Where is God in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic?
Believers may ask this question in pain and in grief for those suffering. Unbelievers may ask the same question in scorn and cynicism.
Many people today are being confronted with what is actually an age-old question in both philosophy and theology — the “problem of pain.” How can a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good — as the Bible affirms that he is — allow something like this pandemic to occur?
The argument is, if God did not know the virus was coming, he is not all-knowing; if he is powerless to prevent it (on either an individual or collective level), he is not all-powerful; and if he simply desires hundreds of thousands of people to suffer and tens of thousands (or more) to die, he cannot be all-good.
However, Scripture has an answer to this. Much of the evil in the world — not just human evil, but even evil in nature itself — has its ultimate origin not in an ignorant, weak, or malevolent god, but in human sin. The resurrection of Jesus Christ, which we celebrate at Easter, gives us hope and a promise of the day when we will triumph over all the effects of sin.
The story of what theologians call “the Fall” — when our original human ancestors fell into sin by disobeying God — can be found in chapter 3 of the book of Genesis. It tells how Adam and Eve were tempted by the devil (in the form of a serpent) to eat the fruit of a tree that had been forbidden to them by God. As a result, they were punished with expulsion from the paradise that was the Garden of Eden.
However, Genesis 3 also contains hints that not only would their human descendants bear the burden of sin, but natural processes would bear it too. The woman is warned that “in pain you shall bring forth children,” while the man is told that the ground he would work to grow food would also produce “thorns and thistles.”
In the eigth chapter of his letter to the Christians at Rome, the Apostle Paul explained the impact on the creation as a whole. “For the creation was subjected to frustration,” he writes, and is in “bondage to decay.” Like Eve and the women who followed her, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:20-22, NIV).
Theologian Millard Erickson has applied this “futility,” “bondage,” and “groaning” specifically to deadly diseases, writing:
In Eden man had a body which could become diseased; after the fall there were diseases for him to contract. The curse, involving the coming of death to mankind, also included a whole host of ills which would lead to death.
So the existence of the coronavirus should come as no surprise. Nor should believers assume that God will grant them immunity from its effects. In Romans 8:18, Paul speaks to his fellow believers about “our present sufferings.” The Christian faith is not about immunity from worldly diseases, and while miracles of healing occur, they are not guaranteed or always happen in the timing or manner that we expect.
What is promised to us, though, is a future of eternal glory — for Paul completes his thought by declaring “that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18, NIV).
The promise of that future glory is sealed by the resurrection of Christ, which we celebrate at Easter. Paul celebrates that “Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34, NIV).
Paul assures us that nothing can separate us from Christ’s love — not “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword,” even if “we face death all day long” (Romans 8:35-36, NIV).
Today, we might paraphrase that not even “virus or quarantine or unemployment” can separate us from the love of our risen Lord Jesus at Easter.