God in a Pandemic | Part 1

I’m about to do something dumb. Very real, very honest, very dumb. It’s something that has been on my mind a lot lately, and something that God has been working into my heart. I do not claim to be infallible, and I am certainly a work in progress. But I want to start a conversation with you about a real topic. It’s a conversation that will unfold over five parts.
I want to make an honest attempt to answer the question: Why is the Coronavirus? Or more fully, how could a good and powerful God reign over a universe with the coronavirus? In part 1, I want to share the importance of thinking about this question. In part 2, I want to share the various options we have for answers, as well as some of the disheartening answers I’ve come across lately. In part 3, I want to go to Scripture to try out an answer to this. In part 4, we’ll try to piece it all together into a coherent whole. Finally, in part 5, I’ll talk about where we go from there.
But to start, let me offer a few disclaimers…
First, I am not an expert. I’m your brother in Christ, who has devoted some time to studying this topic. I realize this is an attempt at this conversation and not the end-all-be-all. I’m just one beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.
Second, I am shooting for brevity in this, so I will certainly leave room for more. There’s so much to talk about here! We couldn’t possibly cover all of it. But we will attempt a 30,000 foot view of the response to this question.
Third, in light of all that, I welcome your disagreements, your comments, and your questions. So don’t hesitate to contact me with your questions.
Finally, I’m coming from a distinctly Reformed or Presbyterian point of view on this. Scripture is the authority, God will be big, humans will be small, and we’ll rejoice together in God’s grace.
So first, let me share briefly about the importance of thinking hard about this question. We are going through an incredibly difficult time of suffering in the world. There is the primary suffering of those diagnosed with COVID-19; we just hit 3 million people diagnosed this week. Of that number, over 200,000 people have died. But we also see the secondary suffering of billions more in quarantine or suffering economic turmoil or mental unhealth. If you can’t turn to your faith for an answer to this question, then you will turn elsewhere. We are naturally looking for something to grab a hold of in this storm. If we don’t think critically if our faith offers that, then we will get tossed to and fro by the waves. We need some sort of rock to stand on here. So don’t neglect this question. If you don’t like my attempt, will you at least devote the time to study it for yourself?
This is the age-old question of “theodicy.” How could a good and powerful God rule over a world with evil? There are three pillars of truth in that question: God is good, God is powerful, and evil exists. Theodicy attempts to piece them together somehow. And you’ve probably encountered this question in your life. In my experience, so many people have left Christianity because it had great answers in times of comfort, but terrible answers in times of trial. It’s not that we have no answer, it’s that our answers come up as lacking, especially when trial hits. Whether it’s global tragedy, local tragedy, or personal tragedy, we must have an operating system in our faith, built on truth to respond to this.
How are we going to study this? The Bible! If that is really where we believe we’ll find truth, then we must hang out in the Bible for this answer. Sometimes we let our feelings, or others drive our response to this. Those sources are not sufficient to answer such a big question.
One author that recently wrote about this pandemic, John Piper, says this: “It matters little what I think about the coronavirus—or about anything else, for that matter. But it matters forever what God thinks. He is not silent about what he thinks. Scarcely a page in the Bible is irrelevant for this crisis. My voice is grass. God’s voice is granite.”
So let us devote ourselves to studying this question from the bedrock of Scripture. With that, let me leave you with the words of this hymn that remind us of this foundation we have in God’s Word:
How firm a foundation, ye Saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
Who unto the Savior, who unto the Savior,
Who unto the Savior for refuge have fled?