Steve grew up in a single-parent family with a mom working two jobs to ensure her kids had food and clothing. He lived aware of all they lived without. It sometimes made him ashamed. Steve vowed that when he was an adult, he’d always have what he needed.
When Steve proposed to Rebecca, he told her he would dedicate his life to ensuring their family never knew want. The first 10 years of their marriage were satisfying and prosperous. Steve’s business grew, and Rebecca worked part-time whenever she desired. God was faithful, and material needs never knocked on their manicured suburban home.
No one saw the coronavirus coming.
In a few short weeks, COVID-19 has flipped our society. We now live in a world where disease lurks around the corner, and for some, death isn’t far behind. We practice self-quarantines and social isolation, resulting in major financial hardships for those who own and operate small businesses.
The effect goes far beyond bank accounts by threatening the very existence of certain businesses. And that’s just the financial picture; the personal one is equally tender. When roles, relationships, income, and daily rhythms are rearranged, it chews away at a person’s self-worth.
Imagine what happens when someone like Steve begins to experience this sweeping sense of loss.
Over the last two weeks, the revenue from Steve’s business has been in the toilet; the deleterious effects of the virus now threaten his company’s existence. Steve and Rebecca once had money left over at the end of every month. Now Rebecca see lots of month left over at the end of their money.
In one month, Steve’s profits have tanked, and he has had to let employees go. Now he’s up late at night, reading about financial assistance that may be available for LLCs and sole proprietors. Should he apply for a Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan? Should he wait to see if even more federal assistance is coming?
What’s the path a person walks when COVID-19 threatens to kill their business? Where does the soul go when Steve’s greatest fear—having his family experience financial need—has come upon him?
Indulge me as I flesh out Steve’s thoughts. As I do, we’ll discover how God uses suffering—even a global pandemic—to invite us into a journey of questions, vulnerability, and ultimate purpose.
1. Expect Doubt
As his bank accounts dwindle, Steve begins to ask all the why questions. Why did God allow this to happen? After all, Steve and Rebecca have given generously to their church and Christian causes; they’ve served faithfully.
This sort of severe suffering feels unjust, and when he’s honest, it makes Steve angry. He’s been more irritable with Rebecca and his kids, more distant from God. Steve just can’t seem to reconcile why God would allow this to happen—particularly when everything was going so well.
Why? is a question only God can answer, but nonetheless we waste enormous emotional energy dissecting it. All Christians in this pandemic stand before the carousel of why? and must decide whether they will step aboard for that circular ride—the one that steals our time and ultimately delivers us back to the same place.
To the question of why? there is one answer: faith. A confidence rooted in God’s Word that he is good and is actively working in our suffering, even when answers elude us. Doubts stirred during pandemics must be met by faith, the kind that “believe(s) that God exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6).
Some reading this article are there now—the revenue is drying up, and it seems like the handwriting is on the wall. To make matters worse, God isn’t explaining himself, and you’re still on the carousel seeking answers to the why question. God understands your doubts. He invites us to draw close to him and experience him as one who is real, one who is good, one who rewards those who seek him.
2. Welcome the Weakness
When the virus began to ravage Italy, Steve wondered what the effect would be here in the United States. He was afraid of what this could mean for his business. But he kept it bottled: I’m probably overreacting.
When his fears materialized, Steve knew he and his wife needed to work through this together. But honestly, Steve felt ashamed: If I get into the financial weeds with Rebecca, she’ll know I’ve failed. She’ll know I’m not the strong provider I promised to be. Rebecca will lose respect for me. She’ll never look at me the same way, and I just can’t handle that right now!
Rebecca had been worried, too. Until yesterday, Steve had assured her they’d be fine. Last night, though, Steve whispered a prayer, opened his heart, swallowed hard, and quietly told Rebecca, “We need to talk.” And oh boy, did they talk. Steve unpacked the financial effect, his fears, and the paralyzing shame he felt.
Rebecca listened intently and sized up the situation pretty quickly. Rebecca reminded Steve of their Lord who bore their shame upon the cross (Heb. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:4–5). Rebecca reminded Steve that, because of Jesus, he is freed from the stigma of shame.
Rebecca also began to think of ways she could help. In her response, Steve saw that the gospel has true relevance, even in the throes of a pandemic, and that God is present with them in the midst of this turmoil. Through their humble vulnerability, God was teaching them to depend on him and be honest with each another.
3. Remember God’s Promises
In 2 Corinthians 1:3–4, Paul says:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
God promises to meet us in the midst of great suffering and affliction. He met Steve and Rebecca, and in doing so, he positioned and empowered them to comfort others.
With the business failing, Rebecca has taken on some online freelancing to help make ends meet while Steve and the kids do extra chores around the house. Steve is also organizing some small-business owners to swap ideas, pray, and encourage each other. He’s also volunteering some extra time at the church, organizing a drive-thru coronavirus testing site.
Everyone’s pitching in.
Because Steve feels less impervious and more vulnerable, he has a new freedom in communicating his fears and weaknesses. Steve is more transparently honest.
Rebecca actually confided to a friend that she’s seeing a side of him she hasn’t seen in years. She wasn’t prepared to celebrate the loss, but Rebecca can’t deny there’s some strange power at work in her husband—a humility that has connected Steve to God’s power as he has experienced God’s comfort and passed it along to others.
Something Better Than Why?
The beginning of 2 Corinthians 1 reminds us that even in the midst of suffering and uncertainty—even when there’s no answer to why?—we can know the comfort of God’s presence.
When we bring our doubts and weaknesses to him, we’ll discover some surprising purposes for the pain of pandemics. During these times, his promises take priority, and we are reminded he is present to comfort us and to position us to comfort others with the very comfort we received. Even during a pandemic.