We have been on lockdown for a month and will be for at least another fortnight, perhaps more. Spain has been one of the countries most affected by the virus in Europe and Madrid the epicentre. We are living in uncertain times – how long will the virus last? No-one knows. It’s new, we don’t know how it behaves, whether those who have had it will be immune, whether there might be another outbreak; we don’t even know whether transmission is by droplet or airborne, although the latter seems to be gaining acceptance and more and more countries are adopting the use of face masks in public places.
I spent the first few weeks of lockdown in a feverish state of exhaustion. I had a mild case of the virus, treated at home. I remember days when I would get up in the morning and thought, “I don’t have a temperature! I’m better!” And I would try to do a few things around the house and fall back into bed, exhausted. Now, for about a week, I can think more clearly; I’ve noticed that this virus even affects your mind. I couldn’t focus on anything for about three weeks.
Now that I feel better, I am making the most of this enforced lockdown. I am not at all bored. In many ways, I needed this time of quarantine. I desperately needed a time of rest, a sabbatical, a time to refocus in many areas of my life. Of course, I would never have chosen a world-wide pandemic for a sabbatical, but since it is here, I’m using it to my advantage.
In no way do I want to minimise the seriousness of the pandemic, however. This is a time of incredible human suffering. Those who are sick, the dead and dying, families who cannot say a final goodbye to their loved ones, healthcare staff with inadequate protective clothing, the lack of ventilators, ethical questions around deciding who should live and who should die.
Recently I said in a group of friends that I feel like I am living on a rollercoaster (I can’t stand them at the best of time). You hear that someone is positive for the virus and has serious symptoms and down you go; then some good news: a family member has recovered and is sent home and your spirits soar. A friend is in the ICU: he’s on a ventilator, he has respiratory and kidney failure… they don’t expect him to recover. Then the news that a colleague didn’t make it. Up and down, our emotions can’t take much more.
As a believer, when I hear these things I feel compelled to pray. I cry out to God for the sick, whoever they are, but much more so if it is someone close: a friend or a family member. We hear many desperately tragic stories, but we are also seeing many people who have miraculously recovered. People who went into the ICU with multiple organ failure and are now completely well and back home. Older people who no-one expected to survive, but they did.
Hearing these positive stories means that there are also many, many prayers of thanksgiving. Recently a friend on dialysis, high-risk for sure, tested positive. And just this week we heard that she has now recovered and has now tested negative for the virus.
In these circumstances, many ask, why God has allowed this. Is this a judgement from God? There are many theologians answering these and other questions in profound and considered ways. I just want to give my opinion. From my personal experience with God, I know that He is a good Father. He would never desire something like this virus for His children.
There’s a story in the Bible about Joseph and his brothers, the Joseph of the multicoloured dream coat fame. Joseph goes through every calamity and adventure you can imagine, from when his brothers sold him into slavery to him becoming an important person in the Egyptian government in a time of famine. At the end of the story, he tells his brothers who he is, as they did not recognise him after so many years. He says something like, “You wished me ill, but God has turned all those evil plans into something good”. God used the darkest circumstances to fulfil His purposes in Joseph’s life, but also, through Joseph, he saved a whole people group during the famine.
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children”. So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.Genesis 50:20-21
So no, I don’t believe that God has sent this virus, but I do believe that He can use our current situation to deal with each of us. For those who do not know Him, He wants to reveal Himself to them, to show them what He is like: a loving Father. For those of us who consider ourselves Christians, He is calling us to realign our lives with Him, to evaluate where we are and whether we are truly living the Christian life that Jesus desires for us.
And in the middle of the darkest night that most of us have ever experienced, God is also there to bring His peace and hope. I am convinced that He is walking through hospital wards and the corridors of care homes, bringing His presence and His comfort. Over the next few days and weeks, I will be sharing some true experiences from this time of the pandemic to bring a note of joy and hope in the midst of the sombre news we are becoming accustomed to hearing.