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Good Friday, coronavirus, and the God who suffers

Bible Society's Paul Williams offers encouragement to those who are feeling overwhelmed, afraid or lonely this Easter

These last days and weeks have shaken all of us. Whether or not we've suffered directly from the coronavirus, we've all been affected by it. We've each been reminded how fragile life is, and realised how we've often taken things for granted.

This isn't the first time the world has reckoned with desolation, or people have faced life-changing circumstances which are outside of their control. War, famine and plague have been constant factors in human experience. We are now experiencing the fear, lack of control and heartbreak common to people across most of the world, through most of time.

It's understandable if we're confused, frightened and even angry. Every day our senses are assaulted with statistics that only a few weeks ago seemed impossible to imagine. Every day there are more deaths and more heartbreak, as loved ones must die alone. Every day our fear grows that we or those dear to us will be next.

As we look for ways to respond, there’s plenty of good advice about positive things to do – anything from PE with Joe Wicks, to planting a garden, or just stopping to be grateful.

But sometimes we don't want to be told to be cheerful. We might also need to acknowledge more negative feelings to give voice to our fear and anger.

People of old voiced their pain, confusion, and sense of abandonment. Those who believed in God asked why he wasn’t doing anything about their suffering, in texts like the book of Lamentations where the prophet says, "The Lord is like an enemy" (3:5) and "Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long?" (5:20).

Good Friday is the day we recall the first part of the Easter story – the story that's at the heart of the message of the Bible.

It’s the day we remember Jesus dying on a Roman cross. Crucifixion was the most agonising form of execution used by the Roman empire. Its victims typically died of asphyxiation, gasping for breath

Jesus was known for healing the sick, including those with leprosy – the most terrifying infectious disease of his day. He was known as a man who identified with the poor and marginalised. And he was known as a man who confronted the religious leaders of the nation and claimed to be God. That’s what got him killed.

But if his claim was right, it means that God knows what it’s like to suffer and die alone.

So if you're feeling abandoned in your fear, loneliness and suffering, if you're angry about coronavirus, if you are overwhelmed trying to protect and save lives, surrounded by death and fear, exhausted but unable to sleep, if you are afraid of dying, then know this: God is suffering with you.

On Good Friday, remember God is there when you're alone in the ICU. And he's there when you're frightened for your job, or for your parents or your children or your other loved ones. He's there when you feel trapped within the same four walls and you can't see a way out.

Good Friday is when we remember that whatever we go through, we are never alone. 

Paul Williams is the chief executive of Bible Society

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