He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he. (Deut. 32:4, NIV)
Another COVID afternoon. The kids are anxious to run around the yard and my wife and I need some peace and quiet to get some work done. We let the kids out back to expend some energy. It’s been a rainy week spent cramped up indoors. We’re still self-distancing, of course, so I’ve gated the backyard to keep the kids away from other neighborhood families. We value our peace of mind, every quiet moment, amidst the strain of this time. With the kids playing safe out back, we think we might reclaim a semblance of sanity—perhaps a moment of unbroken work. Yet, it’s three young kids we’re talking about. So by a moment uninterrupted, I mean about five-minutes! Unless they’re fast asleep, someone’s bound to get into something. Each of our kids are little explorers, and at their age, seeing, touching, and interacting with the world of nature all around them is a vital part of the way they learn.
I manage to sift through and respond to a few work emails, before lifting my head to glance out my office window, curious to see if the kids are still playing amicably. And then something catches my attention—a hole the size of a toilet bowl—in the middle of the yard. I press send on the next email and head outdoors to investigate. Standing over the hole, I turn and look at the kids—each with a grin and look of innocence that would bely the offense to our finely grassed-in yard. Needing to know, I ask, “Who did this?” I’ll spare you the details, but the guilty culprit lost TV privileges for the next two days.
It’s a natural human response—when we see something wrong, we want to know who is responsible. When we turn on the news to hear only of the climbing number of Coronavirus cases and causalities around the world, it’s natural to want to know who’s responsible. We can point our fingers at China—where the virus originated, or to the national governments of “hotspots” for their lagging effort to secure citizens. Some, and I’d be disingenuous to say that the thought hasn’t crossed my mind, will point their finger at God.
Did God cause the Coronavirus? The plain biblical answer is “no.” God is not the author of evil, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33, NIV). Nor is God the cause of any sin or wrongdoing wrought by humanity, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (James 1:13, NIV). Well, if God is not to blame than who is? Conspiracy theorists claim the virus was concocted, even weaponized, in a lab. And if it wasn’t deliberately contrived, others point to the incompetence of scientists doing tests on bats and other creatures, for which a failed experiment turned into a biohazard gone global. There’s a good bit of speculation out there.
Even if we can’t pin the virus on a given person or experiment, we all know the story of the Fall. When sin entered the world through the eating of the forbidden fruit, God cursed creation (Gen. 3). Human shame, rivalries, war, idolatry, and moral indiscretion would ensue. Another consequence of the Fall was natural calamities like hurricanes and earthquakes. So if we can’t pin the pandemic on any one specifically, natural evil can still be traced back to the Fall.
Some will say, if God never cursed creation, then there wouldn’t be any of the disorder we see all around us. Still, this too is a presumptuous argument. Part of making humans in the image of God (Gen 1:27), was allotting them freedom. As in the Garden of Eden, humanity continues to exploit that freedom, using it to indulge their own ends, and so the narrative of war, corruption, and injustice goes on. If there was no consequence for humanity’s rebellion (no curse), who’s to say the human race would have faired any better? Can we assume, if there was no consequence, that the offspring of Adam and Eve would have repented of their forebears’ wrongs and from there forward lived in perfect harmony? That is not for us to say, and if our penchant for error today is any indication, then it’s likely humans would have continued to exploit their freedom even if no consequence for our actions was in place.
What we do know is that God is “faithful” and “just” (Deut. 32:4). For some reason God permitted the current pandemic, as he allowed the suffering of Job, but he does not cause evil. If anything, Satan is responsible for what befell Job and, certainly, an argument can be made that COVID originated from the belly of the Beast. However, God is never the author of evil. We can have faith that His justice will prevail at the end of the day. We live in the New Testament era of God’s benevolence. Rather than point the finger, the hermeneutic of grace, through the Cross, means God is now doing something unique. The pattern of retributive justice seen in the Old Testament is overwhelmed by a new imperative. Sin, sickness, and suffering are still everyday realities, yet God “wills” (permits) these, as a loving father disciplines his child.
So at the end of the day, the Coronavirus does not impinge on God’s perfection or faithfulness. While it’s sometimes hard to see the wisdom of a loving Father behind this pandemic, it’s there, and there’s hope that beyond this grim horizon, the peace we covet for our lives, for our loved ones, for the world, will once again win the day.