John Lennox: COVID-19 a 'huge loudspeaker,' rousing humanity to seek God amid pain

People look at the Manhattan skyline on April 2, 2020 as seen from Weehawken, New Jersey.
People look at the Manhattan skyline on April 2, 2020 as seen from Weehawken, New Jersey. | AFP via Getty Images/ANGELA WEISS

Acclaimed mathematician and philosopher of science John Lennox believes the coronavirus has forced an opportunity for humanity to wrestle with life's deepest questions, to find God amid heartbreak.

In a video interview with Kharis Productions CEO Iain Morris, Lennox elaborated on themes he explores in his new short bookWhere is God in a Coronavirus World?

When the disease first began to spread, Lennox knew the number of cases would grow exponentially, he said, noting his knowledge of statistics.

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"I thought this is going to be utterly unique and devastating. And I thought, 'Look, I'm locked down. I need to think about how to speak into this situation," he explained.

It took Lennox approximately one week to write the book, spending eight to 12 hours per day on it.

In one of the chapters, he addresses a common objection to the Christian faith, namely, "How can there be a loving God who presides over human suffering?" relating it specifically to the coronavirus.

The atheist solution to this quandary is this is essentially "we've got what we've got so we have to put up with it," he surmised, but that falls short.

"Atheism actually removes the very concept of good and evil. So there's no point in calling this kind of thing natural evil, this disaster, if there is no such thing as evil," the Christian apologist said.

Furthermore, he asserted, atheism removes any possible hope.

Yet the Gospel provides hope because it speaks about a God well-acquainted with suffering; at the heart of the Christian faith is God on a cross.

"That tells me that God has not remained distant from our human suffering but He himself has become part of it," he said.

Asked how Christians can give counsel in a way that does not sound cliche but speaks to the hearts of people in a real way during the ongoing pandemic, Lennox recalled Christ's interactions with Martha and Mary when Lazarus died.

"What I find helpful is to see the ways in which Jesus treated people in a tragedy," he said.

Amid Mary and Martha's devastation at the loss of their brother, Scripture recounts that Jesus wept, he noted.

"Sometimes we need to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. And a touch on the shoulder — if you were allowed to do it these days — a hug, and weeping can get through a veil of tears much better than trivial answers and just saying something for the sake of it," Lennox said.

"We don't know what to say and so we need to be honest about it and keep quiet. This thing is so big, as far as I can see. We've never been there before. And honesty tells me we're at a loss facing it."

While some have suggested that God is speaking through the coronavirus, Lennox cautioned against saying it was a divine judgment, noting that in the Bible, when such plagues were indeed a judgment on a nation it resulted from a direct word from God.

"As far as I know we do not have God's direct word on COVID-19. And, therefore, we have to be very careful ... because Jesus himself made it abundantly clear that not all tragedy or catastrophe or disease results from one group of people being worse than others," he said.

He elaborated that when Jesus was on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, as is described in Luke 13, some of the people present told him of Galileans whose blood Pilate and his armies had massacred. Yet Jesus then described another event that happened there, the collapse of the tower of Siloam, which killed 18 people. Jesus then pointed out that those whom the towers collapsed on and killed were no worse sinners than everyone else living in Jerusalem at the time.

"So we cannot just take any event and judge it and say 'Ah, that is the judgment of God,'" Lennox said of the coronavirus.

When Christians say specific disasters are caused by God, people do not usually start thinking about God but the person who made that determination, thinking characterized with outrage, he observed, when what is needed is a more nuanced view.

"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains," Lennox said, quoting author C.S. Lewis, "it is His megaphone to rouse a dead world."

"From that perspective, it seems to me that COVID-19 might well function as a huge loudspeaker. I can see that happening because it reminds us of our vulnerability and our mortality.

"If these events induce any of us to look to the God, who, to be honest, we might have ignored for years, and help us to think about the matter of the fact that we are mortal and someday we'll have to face Him, then something good could come out of it, as well as all the pain and evil."

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