God in a Pandemic | Part 2

I’m wearing some soft fleece slippers in this part. Why? Because this is when I start stepping on some toes, so I wanted to do it gently. So there’s your warning. Guard your toes!
We’re asking the question: Where is God in a pandemic? How could a good and powerful God rule over a world with the coronavirus causing so much suffering? Yesterday we simply said that this is a very important question to consider, and that it’s best to consider it from the Bible, the truth of God.
Today, we’ll see that we have a few options in responding to this question. This is the age-old question of “theodicy.” How can a good and powerful God rule over a world with evil? There are three facts to that sentence: God is good, God is powerful, evil exists. The different responses I’ve seen to this question of evil (read “Coronavirus”) try to remove or just deemphasize one of those three facts.
Option 1) I’ve heard some say that God is good, and evil exists, but that He didn’t create the Coronavirus, or He didn’t plan the Coronavirus, just allowed it. This takes away a bit of God’s sovereignty. “Let’s look elsewhere for the prime cause of this.” I heard one very prominent Christian leader say a couple weeks ago that perhaps the Coronavirus is “nature’s response” to the environmental destruction of humans. So then nature becomes this sovereign deity that God is allowing to take hundreds of thousands of human lives. Or perhaps it’s Satan’s work in the world that God is giving him the authority to do. Even though it might be convenient to not “blame this on God” by shifting the blame elsewhere, I don’t know that it’s comforting to have a God that’s not completely sovereign, or only sovereign on the mountaintops but doesn’t mess with the valleys. I don’t know that it’s comforting to the family members who have lost loved ones to say that nature or Satan had the final say in their life.
As a side note, why do we like to think Satan’s at fault for the trials in life but God’s responsible for the times of blessing? I feel like trials like this pandemic have turned more people to God, have caused more prayer, more study. And then the times of comfort are when we see less focus on God, less prayer, less time in the Bible. So if Satan is responsible for trials in order to oppose God and God is responsible for blessing in order to draw people to Him, then they are both really bad at their jobs! Side note finished.
I hurt when I hear people say that God did not plan/ordain/will this pandemic just so it doesn’t mess with their feeling of a good and loving God. Think about it. If we try to uphold God’s goodness at the expense of His sovereignty, then His goodness is of no use to us anymore; God’s sovereignty is the vehicle by which He delivers His goodness to us. Take away His sovereignty, and His goodness no longer matters. In Scripture, we see a God that’s sovereign over every detail, good or bad, and we must uphold that truth. Psalm 135:6: “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all the deeps.” Or Daniel 4:35: “God does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stop His hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” But we’ll talk more about that in the following parts.
Option 2) I’ve heard others say that God is sovereign, and that evil exists, but perhaps God isn’t so good. Maybe God is just a monster for putting the Coronavirus in this world. Perhaps God is just lashing out in a fit of rage at humanity. Or perhaps God limits His own goodness so that people can have a free will. He says, “I’ll be good as long as people choose good. If they mess up the world, well then, the lack of goodness is on them.” But this option doesn’t seem to jive with the God we find in Scripture. God defines goodness. To judge Him as evil is to even lose the standard by which you judge. We don’t get to define what good is, but so often we accuse God of evil because He’s not delivering goodness to us as we would define it. As well, we serve an unchanging God who is not subject to passions and emotions. God is good, and God rules over this world with evil in it. When asked how to reconcile those two things, Charles Spurgeon asked, “Why do you feel the need to reconcile friends?” More on that coming.
Option 3) I’ve heard a lot of Christians even try to say that God is good, God is sovereign, but that the Coronavirus isn’t actually evil; it’s actually good and God is using it to shape us and transform us and test us. But I don’t know if that answer holds up to those suffering through COVID19 or those who have lost unbelieving family members to it. This attempts to deny the evil and suffering caused by a pandemic. It’s clever to say that trials are like a furnace that refines metal. But metal doesn’t have feelings. So it’s important to acknowledge the unwantedness of the Coronavirus and the suffering that people are going through if we are going to have real answers that provide real hope.
Option 4) Finally, there was a Time Magazine article by a Christian theologian that provided a fourth option: there is no answer. The author actually said, “to wait without hope.” I think the author is wary of speculative and knee-jerk responses to suffering (as we all are). But the longing for answers is not just a product of rationalism or the Enlightenment. Looking for answers to suffering has been around for a long time, and to avoid speculation and knee-jerk responses, we can rely on the attempts of the past and the answers found in Scripture. This author wants us to lament, and I believe rightly so. But the author defines lament as asking “why” and not getting an answer. Scripture is also full of instances where lament can and should occur even when we have an answer. Dare we say that when Jesus quoted the lament of Psalm 22 (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”), that He didn’t know why? This author suggests He may not have known when he claims that “God also laments” without changing the definition from the above. He criticizes Christians that “think of God as above all that, knowing everything, in charge of everything.” Isn’t that the God we see in the Bible? If that’s the view of God that is criticized, then that would make the OT and the NT Wrong. I’ll wear that criticism as a badge all day, because my hope in times of trial is built on an omniscient and sovereign God. No wonder he recommends waiting without hope. We need a better response than “Stop asking.”
So I think we could really use a Biblical response to this question that upholds all three truths, affirms the attributes of God, allows us to grieve, but still provides hope. We’ll look through Scripture in our next part to see this response come together.
But let me leave you with this: the reason some of these options above don’t work is because we are asking God to suspend one of His attributes so that He can exercise another. For example, we’re asking Him to limit His own sovereignty so that He can be fully good without being blamed. Or we’re asking Him to limit His goodness so that He can be sovereign and still respond with wrath. Let’s be clear, we do not want a God like this. In Exodus 3, God declares His name to be “I am who I am,” or “I will be who I will be.” God is always all of who He is. And that’s a comfort to us. We never have to worry about God suspending His mercy so that He can bring up our past sins, or suspend His patience so that He can teach us a lesson, or suspend His justice so that He can let evildoers walk free. We need a faithful God, a God who can never deny Himself like it says in 2 Timothy 2.
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou has been Thou forever wilt be
Great is Thy faithfulness, great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness Lord unto me