The question of why horrible things happen in the world isn’t a new one, but it definitely hasn’t gotten any easier to answer over the years either. Whether it be the question of Tsunamis, earthquakes, or deadly diseases, the why of it continues to elude many among us. But what does the Bible have to say about this? Why does God allow such horrors to exist in the world? Even more, why are Christians, who take refuge in His care and protection, not spared from these? Recently, the coronavirus took the world hostage with over a 2000 people reported dead, and hundreds of others in quarantine across the globe. It has been a crazy scary few weeks to say the least. But the question remains, why? Why didn’t the Lord prevent this? How are we, as Christians, to understand and deal with such threats in the world we live in?
Stephen Fry, the famous actor and writer who is also known for his atheistic worldview, was once asked during an interview what he would do if God actually existed. He responded saying he would ask God, “How dare you? Bone cancer in children? How dare you?” That’s how a lot of people feel when faced with these realities. A disconnect with God. An unwillingness to worship a God who would allow such atrocities. They see it as sufficient reason to doubt the very existence of a God. Now, the saddest part is that many Christians are just as bewildered as the atheists are in these situations. I would argue that one of the main reasons for such doubt or disbelief is that most of what people know about God comes from the television, not from the Bible. People, especially the vast majority of Christians, know more about Christ from the Jesus movie than they know about Him from a systematic study of God’s word. Therefore, the God that is often portrayed or examined, by unbelievers and believers alike, is the God of the culture and not the God of the Bible. So, in the western or ‘intellectual’ culture, when something bad happens, the tendency of many might be to conclude that God doesn’t exist. Whereas, in the east or the more ‘religious’ culture, many would simply conclude that God is angry. Do you see? Our cultures have become the source of our knowledge about God, and not the Bible.
Beloved, God in His infinite glory, has revealed Himself to us through a book which He authored, and He has promised us that not a word in this book will pass away even if heaven and earth were to pass away (Matthew 24:35). Yet, we’d rather watch TV? How then can we expect to know the answer to such important questions such as why God allowed the coronavirus to spread and claim so many lives? To me, this isn’t the shocking question. Rather, the question that baffles me is why are so many Christians slumped on their couches, tubs of popcorn in hand, wasting away their lives on Netflix and the like, when they ought to be labouring, with bent knees and the Bible clenched in their hands, praying for God to have mercy on a people so ignorant.
This recent episode of the coronavirus is one among many signs that speak of the reality of sin in our world. But let me give you five theological lessons we can learn from this tragedy. Let’s call it the five signs of the coronavirus.
1. The fragility of life When man takes every prideful step to subdue his dreams and conquer the world, he does not realise that every quiver of his breath is given to him by God. Why must we fear God? Because He can take away our lives? Yes, but it’s far more than that. Fear Him even more because He is not just the One who can take away our lives, but He is the One who supplies us with life every moment of every day. If He so much as pauses, we die. Yet how many of us live our lives bearing this reality fresh in our minds? The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything – Acts 17:24-25. The coronavirus is more than a sign. It’s a deafening siren of the fragility of human life. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes – James 4:14. Outside of the shelter of God’s providence and grace, there is no shadow of hope against the scorching heat of life’s trials.
2. God is not surprised This is perhaps the most comforting thing to remember in such times. The coronavirus is not a sign that God has forgotten us. Many Christians try to redeem God from having had anything to do with such calamities. And in order to do that, they have to portray a God who is as surprised as we are in these moments. This is both unbiblical and absurd. A God who is surprised is a God who is not all-knowing. This is not the living God whom we worship. He is the alpha and the omega, the first and the last. In Isaiah 46:9-10 He declares, …I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ The Lord is not surprised by our trials and tribulations as we are. He ordains them and is sovereign over every situation. We don’t have to redeem God of His part in these things. If anything, it is in understanding God’s purposes in these things that we find hope. The coronavirus is a sign of God’s righteousness penetrating a world so broken, teaching us of how fallen we are and our need for grace.
3. God is good And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose – Romans 8:28. No coronavirus can change that. God is good and He does what is good for us. Whether it be the tsunamis, the earthquakes or the recent coronavirus, Christians have also suffered with the world. Why does God allow that to happen? The answer the Bible gives us is two-fold – for His glory, and our good. The call of a Christian is to live a God-glorifying life amidst suffering, not apart from it. From Christ, to the apostles, to the early church fathers, and all across history, God’s people have suffered, but they have suffered well. Because their hopes are not set on this world but on God. Therefore, they take every turn in life trusting in Him who is good and does all things for their good, and for His glory.
4. Theology matters! If we believe in the unbiblical yet popular teaching of health, wealth and prosperity that is prevalent in our culture, then we’re going to have serious problems in dealing with this crisis. We know, beginning with John the Baptist, almost every major character in the New Testament, had to endure suffering. At times with issues of diseases and sickness, and otherwise with persecutions and trials and so on. But what about all those times when God miraculously healed many of them and many others through them? What about God’s instruction that we are to pray for healing, and call the elder’s of our church to pray over us for healing? (James 5:14-16)
Sound theology is not a buffet where you pick and choose what you like. It is a full-course meal and we are meant to eat it all, harmonising the different parts of the Scripture together. So, what do we do? How do we deal with the coronavirus? Well, we do so by believing in Jesus and knowing that He is our Healer. We trust in Him who works all things for our good. Let us pray and believe as the Bible teaches us, that He is both able, and ready to heal us. However, let us also remember that He has, at many times, allowed suffering to be the means by which He sanctifies His people and glorifies His name. Therefore, our response has to be that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s in Daniel 3:17-18 – “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
5. He will return The coronavirus is a sign. And so are all such disasters. They point to the reality of a world that is broken by the sin of man. Paul talks about this reality in Romans 8:19-21 – For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. The world is sick, subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of the sin of man. Every disease, sickness and tragedy are a result of the fall. When Adam and Eve took the bite of that fruit, the world was broken. Why? Because God has been sinned against. Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins. The second person of the Living Triune God came down to us, lived a sinless and perfect life among us, died on the cross bearing all our sin and shame, and rose up from the grave, breaking the curse of sin and death. In Him, we have hope of eternal life. This Lord of ours will soon return. One more time, one last time. And when He comes, He will take us up to His side, which Paul here calls the revealing of the sons of God. That return will vanquish the brokenness of this world. Every tear will be wiped from our eyes, and all of creation will be set free from its bondage to corruption and restored. The coronavirus and every other disaster will be destroyed, once and for all, by the King of all creation when He returns