COVID-19: A sign of the end of times
An Opinion Piece by Deacon Medhanie
The pandemic Coronavirus is a reminder for us all to always live in a state of preparedness and repentance.
Where is God during the Coronavirus outbreak?
"In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." [John 16:33]
It is very daunting and challenging for the human mind to comprehend and explain where God would be at this time. One may ask, why would God allow this to happen?
Whenever this kind of thing happens, people respond in three different ways. The first being fatalism, which is a view of predestination where one doesn’t have free will. Those who follow this believe that whatever happens must be accepted because it is the will of God and there’s nothing we can do about it. The second type of response is consistent with atheism. This is when one forges their destiny alone hence we fight to conquer suffering to be the fittest among the strugglers. Lastly, one believes in providence, when one trusts in the Lord and fights to keep the faith within. Providence is both correct and consistent with the teachings of the Church and Scripture.
I would like to raise the story of Lazarus, which can be found in the Gospel of John chapter 11. He was a friend of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Bible states that Lazarus was a man whom "the Lord loved." When Lazarus became ill, his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent a message with great distress to the Lord to come forth and heal him. Instead of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ going to Lazarus, He remained where He was for an additional two days. In result, Lazarus died before the Lord arrived to Bethany. One cannot imagine the sufferings Mary and Martha had encountered. Likewise, no one can imagine the suffering of those who have become victims of the Coronavirus, including their family members. There were many people who had come to comfort the sisters of Lazarus. Many Jews had come to comfort them due to the loss of their brother. When the Lord reached Bethany, Lazarus had already been in the tomb for 4 days. Martha said to Jesus, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died." Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him; she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled, and Our Lord wept. Afterwards, the Lord raised Lazarus from the dead. The moral of the story is that the Lord sees and understands our pain and suffering. He is kind and compassionate during our trials and tribulations. He will also raise all those in faith at the end of the world to the heavenly eternal place.
I remember reading a story of the Jews who were persecuted and tortured in concentration camps by the Nazis. Many people were asking where God was at that horrific time. Some of them tried God and found Him guilty of not answering. But one correctly said that God was with them suffering as well. When such things happen, we need to remember His word saying, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age." [Mat 28:20]. "Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind," said Apostle Peter, "for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin" (1 Peter 4:1-2). St. Cyprian of Carthage explained the suffering of all humans while on earth, saying, "In the meantime [i.e., in the present life], we are all, good and evil, contained in one household. Whatever happens within the house, we suffer with equal fate, until, when the end of the temporal life shall be attained, we shall be distributed among the homes either of eternal death or immortality." At the same time, during the difficult moments of life, such as the one we are living today, we must remind ourselves that, "…the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18).
God by His nature is omniscient [know everything], omnipresent [present everywhere at the same time] and omnipotent [all powerful]. So, the logical question is why would He allow such things to happen? Although God does not cause evil, He permits evil or natural disasters to run their natural cause of hardship and pain out of respect for our freedom, and He even brings good out of evil disasters or actions. In fact, God created a consistent and orderly world which He pronounced as "very good." Humans rebelled against God, thus breaking a close relationship with Him and with the creation, natural order. As a consequence we live holding to the faith once delivered to the saint in a broken/fallen world that cries out for restoration which will occur when the Lord returns again. Some people may not comprehend that diseases, earthquakes, and hardships are all consequences of the original sin. To better comprehend the message I am trying to put across, think about an HIV infected woman. When she gives birth, the child becomes a carrier of the virus and would have to face the consequences of it. Although the child didn’t become infected on their own, they have HIV because of their mother and must continue to live on. In like manner, because Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the beginning of time, we also must face the sufferings that come upon the world. The Lord has forewarned us to always live in a state of preparedness, but didn't assure us that we would be immune to diseases, sufferings and even earthly death. In fact, He said, "In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." [John 16:33]. Most often, suffering leads to repentance and correcting our life. If we see the story of Israel as a nation and on an individual level as well, turning back to God with prayer and fasting during their suffering lessens the pain and brings healing fast. Suffering brings repentance. C.S Lewis says, "God whispers in our pleasure but shouts in our pains. Pain is his megaphone to rouse a dulled world". In the New Testament, the sufferings are not only a retaliation for a trespass, they have an active redemptive power. "Suffering is the fountain of renewal and salvation." God does not hide beyond the boundaries of vast space and He is not indifferent to mankind's misfortunes, as once thought the pagan wise men. On the contrary, He "so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
God has a purpose in all of His doings. All suffering is at least potentially good and is an opportunity for good. It is up to our free choice to actualize that potentiality. Not all of us benefit from suffering, learn from it, because that is up to us, up to free will. Two prisoners in the same concentration camp with the same suffering turn out differently because of free will. God is omniscient and knows perfectly what is best for us in the long run. In Him, there is no past or future -- but only present.
