Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Where Is God in the Pandemic?


Prayers to Use During the Pandemic of Coronavirus


When I was in seminary over a decade ago, I took a class on the resurrection of Jesus. One of our textbooks for that study was N.T. Wright’s massive tome, The Resurrection of the Son of God. The book was dense, scholarly and sleep inducing. I knew when I finished the required reading in it, I would probably not crack it open again.

I thought I was done with Wright’s musings, until recently while searching for theological responses to the COVID-19 pandemic I discovered that he’d written an article that was published in Time magazine. Immediately, I was taken back by the title, “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It's Not Supposed To.” At the end of the article Wright concludes, “It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead.”[1]

With all due respect, I think Mr. Wright is wrong. In fact, I think by writing an article with that premise he undermines one of the most powerful aspects of Jesus’ resurrection, which he spent hundreds of pages explaining in the aforementioned book (more on that later).

Is the virus and the problem of evil a perennial mystery? Of course. Are we supposed to lament during this time of darkness—indeed! But I couldn’t disagree more with the idea that “Christianity offers no answers about the pandemic.” Isn’t that the theologian’s job after all—to understand to the best of human ability who God is and wrestle with our existential struggles?

If you have a worldview that can’t make sense of evil and suffering then its not a good worldview, because our whole existence takes place in a universe full of pain and death.

First, we need to understand that natural evil like hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and pandemics do not disprove God’s existence. Instead, they point to Him. The greatest Christian apologist of the twentieth century, C.S. Lewis started out at as atheist. Yet, after his conversion to Christ he realized that natural disasters lent surprising proof for God. He wrote:

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.  But how had I gotten this idea of just and unjust?  A man does not call something crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing the universe with when I called it unjust? What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? . . . Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too -- for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist -- in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless -- I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality -- namely my idea of justice -- was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”[2]   

The fact that we have a strong sense of justice and perfection in a world so twisted by injustice, evil and imperfection gives compelling evidence that there is a moral law written on our hearts. And if there is a moral law, then there must be a transcendent, unchanging, moral law-giver.

So, what does the Christian worldview offer during this time of crisis? Here are just a few lessons.

1.      Disasters point to our fallen world, marred by the effects of sin. Paul writes in Romans 8:22, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” Natural disasters are forceful reminders that our world is broken. The disease, disaster and death we see is a result of mankind’s sinful choices in the beginning (Gen. 3:17-19). It is in this broken world that God shows us that things aren’t supposed to be this way. This messed up world leaves us with a desire for more. As Lewis would say elsewhere, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” And so, we desperately need a Savior to redeem our souls and the creation.

2.      Disasters teach us that life is fragile and we need to prepare for eternity. In Luke 13 Jesus responded to a tragedy in His day. A tower accidently fell, and many people were killed. “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:4-5).” The tower collapsing wasn’t the result of judgment or punishment for sin. It just happened. Sometimes it takes the dramatic power of a disaster to capture our attention and turn our minds towards eternity. Disasters wake us from our slumber and prompt us to question our sources of security. When life is upended we see that our health, money, careers, or government can all be swept away in a moment and so it’s unwise to put our hope in them.

3.      Disasters help us to reflect on God’s goodness. An old saying I’ve heard all my life goes like this, “You don’t appreciate the water, till the well’s run dry.” God owes us nothing. Yet James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” How good is God is to give us food, shelter and clothing? How good is God bless us continually while we give Him scant appreciation? How many times has God spared your life from a car wreck or a fatal disease? We may never really know. But we can make the choice to rejoice. Erwin Lutzer wrote this sober reminder:

“Often the same people who ask where God was following a disaster thankfully refuse to worship and honor Him for years of peace and calmness. They disregard God in good times, yet think He is obliged to provide help when bad times come. They believe the God they dishonor when they are well should heal them when they are sick; the God they ignore when they are wealthy should rescue them from impending poverty; and the God they refuse to worship when the earth is still should rescue them when it begins to shake.”[3]   

4.      Disasters do not defeat God. The worst thing that’s ever happened in history hasn’t been an earthquake, tsunami or epidemic. It was the crucifixion of Jesus, God’s sinless Son. The darkness of that tragedy is unequaled. Yet from the Cross we see that God is no stranger to our suffering. Christ entered into the bloodshed, violence and evil of this world. He took the worst that this world could throw at Him. Yet through it all, God brought the greatest good that could be imagined—salvation, resurrection and the hope of restoration for this fallen world. If God can take the tragedy of the Cross and use it for the triumph of Christ, then surely He can bring good out of any bad situation we face.

I just came across the encouraging story of Nic Brown—a COVID-19 survivor from Cleveland, OH. When news reporters asked for his thoughts on the virus and his recovery, here’s what he said to million of people listening, “I am a walking miracle. The support I had from everybody, my family the hospital staff, really helped. I truly believe it is the power of prayer and community support I had behind me that made the difference. There is hope in this virus , God is bigger than this virus. Hang in there.”[4]

Does Christianity have something to say about our current crisis? Absolutely. God is there and He is not silent. He is working through this crisis to bring glory to Christ. Because of our Savior, no matter what we face on earth we can say with Paul:     

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . .  37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39).

-DM


[1] N.T. Wright, “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It's Not Supposed To,” Time, 29 March 2020 <https://time.com/5808495/coronavirus-christianity/>
[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper Collins: San Francisco, 1952), 31.
[3] Erwin Lutzer, Where Was God? (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2006), 100.
[4] Peggy Gallek, ‘God is bigger than the virus,” A COVID-19 survivor says don’t give up, there is hope,” FOX 8 NEWS, 30 March 2020 <https://fox8.com/news/coronavirus/god-is-bigger-than-the-virus-a-covid-19-survivor-says-dont-give-up-there-is-hope/>