Juan VidalApril 20, 2020
A health care worker outside the emergency center at Maimonides Medical Center, in New York City, on April 13. (CNS photo/Andrew Kelly, Reuters)A health care worker outside the emergency center at Maimonides Medical Center, in New York City, on April 13. (CNS photo/Andrew Kelly, Reuters)

First, the brute truth: The coronavirus pandemic is sweeping the world. People are uncertain and afraid. Many are dying and more will die. We need more medical professionals on the front lines, so much so that the Army and Department of Veterans Affairs are recruiting retirees to assist in the battle.

Many of us are asking: Why is this happening? How long will it last? Where is God in all of this? Thankfully, I hear the soft and steady voice of my Colombian mother echo in my head, recalling those times when she would remind me that God is always there, that “Dios siempre está en control.”

I hear the soft and steady voice of my Colombian mother echo in my head, telling me that God is always there, that “Dios siempre está en control.”

I am not a licensed minister, and I hold no formal degrees in theology or pastoral care. I am simply someone who is trying to make sense of the suffering caused by Covid-19 in hopes of better understanding how and why tragedy plays out like it does in the human story. In the meantime, I am finding solace in the temporary bursts of joy that have helped to fill these days of social distancing—cooking, sharing memes, and watching live D.J. sets and beat battles on Instagram. These are bright spots in an indefinite quarantine.

I also remember some of the experiences that not only helped shape my worldview but also convinced me of God’s inherent goodness even in uncertain times. I remember being a wide-eyed young missionary in my mid-20s, a college drop-out who left everything I knew to answer “the call.” For more than two years, I traveled the world with a nondenominational missionary organization, holding packed events everywhere from remote villages in Russia, Central America and Serbia to squatter camps in South Africa and poverty-stricken streets in Slovakia and Lithuania. I watched sickness ravage vulnerable communities, and I witnessed every manner of abuse rip apart families. But I also saw signs of hope: I saw people find peace in the midst of suffering, and I saw crippled men remain faithful to God and become able to walk again.

In essence, I traded the prospect of a college degree for the knowledge that God is good. That God can make a way when it seems like there is no path forward. In some ways, I am not the same person I was back then, but my hope is still anchored in these truths, the memories that help me cope now.

It is human nature to wonder: What the hell is happening?

Through the years, I have weathered seasons of doubt. And I can understand that, for some atheists, a fast-moving and deadly pandemic only serves to confirm their disbelief in any higher power. This is not unreasonable. It is human nature to wonder: What the hell is happening?

In The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin sheds some light on his journey of faith, from his days as a young preacher extolled for his oratory gifts to his eventual disengagement from Christianity for the remainder of his life. He writes, “There is still, for me, no pathos quite like the pathos of those multi-colored, worn, somehow triumphant and transfigured faces, speaking from the depths of a visible, tangible, continuing despair of the goodness of God.”

I believe that harboring doubt can be a silent killer. So I pray instead, and sometimes I drink.

In some ways, I count myself among those “somehow triumphant”—those “speaking from the depths.” I believe that harboring doubt, while justifiable considering the bleakness of our current state, can be a silent killer. So I pray instead, and sometimes I drink. On some nights lately, after a full day of working and home-schooling our kids, my wife and I take to the patio with a bottle of whiskey, mourning the day’s loss and trying to remember the goodness of God. Somehow, we know it is at work.

Though I cannot pretend to have a firm grasp on all of the variables, I believe the picture is larger than what we can see with our eyes. The picture of God at work amid great pain.

And so I ask the wavering believers, the cynics and backsliders; the weary and the heavy-laden; the single mothers making do by a thread; the poets and the out-of-work bartenders standing by as past-due bills pile on like a bully’s insults; to those who lay it all down, tired and spent and hanging by a moment; and to anyone searching for some small sign of tangible hope or even spiritual relief in this time: What if God is still good? What if, despite how things may look or feel, God is bringing purpose and determination to the bent and broken among us, even if we do not see it with our eyes or on our social feeds?

On darker days, I ask myself––a believer and cynic wrestling with an avalanche of contradicting emotions––the same question: What if God is still good?

And then I remember.

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