This current pandemic raises all kinds of questions about God: his will, his sovereignty, and his character. Did God cause it, did he merely allow it, or is it just pure evil, nothing but an attack of Satan in which God was, and is, entirely uninvolved? Well, I’ve heard all three explanations.
These questions go right to the heart of the Bible’s presentation of God. How we answer them will show whether or not our thinking is in line with Scripture.
First, there is an ongoing debate among Christians about whether God causes or merely permits evil. I know there are philosophical distinctions between these two options, but, at least in terms of the practical outcome, there is no essential difference. Here is what I mean: Say a police officer is walking down the street at night, after a long shift on his way home. He looks down a side street and sees two men starting to mug another person. He has all the power on his person to bring a quick end to the crime, but he’s just too tired to do one more thing. So he does nothing and moves on.
Was the officer involved or not? Were there any moral, ethical, or legal issues to be raised by his action, or non-action? Of course! He was liable for the mugging, even though he didn’t cause it. And, could his inaction be considered a form of causation?
The debate can rage on, and I’ll leave that to those who want to engage in it. I have an opinion about this, but that isn’t my point in writing. Is God morally involved in the attack of this terrible virus spreading across the world?
I believe the Bible is absolutely clear on this. God is sovereign. He is in charge of everything that happens in history. He foreknows and oversees every event, great or small, good or bad, and has the last word on everything that occurs anywhere in his universe. So, to the question, “Where is God in this pandemic?” The answer is, “Right in the middle of it.” He could have prevented it, he could stop it anytime he wishes, and he can bring out of it anything he desires. And he will.
The Bible explicitly tells us that his will is to enter into whatever evil is taking place on his planet, and to rearrange things so that his predetermined good will come from it, “according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). This summarizes the Bible’s position on all of human history.
What, then, is the practical application of this “philosophy of history” to the current Coronavirus affecting the entire world?
It means that God is in complete charge of this pandemic, whatever its source, and that he will exploit and bring out of it everything he chooses to accomplish in his many-sided purpose. We may not know right now what that is, but we can be sure that he does.
We can be confident that God will bring to pass in this terrible disease what he manages to do in every flood, earthquake, tsunami, war, or cataclysm of any sort: judgment for some, blessing for others, rescues, restorations, reversals of fortune, losses and gains, spiritual awakening for those who are asleep, and much more. In time, such human stories will emerge, as they always do.
But for the moment, what’s important for us to remember is that God, his character, and his purpose are the core issues at every point, and in everything. This is true because in a fallen world that chronically (and increasingly) wants God to be the center of nothing, he is actually the center and focus of everything.
And even though we don’t and can’t know the whys and wherefores of this global event, we can and must pray day and night that he will rescue his world from this overt evil, while achieving all that he wants to extract from it. In the final analysis, our prayer is not only, “God help us, because we take refuge in you!”, but, “Lord, let your will be done, and your name be glorified.”
The role we are to play in this, and every other great crisis, is not to call into question God’s character, or demand an explanation for everything that occurs in his world, but to seek how we can be his instruments of help and reconciliation in the midst of it.