The Coronavirus is spreading rapidly around the world. The suffering is great, growing, and the question “How can a loving God allow this?” is increasingly on people’s minds. If God is Love, how is this loving? It’s a great question with a somewhat unsatisfying answer.
The traditional Christian response is unsatisfying because of a clash in perspective and goals. The answer, grounded in scripture, begins with recognizing that God’s goals are not perfectly aligned with ours. Shocking I know. Our goals tend to revolve around a healthy life filled with satisfying work, income, and relationships. The Bible teaches us that while God cares about these things His goals revolve around reconciling the world to Himself and bringing about a renewed creation.
Our gospel this past Sunday was the raising of Lazarus. It contains the shortest verse in the New Testament: “Jesus wept”. This is a good place to begin our answer. In our suffering Jesus weeps with us. Our God is a compassionate and loving God. We are reminded again and again in Scripture of the Lord’s affection for us and desire to be in loving relationship with us. Luke 15 is a great chapter all about God’s desire. The parable of the Loving Father (aka Prodigal Son) is the pinnacle of the chapter. We also read of God’s care and compassion in Matthew “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37 ESV)
Here is the basic problem. Teachers of the Bible often introduce the Bible saying that it falls in two parts. The first part is the first 13 chapters of Genesis. The second part is all the rest. The first part includes the creation story and the Fall. The second part is the story of God reconciling the world to himself. The creation story is notable in that Creation is an intentional act of God who at the end of each day says “it is good”, and after the last day says “it is very good.” Other religions with similar sounding stories like the Greeks and Romans did not see creation as good. Typically, as in the creation story of the Gnostics, the creation of earth was an accident, the result of the death of a god.
A Fallen Creation
For Christians the creation is good but fallen. With the fall came disease, suffering, and death. The traditional answer to the question how can a loving God allow suffering and death begins with affirming the goodness and brokenness of creation. This is the best the world can be until Jesus comes again to usher in the new creation. In the meantime Jesus weeps with those who weep. God is not immune to our suffering and not deaf to our prayers.
God remains a loving God in the midst of pandemics. He is our companion in suffering. We are not alone. The basic shape of this answer is utterly unsatisfying while our goals are not in sync with God’s. Even when our goals align this answer is unsatisfying. After all we remain in fragile breakable bodies even as our hope is in Christ. We are not immune to sadness and grief. Neither is Jesus.
God Hears our Prayers
Jesus heard Mary and raised Lazarus from the dead. God is not deaf to our prayers. We can cry out in lament. We can pray and should pray for healing of people suffering from Coronavirus. We can pray for protection for all medical personnel treating people with Coronavirus. We can pray for all researching treatments and immunizations. We can pray for people in overwhelmed hospitals. We can pray that the spread is stopped by our staying at home. And of course we can stay at home, wash our hands, and help as we can.
Moments like this bring us right up to the end of ourselves as we become vividly aware of the fragility of life. In moments like this our best response is to turn to God and renew our faith in Him.