The mental health of America took a beating in the year 2020. A pounding, unlike anything I have seen in my years as a psychologist. The COVID pandemic created a crisis of human identity and self-worth, leaving many to ask the more profound questions of life.
“What is the value of life disconnected from everything that gives it meaning?” It has been a common question in my daily work with patients. People feel detached, isolated, and stripped of everything that brings joy and purpose to life.
COVID-19 parallels the book of Job in the Bible. Job distinguishes itself as the book of suffering. Not consequential suffering like going to prison for killing someone, but suffering for no apparent reason. Job was a faithful man who loved God and lived a life of righteousness but lost everything; wealth, family, and health.
Job's life is filled with God’s blessings, before his suffering. But without warning, it is ravaged and destroyed.
“I was at ease, but He shattered me, And He has grasped me by the neck and shaken me to pieces.” (Job 16:12)
Shaken and bare, Job stands naked before God. Wealth, family, and health were gone.
Like most of us under those circumstances, Job’s anger and confusion consume him. But instead of pushing Job away from God, it heightens his awareness of his emptiness and meaninglessness without God. Job reasons that his life had more hope in the hands of God, even if God himself removed Job from this passing world.
“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (Job 13:15)
It reminds me of a classic love story. A man meets the love of his life but is called to war. While away, the man becomes a prisoner of war, assumed dead and locked away for ten years. When the man is finally released, his only dream is finding the woman he had known before the war, the hope that kept him alive. But he wonders, Will she remember me? Will she still love me? Is it worth trying to find her? The man reasons, “Even if she slays my heart with rejection, the hope of her love is better than the life I have lost.”
Imagine something so valuable that its worth surpassed all treasures on earth. Something certain, beautiful, and meaningful that you could lose everything, and it would not lose its importance. Job experienced that amid his suffering and loss.
How did Job gain that insight? What did he learn?
At the end of the story, Job makes an unusual observation.
“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You.” (Job 42:5)
“Hearing of the ear” implies learning, gathering facts, information, and skills to master a subject. It gives greater control of one's life and the ability to make the right decisions. Knowledge of God creates a healthy fear and respect for moral direction. Something God acknowledged about Job before Job’s trials began.
“There is no one on earth like Job; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8).
But knowledge differs from life experience. Job knew God, but his experience of suffering allowed him to see God. You can learn and understand any subject; life experience is what changes perspective.
Think about life before COVID. You knew of catastrophic disasters. Hollywood made hundreds of movies about earthquakes, pandemics, floods, and other blockbusters that made billions. How does it feel now that you have lived through one? Do you see life differently? Are you wondering if there is more to life than the things grasped by the neck and shaken to pieces?
Go to Google and search this question: do people search for God in COVID-19.
In my search, these headlines popped up:
Covid-19 is intensifying religiosity.
Pandemic creates a surge in interest in prayer.
Rising religiosity as a global response to COVID-19.
Pointing people to God in the chaos of COVID-19.
Even the American Psychological Association jumped into the discussion: “Psychologists research shows why some people can find peace during COVID-19 pandemic while others may be struggling with their faith.”
Not that people do or don’t find God because of COVID, but that the conversation about God takes on a different perspective when grasped by the neck and shaken to pieces. Regardless of the questions about God, you will see the problem differently when you stand alone, shaken by life’s tragedies.
Because our identity is not in what we have but in who we are as children of God. You can shake and remove everything of this world, but it can’t take away the value of love, joy, peace, goodness, and everything at the heart of God’s intention in creating us in His image.
This past year I have heard many tell me how they have learned to appreciate the “important things of life.” Loving their spouse and children with greater attention and appreciation. The joy of a beautiful day or camping in the mountains. Helping out a neighbor who can’t go out and buy groceries. The importance of love and the value of life.
We have all suffered loss in the tragedy of COVID, but perhaps we have learned what we can gain in Christ. Before COVID, we might have even “known” God, but maybe now we can see Him a little better.
Dr. David Zuccolotto is a former pastor and clinical psychologist. For 35 years he has worked for hospitals, addiction treatment centers, outpatient clinics and private practice. He is the author of The Love of God: A 70 Day Journey of Forgiveness.