save me, oh God, save me from the plague, but also from a self-centered desire for relevance!
Why the improbable parallel? So I may remember not to fall into the temptation of using the plague as a pulpit for preaching myself. This is not the time for lyrical crying or for tragic songs, but a time for trusting a Heavenly Father and His tender mercy toward us. May God allow me to address the soul according to His Word, in order to produce hope instead of anxiety.
In critical situations such as this that is unfolding, it is natural to refer to other fevers and flus or to literary works such as Camus' "The Plague" – or even, for those more scripturally inclined, to the story of Job. In the case of Job, the devil challenges God to prove the faithfulness of His God-declared righteous man. Job was already respected among the judges of his land and by all his people, but God called him to become a partaker in His honor. Indeed, the same kind of social weave and the same type of particular stitching characteristic of evils of great proportions seem to present themselves in the present threat of Covid-19. Before we say anything else, therefore, we must dwell on God's sovereignty, His faithfulness and His goodness toward us in Christ Jesus – We need to remember that the Lord has been our Redeemer in many and different circumstances.
With that settled, we can turn our glance to how God treats the deepest matters of human motivation in Job's response. His soul was afflicted because of his sores and true physical pain, he full of surprise and anger because of his natural sense of rights and merits. He could, in all fairness, it seems, really ask: How can a good God allow such evil to someone who is recognizably righteous? But Job bows to the authority and justice of the only truly Holy One: “Adorn yourself yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor. Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on everyone who is proud and abase him. Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand” (Job 40:10-12).
Later on in the Biblical narrative we reach the highest point of the matter, when Job says:
I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 'Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me. 'I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:2-6.)
What can we learn from Job story?
First, God exposed Job's motives. He allowed his righteous (justified) one to feel the anguish of affliction, doubt as to the divine determination, and the full heat of human reaction, especially human folly. What God did not allow, however, was for His human creature to exalt himself above the Creator and Lord of all things.
Second, God allowed Job to experience the extent of His redeeming plan, the height of His love and the faithful presence of His tender care. Job's “friends” had a lot to say from the innards of wisdom-according-to-the-world, and even Job had a lot to learn, as do we — things only learned in post-crises victories. The Book of Job is written in the ambiance of a greater story than simply one of a healthy and prosperous life or lives of wars and pestilence. God reveals Himself as Lord and Redeemer of the individual person, but, through his dealing with Job, He communicates His salvation to the whole of the society in which those lives are lived.
In the beginning of the book, Job prayed that his children would be kept from sinning. After experiencing deep pain of body and soul, and coming to understand a little about of God's wisdom — His plan, His goodness and His government — Job abandons anger and lamentation, and prays for his friends:
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold. And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning (Job 42:10-12).
May we, therefore, dispose ourselves to listen to the Word of God more than the words of men, or even the "words" of our feelings; let us speak to God about our pain and the hurts of our fellow humans, rather then focusing on what we wish to say to everybody else! Let us pay heed to those we recognize as wise and true, while despising the virulent foolishness that always arises in the midst of great epidemics.
Above all, may we trust God and entrust to Him all our unrest and anxiety!
This article was first posted in Portuguese at https://coalizaopeloevangelho.org/article/jo-e-a-pandemia/