Bertram L. Melbourne, PhD, is a professor of biblical language and literature at the Howard University School of Divinity, Washington, DC, United States.

I could not have imagined that I would have seen one virus shut down the globe, from remote villages to gigantic cities, from country to country, and from continent to continent. Nor could I have envisaged one small bug halting commerce; wrecking stock markets; closing churches, synagogues, and mosques, entertainment halls and ballparks, schools and universities; and ushering in social distancing. One small virus has brought cities and nations, pastors and priests, and potentates and policymakers to their knees, indeed, “ ‘causing people to faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world’ ” (Luke 21:26, CEB).

During this pandemic, many people have gone to the hospital and never returned. Many have been cruelly robbed of the precious privilege of holding their loved ones’ hands one last time and saying goodbye. As physical distancing has been implemented and those infected have been isolated, the pain and suffering of so many have been exacerbated.

For those who have lost someone to this tragedy, I speak to you from a shepherd’s heart. Times like these remind us that there is indeed a Higher Power who offers words of compassion for our hard questions.

Hard questions

Has this pandemic become our educator, and are we willing to learn from it?

Is one virus showing us our need for God?

Should we be scared that this virus has mutated into virulent forms that could destroy us?

Could this situation invite us to see that Somebody bigger than you and me is in charge?

Is this miniature form of life telling us to take our eyes off kings, queens, popes, priests, presidents, celebrities, rulers, accomplishments, stock markets, and possessions and fix them on the Eternal?

Could one small microorganism be inviting us to “hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13, KJV)?

At such a time as this, our duty is to cry out with hearts holding on to faith, “ ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power / Be to Him who sits on the throne, / And to the Lamb, forever and ever!’ ” (Rev. 5:13, NKJV).

How can we hold to such a faith during these times of crisis? The author of Hebrews guides us to where our attention should be. “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

“For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Heb. 12:1–3, NKJV).

Set in the form of a literary device called a chiasm, this Scripture’s most important feature occurs in the middle.1 Here, the central point is “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” This fixation on Jesus is not an option; it is an imperative. And if there was ever a time when this imperative was needed, it is now.

Compassionate words

My wife and I used to spend holidays with a relative who had young children. We had fun times together, and all would be fine until it was time for us to leave. Rather than face the parting, the children would go to hide. They hated parting. The knights of King Arthur’s Round Table had the same problem. When the time came for King Arthur to depart, they begged him to stay and even offered to go with him. He told them these immortal words: “The old order changeth, yielding place to new, / And God fulfils himself in many ways.”2

I am sorry for your loss. I am sorry if your loved one passed and you were not able to be there to hold a hand or say goodbye. I could tell you I know how you feel because I could not be there to see my grandmother take her last breath. I was 750 miles from where my father was when he died, too far to touch him one last time. I was 1,450 miles away when my mother died, and we did not say our last farewell.

Your loss is real. Your empty chair is tangible. Your grief is genuine; your sorrow, profound. And for sure, your memories are genuine. Let them buoy you up and keep you going.

Jesus knows

I bring you some good news. God understands and feels your loss. God lost His only Son to death. It grieved God so much that He looked away from the Cross, causing His Son to cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, KJV). Jesus also knows exactly how you feel and is empathizing with you. How can we be so sure? Because of the story of Lazarus.

Jesus was miles away when Lazarus passed. When He arrived, Martha blamed Him for not being there. She went so far as to suggest that Jesus’ absence was a principal contributing factor to her brother’s death (John 11:21). Jesus was so filled with anguish and compassion that He wept—yes, God wept (Luke 19:41, 42; John 11:35).

Don’t be afraid to cry. Why?

When you cry, you are following Jesus’ example.

Tears are the language of the heart.

Tears are catharsis for the soul.

Tears release pent-up emotions.

Tears are not a foreign vernacular or a strange dialect to God.

Tears are a God-designed technique to grant relief.

Tears are an escape mechanism; they turn us away from the cause of our anguish and inward to our own bodily sensations.

Crying is healthy, natural, therapeutic, and curative.

Death reigns now, but soon death itself will die. First Corinthians 15:26 assures us that it will be the last enemy to be destroyed. Yet, be assured that no one will mourn for it. It will have no hope of a resurrection, but your loved one does if they had accepted Jesus as personal Savior and Lord.

Go ahead and cry now, for one day soon, you will not cry but laugh, jump for joy, shout, and praise when you see your loved one again.

Healing power

What lessons will we learn from this pandemic, its devastation and pain? What will be our takeaways? It is up to each of us to decide. Let us “not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13, NIV). Let us be people of hope. The blood of Jesus is our immunization against the life-draining effects of sin. This blood has lost none of its power—power to heal, power to comfort, and power to resurrect. It is available to you, and it is free. Do you have it? Indeed, if there ever seemed a time to accept it, would it not be now?

  1. Bertram L. Melbourne, “An Examination of the Historical-Jesus Motif in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 26, no. 3 (1988): 281–297.
  2. The Passing of Arthur 1:407, as quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 535.

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Bertram L. Melbourne, PhD, is a professor of biblical language and literature at the Howard University School of Divinity, Washington, DC, United States.

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