I work in the medical field. When a little child is taken to the ER to have a deep wound cleaned and stitched, the child might ask why the parent allowed the doctor to inflict pain, and why they didn't do anything to step in and stop it. Mind you, the parents didn't inflict the wound but would allow their child the pain out of their love. The hurt child needs at that time is not so much explanation as assurance. God did not vanish during our time of sin or suffering. He took our flesh, suffered and saved us. Our God hates to see his children suffer. He suffers and weeps with us. He has demonstrated and imprinted in our heart the level of confidence no one can shake. God is perfect, lacking nothing, so demanding that He is Love, and love is more than kindness and compassion. Some people go as far to say, this disease [COVID-19] is a punishment from God because we angered Him. I don't think this is an accurate explanation. It is "a sickness in which he is always and entirely compassionate and asks us to be also." Everyone, whether or not follows the Christian faith, must expect a certain amount of sickness and discomfort to enter their life. Physical pain is universal; no one escapes it. One can definitely say that this is one of the early signs of the second coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. On Mount Olive, Our Lord Jesus Christ taught the disciples about the signs of His second coming and of the end of the age, saying, "there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows." [Mat 24].
True to His Word, the Lord has told us that we will not escape tribulation and such while in this world. He warned us to be watchful, not in the apparent physical concept, but with the heart, and the inner life, awaiting His coming. But as for the negligent and lazy heart, the Lord's day comes as a thief breaking into a house. We are also asked to endure to the end in faith so we shall be saved. We are asked to live in a state of preparedness as if today is our last day on earth . Suffering teaches Christians to be dependent upon others and to accept help that they have not earned. Above all, suffering offers a path to align one's life with the values of our Lord Jesus Christ which is to carry one's cross in the hope of sharing his resurrection. The solution of evil, suffering and natural disaster is the second coming of the Lord. He came on Calvary, He comes into the heart and lives of the faithful through the sacraments of the Holy Church, especially the Holy Communion. He will come again to judge the world in the end, the thing we have always longed for and fighting for in obedience -- this is the prophetic promise and the heavenly hope. Therefore, let's be watchful as St. Paul taught us, saying, "Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; always praying with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints." [Ephesians 6:14-18]
Till then, we have to cry in prayer, repent to God to come and wipe our tears and to soften our hardened hearts. Our Saviour has taught us: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh, receiveth" (Matt. 7:7-8). Therefore, when we all are in pain and suffering, we must pray for understanding of our infliction, patience to bear it, and deliverance from it, if such be God's holy will. We are also expected to ask for the prayers of others and especially of the Church, for the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16).
"Anyone who is sick should seek the prayer of others, that they may be restored to health; that through the intercession of others the enfeebled form of the body and the wavering footsteps of our deeds may be restored to health… Learn, you who are sick, to gain health through prayer. Seek the prayer of others, call upon the Church to pray for you, and God, in His regard for the Church, will give what He might refuse to you" [St. Ambrose].