I have had a beard since 1975, when I noticed how gormless my face was in my wedding photos and thought my kindest gesture to the world would be to cover it. I pay for my barber’s annual holiday by having it clipped every nine days or so.
Last week, in despair after several weeks of lockdown, I decided to trim my beard myself. Unfortunately inexperience led me to clip the moustache too high up the lip, leaving a pale, unsightly line.
For the first time, I was grateful for the government decree that we must wear masks outside the home. Thanks to that edict, no one but my long-suffering wife ever sees it, and I can be certain that the moustache will grow again long before we lose the masks.
It’s a very important human gift to be able to see the silver lining. It helps us keep perspective and stops us despairing. Humour plays a similar role.
Since the pandemic struck, I have meditated on one of my favourite Bible verses, in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome where the Apostle writes that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans chapter 8:28).
The Bible does not promise that Christians will enjoy lives of ease and comfort.
This is not a simple proposition, for we can see that those who love God suffer from the pandemic and other disasters as much as anyone else. The Bible does not promise that Christians will enjoy lives of ease and comfort – to the contrary, it promises tribulation and disdain. Paul himself endured all kinds of suffering and deprivation.
He clearly means his words to console and edify, to remind believers that in every circumstance and every affliction God is in control and is ultimately using these for good. In other words, believers are not to be dismayed or dissuaded by afflictions; they are not proof of God’s disfavour or a challenge to faith. Indeed, it is a relatively modern concept that “good” means comfort and absence of problems.
How God works in all things for good is certainly a mystery. I have heard, in a helpful metaphor, our lives compared to a tapestry. We only see the reverse side, with all the threads going in apparently random directions, criss-crossing each other, but God has the proper picture in view and is working to realise it.
And eventually Christians hope that they will see and understand, for that is another precious biblical promise, when Paul tells the Corinthians, in part of the famous passage on love: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Barney Zwartz is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity.
This article first appeared in The Age.