South Shores Church member, Dr. Sean McDowell tackles the difficult question of why God would allow the coronavirus pandemic. Originally published on his blog at Seanmcdowell.org
School cancelled. The NBA season suspended. People sick. And most tragic, thousands of people are dead.
Why would God allow such a terrible disease to become a pandemic? If God has the power, why wouldn’t He stop it?
Don’t be afraid of the question
Given that I teach Bible and apologetics, a number of people have been asking me this question over the past few days. My guess is that it has crossed your mind as well.
As Christians, we should not be afraid of difficult questions like this. Jesus said to love God with our hearts, souls and minds (Mark 12:28-31). The Apostle Peter said to be ready with an answer for our hope (1 Peter 3:15). Christianity has a rich history of wrestling with all sorts of difficult questions, including the problem of natural evil.
Caring for people in need
Yet, before we probe this question any further, let me state something up front: I am not going to pretend to address this question entirely. I am not even sure it can be answered in its entirety. God does not answer Job’s plea with a reason for his pain. Rather, He helps Job understand that his perspective is limited, and that God can still be trusted amidst Job’s questions and pain.
Even attempting a question can feel insensitive and uncaring, especially because so many people have been affected by this disease. Thus, if you have suffered because of the coronavirus, please know that I am deeply sorry for your experience. If you are a Christian, and you see people suffering, the first response is to empathize with them. As the Apostle Paul said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). And then, of course, we need to reach out and love our neighbors.
Four Christian insights about evil and suffering
Rather than attempting to answer specifically why God allows the coronavirus, please allow me to offer four general insights from the Christian worldview. For those who want to go further, I will suggest some books at the end. My hope is that these four points will be springboards for further discussion with your family, friends, and neighbors.
First, the world is deeply broken. Although the Bible begins with the creation of the world, and of mankind being placed in a beautiful Garden, the world very quickly gets messed up. The entire world is affected when Adam and Even choose to disobey God. Not only does sin break the relationship between God and human beings, but the physical ground itself is cursed (Genesis 3:17-18). The Apostle Paul reminds us that creation “groans” and awaits restoration (Romans 8:19-20).
The extent of sin’s effect on creation is debated among theologians. In fact, some scientists have even observed that viruses are necessary for life on planet earth. Yet Christians should not be surprised by the brokenness of the world, including the existence and spread of deadly viruses. Quite literally, sin has ravaged everything.
Second, God allows suffering and evil to draw us to eternal things. God does not cause evil. But He does allow it. One reason may be that God knows that life continues for eternity after this present age. It is easy to get distracted by the desires and needs of the moment. Yet if the afterlife is real, God may allow evil and suffering to stir us up to think about eternal life. He may allow us to suffer so we move beyond our momentary pleasures and focus on what lasts forever.
Third, Jesus understands our suffering. It is only in the Christian faith that God actually experiences human suffering. While Scripture does not mention Jesus getting sick, we do know that he suffered immensely from hunger and stress (e.g., Matthew 26:36-46). The author of Hebrews writes, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (4:15).
The God of the Bible has not abandoned us to our suffering. He has entered into it. He understands when we suffer and empathizes with us. Where is God when we suffer? Part of the answer is that He is right there suffering with us.
Fourth, Jesus has conquered this world. Sickness, evil, and death do not have the last word. Jesus does. The Apostle Paul suffered immensely. He was shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, and experienced deep hunger and thirst. And yet he refused to lose heart (see 2 Cor. 6:4-5). Why? Because he knew Jesus had already conquered this world. Paul believed in the resurrection of Jesus, and thus refused to grieve without hope (see 1 Thess. 4:13).
So much more could be said about why God allows suffering and natural evil. This post is not meant to offer a simple and tidy response, but to offer some insights about how Christians can think about such a difficult question.
Let's have conversations with our unbelieving friends about why God allows suffering and evil. But remember, our first task it to empathize with and love them as our neighbors.
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If you want to read further about the Christian worldview response to evil and suffering, I suggest The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis, Why Does God Allow Evil by Clay Jones, and Where Is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey.