“I’m so glad that my parents never experienced such a time as this, such a time of uncertainty.”
“I’m so glad they did not have to endure this period of trial during which churches and other places are closed.”
“I’m so thankful that they did not have to live through these past two years because it would have broken their heart to know that I would not have been able to visit them in their old age home or sit at their bedside in a hospital.”
Presently many people quote and identify with such sentiments as are stated above. There are those who have become terribly angry; others are reduced to tears of depression because of increasing loneliness; there are many others who are extremely frustrated about being denied access to restaurants, theatres and vacations; and there are those who fear the ongoing Covid death tolls announced daily in the news media.
Is it true that our parents, our ancestors, or any people in times past, had no idea about such hardships or deprivations? Or have past generations undergone their own distressing circumstances and severe affliction? And does history give us accountings of such circumstances?
Consider Charles Spurgeon, (1834-1892), who lived with much pain a great part of his life. His wife was bedridden for the greater part of their marriage. Spurgeon had smallpox, he had gout, as well as rheumatism, Bright’s disease (an inflammation of the kidneys) and was afflicted, from time to time, with severe depression. It is recorded that he spent nearly a third of his last twenty-two years not even able to preach.
Still, this preacher freely confessed that his distress and hardship drew him closer to God. He is quoted as saying, speaking to a number of ministers and students:
“I daresay the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness… If some men I know could only be favored with a month of rheumatism, it would by God’s grace, mellow them marvelously.”
Since the Fall, suffering and distress have been part of humanity. Perhaps, being caught smack in the middle of a discouraging time period, it would seem that this twenty-first century is undergoing an especially calamitous and catastrophic time.
Yet going back only a little in time, as little as the last century, we immediately glimpse turmoil, confusion and unrest in that time period as well. And yet our parents lived through it – lived through it and were blessed. My father and mother, for example, were born in the first decade of 1900 – a time rife with many tragic and disastrous events. An extremely limited but worthwhile overview follows, listing a few of those events.
At the onset of the twentieth century, concentration camps were being operated by the British in South Africa. This was during and after the Second Boer War (1899-1902). Whole regions in South Africa were targeted and depopulated. Systematic destruction of Boer crops and livestock went alongside the burning down of homesteads and farms to prevent the Boers from returning there. Tens of thousands of men, women and children were forcibly moved into these concentration camps. Originally set up as refugee camps for displaced people, epidemics of measles and typhoid killed thousands interred there. Hygiene was terrible. Eventually, there were a total of 45 camps for the Boers and 64 more camps for black Africans. Of the 28,000 Boer men who were captured as prisoners of war, 25,630 were sent overseas. Approximately 26,000 women and children died in these camps.
In 1906 there was an earthquake in California. This 7.9 earthquake ranks as one of the most significant earthquakes of all time. Its epicenter was near San Francisco, and it spawned devastating fires in its wake. More than 3,000 people died and over eighty percent of the city was destroyed.
In 1907 a Peasants’ Revolt in Romania, caused by inequity in land ownership, was squelched by the Romanian military. At least 11,000 were killed.
1908 saw another destructive earthquake. It took place in Italy. Measured as 7.1 in magnitude, it caused the death of between 75,000 and 82,000 people. The city of Messina’s shoreline was greatly altered, as large sections of its coast sunk several feet into the sea. Houses, churches, palaces and monuments collapsed. Without distinction, railway workers, priests, sculptors, historians, politicians, ambassadors, policemen, writers, singers and attorneys were struck down in one small moment of time.
In 1912, the ship Titanic sank after striking an iceberg. Fifteen thousand of her passengers died. The ship carried some of the wealthiest people in England as well as hundreds of immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia – people who were seeking a new life in the US.
In 1912-13 the First and Second Balkan Wars ravaged southeastern Europe. These resulted in huge casualties. The Bulgarians lost approximately 65,000 men, the Greeks 9,500, the Montenegrins, 3,000, the Serbs at least 36,000 and the Ottomans as many as 125,000. As well, tens of thousands of civilians died from disease.
In 1914 WWI began, resulting in the deaths of 40 million.
From February 1918 to April 1920 the Spanish Flu or the Great Influenza Epidemic seemed to reign. A deadly global influenza pandemic, it was caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. With 500 million suspected cases, this pandemic engendered an estimated 25-50 million deaths.
Often, we think we are in control, or we want to be in control, in total control… and then something happens. It might be an accident, job loss, a war, a broken relationship, or a pandemic. But these things have always been and will be until Christ returns.
Another quote from Spurgeon puts it in this way, a very good way:
“I am afraid that all the grace I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable…. Affliction is…the best book in a minister’s library.”
Isaiah, the great prophet Isaiah, totally concurs with Spurgeon and calls out the words of our providential God and Father:
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness;
I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the Lord, who does all these things.
– Isaiah 45:5-7