God in a Pandemic | Part 3

Why is the Coronavirus happening in a world ruled by a good and powerful God? How could a good and powerful God rule over a world with evil in it? Our response must leave us with a God who is goodness itself, a God who is all powerful, and that evil exists. We
need a Biblical response to this question that upholds all three truths, affirms the attributes of God at all times, allows us to grieve, but still provides hope. So that’s what we’re doing in this part in way too short of a time!
First, let me just put it out there, the level of involvement I believe God has in this pandemic. I wouldn’t just say God allowed this to happen or that God is watching it happen and will swoop in at the right time to stop it. I would say that God has His very fingers in the Coronavirus. He has planned it, ordained it, willed it to happen with his powerful sovereignty. I can put it no better than the Westminster Confession: “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.” God is sovereign over every detail, every molecule, every square inch. Isaiah 45:7, “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things.” And then one chapter later in Isaiah 46:9-10: “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’… I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”
Second, if God has sovereignly decreed the Coronavirus, do we know anything about why? For that, let’s go to the beginning. The origin of the Coronavirus. No, don’t worry, I’m not trying to figure out how this pandemic started. I mean, was there a time in history where the possibility of a deadly, globally communicated disease entered the world? We know that in the Garden of Eden, death had not yet entered the world, so it couldn’t have happened there. But after Adam and Eve were cursed and kicked out of the garden, it became possible. After Adam’s original sin, God, being just and righteous and faithful to His promise, punished them in Genesis 3. To the woman: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing.” To the man: “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life… till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Romans 8:20 affirms this: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it.”
So could we say that the Coronavirus is God’s judgement on the world? Yes. If God was not judging the world for sin, then the Coronavirus would not have happened. Do I want to go down the path of speculating which sins God is judging with the Coronavirus? Absolutely not, but there are plenty to choose from: arrogance, anger, hatred, unkindness, impurity, lying, and selfishness; and that’s just me! So while I would not try to say “It’s because of this sin or that sin that this person died from COVID19,” I would say, “It’s because of the curse that God has placed creation under that this person has died from COVID19.” After all, there would be no death if there was no sin. So this is part of God’s judgement for sin. But what about those who make God out to be a rage monster or a grumpy ole kook lashing out at the world? First, we know that God does not suffer passions or emotions, He cannot be acted upon to bring out some sort of rage. He’s not reacting to our sin with an omnipotent temper tantrum. God is who He is, and that includes His righteousness and justice. And this is the God we want, because this is the God we can rest in when someone wrongs us and we remember Romans 12:19: “’Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” God will punish every evil deed, either by His wrath on them, or by His wrath on a substitute, namely Christ. Ecclesiastes 12:14 says, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
So that makes us wonder… If a Christian’s sins were paid for completely by Christ, why are we still subject to the Coronavirus? Is God punishing His own children? Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:9 adds, “God has not destined us for wrath.” The suffering for us is not punitive, it’s purifying. The sting of death is gone like it says in 1 Corinthians 15. And Hebrews 12 describes suffering not as wrath reserved for us, but as discipline to remind us of our sin and to renew our efforts to expel it from our lives.
Okay, so is God sovereign and righteous, has he planned and purposed this pandemic in order to judge sin? Yes. But is He still good? For that we can briefly look at the life of Joseph. After everything Joseph went through at the hands of his wicked brothers, he ends
up as second in command of Egypt, and he says to his brothers: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Notice here that God does not simply use it for good. God is intentionally bringing about good even in the lowest moments of our lives. Are those moments still painful and real? Absolutely. But God has a greater plan in place, one that we might not be able to see. And it’s not just for us individually. Because think about this… this verse is overused and sometimes misused to explain trials as though God will always restore us physically or materially when we experience loss. But watch what happens in the story of Scripture after this. Because Joseph was in power and because of a famine, he moves his entire family to Egypt. Fast forward 400 years… Israel is enslaved and oppressed by Pharaoh. So was it still good that God did this? Probably not according to Israel’s definition during those 400 years. But yes, because it was to accomplish God’s purposes, His plan of redemption, God pointing forward to Christ. And that’s what we’ll talk about in the next part.
But for now, let me leave it at this. We have seen that God is indeed powerful and sovereign. Evil and suffering do exist, and that is what God is punishing. And God is good, but according to His purposes and standards. And there are secret things that belong to the Lord. We can only go with what’s revealed. So we can see a revelation in Scripture of this overarching response. But when it comes down to specifics, there is certainly a bit of mystery left for us.
So in a way, we are pulling from all four options that we talked about in part 2, but only in moderation and in a way that affirms the attributes of God at all times. We still need to wrap this up in to a coherent whole with one more point from Scripture, but that’s what we’ll leave for the next part.
Let me leave you with the words of one of my favorite hymns by William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every