Reflections on the Coronavirus
Of all the world religions, I am convinced that Christianity alone addresses in a helpful manner both the causes of suffering in this world and its resolution. But, in times of significant suffering—whether natural disasters or pandemics—Christians have not been of one voice in their response.
Some say, “This is the will of God.” Others disagree. One prominent evangelical pastor, after the destruction left in Hurricane Katrina’s wake, said, “Not all things that happen are God’s will.” In other words, God is not truly sovereign. That’s a scary thought. And of course, some will say, “This is a judgment of God.”
So, what is right? Let’s think about that by asking three questions: (1) is this pandemic the will of God; (2) is this pandemic a judgment of God; and (3) where is God as this pandemic unfolds?
1. Is This Pandemic the Will of God?
Yes, but…. We gladly affirm the sovereignty of God. However, this great truth does not mean we can say that everything that happens is good or pleasing to him. In Ezekiel 18:23, for instance, God declares that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but instead is “pleased when they turn from their ways and live.”
Consider also the example of Jesus. This Jesus whom we worship as our sovereign Lord is grieved and angered by human tragedy. He wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44) as he thought about the terrible devastation that would come through the power of Rome, longing for the Jews to embrace him so that the calamity might be averted. And we may be sure that Christ weeps with bitter grief over the tragedy of the Coronavirus.
Nothing is just as it was when God called his good creation into being.
So much of life falls short of God’s perfect will because of the terrible reality of the Fall. The Bible doesn’t teach us that we are living in the best of all possible worlds. We are living in a world where everything has been bent out of shape. Nothing is just as it was when God called his good creation into being. There is a curse on this world—the whole creation groans. It is in bondage to decay, it is subjected to futility (Romans 8:19-22).
The whole world has been changed by the rebellion of Satan and the rebellion of humanity against God. And Scripture is absolutely plain about this. We must not say, we are forbidden by Scripture to say that God is responsible for this evil. He is not. You and I, along with our adversary, the Devil, “opened Pandora’s Box” when Adam chose to disobey God. And the results have been devastating.
2. Is This Pandemic a Judgment of God?
Yes and no. Jesus’s words in Luke 13 help answer this question with a “no.” In the context, Jesus has been talking about the severity of judgment and the necessity of taking account of one’s life before God’s judgment comes—the necessity of repentance, in other words. And then the text continues with some in the crowd telling Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilot had mingled with their sacrifices.
In reply, Jesus said, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
So, if we are really asking, “is this pandemic a judgment of God on the people directly affected by the Coronavirus?” the answer is almost assuredly “no.” As we just saw, Jesus warns us not to be so foolish as to think that we understand such disasters to the extent that we can assume that those who died and the survivors who are now suffering so terribly were worse sinners and so in some way were more deserving of judgment than other people in the world.
Jesus forbids us to draw that conclusion. He demands of us humility in our response to disaster and to suffering. We must not pretend that we can speak confidently about God’s judgments and then think that we’ve got the pandemic and its aftermath squared away.
Our response, then, to any kind of so-called natural disaster or pandemic should be the kind of examination of the darkness of our own hearts that leads to true repentance.
However, the Coronavirus is probably a way “for God to try to wake us up and to say, please make sure you’re right with me. So there’s a sense in which all these kinds of disasters are a judgment, but a judgment that’s not on the people who are suffering.”[i] The human condition, according to Jesus’s own words in Luke 13, is that we all deserve God’s judgment. Our response, then, to any kind of so-called natural disaster or pandemic should be the kind of examination of the darkness of our own hearts that leads to true repentance.
If we really believe the Gospel, if we really believe that we are saved by faith in Christ alone and not by any human effort tacked on to that faith, then we recognize that the only reason we won’t face the judgment of God is the merciful work of Christ on our behalf. If we were simply judged by the character of our lives, God could do no other than pour out his wrath on us. Instead of assigning blame to others, then, let’s look at our own hearts and respond to God with a godly sorrow that leads to repentance.
3. Where Is God as This Pandemic Unfolds?
To both the skeptic who asks that question and to the follower of Christ who needs the assurance of God’s presence, I want to give two answers. First, God is on the cross. Two thousand years ago, our God came into our world to right the wrongs of our world. God’s passion is to heal our wounded world; and only a wounded God can heal a wounded world.
That’s what the whole Bible is about—God’s passionate commitment to fix problems like sin, sickness, bereavement, death, and devastation.
The doctrine of the Fall teaches us that everything about our world is wounded; Christ’s wounds teach us that God is passionately committed to fix the problems of this world. That’s what the whole Bible is about—God’s passionate commitment to fix problems like sin, sickness, bereavement, death, and devastation. Christ was sent into the world because of his Father’s love for this world, to set this world right, to save, to restore, to overcome and to one day make all things new.
It is deeply dishonoring to this passion of God to look at the tragedies of this world and say “all is well” or to appeal to the will of God simply as if it were a placebo to prevent us from being appalled and horrified by the tragedies of this world. God sent Christ into this world because he is full of compassion over the brokenness and tragedy of the human condition.
And we can say without any doubt that God’s will for us, his passionate longing for us now is that we extend his compassion to the victims of this devastating pandemic. Motivated by the very compassion of God, we are called to give aid to their recovery. Where is God? He’s present everywhere the Christian is present taking care of the needs of those devastated by this Pandemic.[ii] That’s why we’re called the body of Christ. Where we are, he is.[iii]
[i] Tim Keller, “Is the Coronavirus God’s Judgment: A Pastor Weighs in,” Lauren Green, Fox News, March 13, 2020.
[ii] As I’m finishing this blog, I’ve just received word that one of our members has tested positive for the Coronavirus. She is a healthcare provider on the front lines representing Christ to those in need. Please pray for her as she is now quarantined at home.
[iii] Nearly 55 years ago, a dear friend, mentor, and eventual colleague, Jerram Barrs, became a follower of Christ because he realized that Christianity alone has real answers and provides real hope to the problem of suffering and evil. Much of what I have written above is my take on what I learned from him.