The onslaught of the pandemic that began almost fourteen months back has created havoc hitherto unknown to this generation. The lockdown and the ensuing migration of the poor was heartrending and insensitive. Without a relief in sight, the common people were left to fend for themselves and for their loved ones.
Today, situations are even more grimmer; the suffering and the untimely deaths of our very loved ones leaves us in anger and helplessness. What had been taken for granted be it an ambulance, hospital, medicines and now the vaccines have just eluded us so dreadfully. Oxygen has become the rare commodity, graveyards and cremation grounds unbelievably wait listed. With death all around us, one is unsure where to shelf faith and hope.
Many friends with their unswerving faith and hope in God, had prayed enough and were completely assured that none of their doorposts would ever be touched by the pandemic – it would just passover. Yet very soon, it was not just loved ones falling sick, but rudely and forever some were even whisked off from the very life. Cries were heard everywhere but mostly in silence. The pandemic wouldn’t even allow you to touch the face of your loved one and ask why they left without informing. Where is God in all this; could you ask Him? Where are the promises that seemed so assuring; it looks like a mirage!
‘Radical suffering’ is experienced as an assault on the self so intense that it turns out to be dehumanizing or decreative. It turns people into victims and robs them of a sense of value, dignity, and freedom central to being human. The Philippian Church experienced the same radical suffering when it was founded in very traumatic times with afflictions at every turn – fighting without and fear within (2 Cor 7:5. ESV). They continued to struggle, because they knew that Paul was still in prison, may be condemned and were probably beginning to loose heart. The question that weighed upon them was “why suffering and how long”?
Suffering and grief are very painful indeed. This pandemic has exposed our vulnerability and ‘revealed to us more and more of the brokenness of our society, our systems, our institutions and even the shallowness of our spirituality’. The shallowness of our spirituality; because as Christians we are theologised that as children of the Almighty God we are blessed with health, wealth and all comforts. It then baffles us when we are confounded with suffering and death. Shallow spirituality explains this away as either due to lack of enough faith or sin in the innermost being. This leaves us helpless and hopeless!
While in suffering and grief we find little comfort from words, it is important for us to know that as Christians, we aren’t insulated from the struggles and pains that is common to every person. It calls for us as ‘survivors of radical suffering that we adopt a theology of suffering different from various traditional ones that begin with the assumption that nothing happens to us outside of God’s control; therefore, suffering must be either deserved or instructive. These traditional theologies of suffering require that our notions of God’s love fit a prior assumption of God’s controlling power. But if we begin with the assumption that the world God created includes the possibility for natural disasters or the abuse of human freedom quite contrary to God’s hopes for us, then we are free to imagine God’s love and power differently.’
This was exactly how Paul responded to the Philippian church, when he emphasised that his suffering is beyond compare to God’s power and love. This knowledge and attitude helped Paul live above his circumstances. His encouragement for the church was a call not to live under the circumstances, rather above it; because the Living Lord was with them in their circumstances. Paul was able to locate God’s power not for his release from suffering, but one that transcended the present predicaments and envision it as an opportunity to serve and love others in the service of God’s love. ‘This is an image deeply rooted in scripture where God is described as our Creator who not only gives us life but whose life giving Spirit continues to be highly involved in our lives empowering us for love’. The Philippian church, by the end of this letter written to them, were able to imagine this power of God as His love emptying himself up even unto a shameful and suffering death. It is this love that encouraged the church thereon to see suffering beyond its predicaments, rather an opportunity to show love and hope that transcends death.
History tells us that crisis by natural or social disasters have been translated into crises of faith. But unlike many religions that were unable to respond to these crises’, Christians stayed behind to take care of victims of epidemics after their own families had abandoned them and fled from their homes. Many such caregivers, themselves fell prey to the disease. But it was such selfless and loving actions of Christians that touched the hearts and minds of those watching these events, resulting in rapid growth of the church as a consequence.
Our faith and hope in God’s love and his power is beyond ourselves. It calls us to the heart of this Christian faith to serve the other because with Paul we can boldly ask “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”… even, when the pandemic may not passover!
Sathish Joseph Simon works as Director Operations in TRACI.
 Wendy Farley, Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), p. 53.
 Raaj Mondol, ‘Gender based Violence: Recovering the Tradition of Lament to Break the Culture of Silence’ in Public Theology: Exploring Expressions of the Christian Faith, Edited by Bonnie Miriam Jacob, TRACI. (2020)
 Nancy J. Ramsay, Compassionate Resistance: An Ethic for Pastoral Care and Counseling, The Journal of Pastoral Care, 52/3 (Fall 1998), p 218-219.
 Ibid, p219.
 Rodney Stark, Stark, Rodney. 1996. The Rise Of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History.
 Romans 8:35-39, NIV.