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Why is God allowing the coronavirus pandemic?

Good Friday 1964 was not good for the inhabitants of Anchorage, Alaska. At 5:36am an upheaval of tectonic plates far beneath the ocean’s surface caused a giant tsunami to rush on land carrying everything before it. Huge fissures opened in the earth’s surface, buildings collapsed, and terrified people ran for higher ground—but many were swept away.

Alarming and destructive as the Alaskan earthquake was it paled into insignificance compared to the one that hit Banda Aceh, Indonesia in 2004. More than 200,000 perished in the quake and the subsequent tsunami. Tremors were felt as far away as the Arctic Circle and Antarctica, the polar extremities of the globe.

Commentators and analysts struggling to convey the enormity, severity, and utter devastation of these, and other major tragedies, often compared them to “ancient narratives of biblical proportions.”

Presumably they had in mind such heart-stopping events as the all-engulfing flood in which the human race narrowly escaped extinction because Noah and his family survived. Or, perhaps Yahweh’s battle with the recalcitrant Pharaoh in which a series of plagues destroyed Pharaoh, the Egyptians, and their land.

I haven’t heard any contemporary commentators saying the coronavirus pandemic’s frightening exponential growth and relentless global expansion possess biblical proportions, but I do believe that the situation we are now facing is such that it could benefit from some biblical perspectives!

There are, of course, many people who hold what we may call a “secular world view” who are most unlikely to spend any time contemplating modern events from a biblical perspective. This is not surprising as they probably fail to see the relevance of the Bible to modern life or of any world views that owe their existence to its teaching.

This secular view assumes that God, if He exists, is not actively involved in the world or its affairs. Furthermore, they believe that the cosmos is a closed system in which everything works perfectly well under discernible and predictable laws, which humans have harnessed to their own purposes, requiring only the resources of the material universe to keep life running as smoothly as possible.

The alternative view—we can call it a “theistic world view”—is predicated on the belief that God is the Creator and Upholder of the Cosmos and is actively involved in cosmic affairs and that He is directing it and all who live therein to His foreordained conclusion.

It is hardly surprising that some who believe that God is actively involved in world affairs are asking questions such as, “Did God send this coronavirus pandemic like He sent the plagues to Egypt?” or “Is this pandemic God’s judgment on a rebellious world?” or “Why is God allowing this pandemic to do so much damage?” Such questions are the natural outgrowth of a biblical perspective, and answers are to be sought in biblical teaching.

First—some perspectives on God

The Bible at page one makes a huge fundamental statement—In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Read on, and the statement is amplified. He is the Originator, the Designer, the Producer, and the Upholder of the beautiful, complex, created order. From earliest times He became known by names speaking of His power and majesty. For example, El Elyon—the Most High, and El Shaddai—the Almighty.

He regularly reminded Israel that they owed their status as a chosen people to His choice, and their freedom to His powerful intervention and their survival in the wilderness, and the Promised Land to His powerful presence and provision. In other words, He was revealed in Israel’s Scriptures, as the all-sufficient, all-powerful Lord of heaven and earth. Isaiah, in his transforming vision, saw the LORD high and exalted, seated on a throne. Exactly! That’s where you’d expect to find the Creator and LORD of heaven and earth. And the final book of Scripture portrays God as KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (We should bear in mind that this statement, which possibly contained the meaning “Caesar of Caesars,” was made during the days when the Roman Empire ruled and was a direct challenge to its authority.) A biblical perspective starts with an understanding of who God is declared to be in His might and majesty.

Second—some perspectives on mankind

The biblical perspective on the development of the created order focuses on mankind, who are portrayed as enjoying a special relationship both to God and to His creation. Their relationship to God was to be one of loving, trusting, obedience and blessing; to the created order they were commissioned to be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue [and rule] it (Genesis 1:28). Mankind, both male and female, gifted with intelligence and curiosity, were planted in an Eden full of promise and wonder with a mandate to explore, discover, develop, order, and cultivate it as God’s mandated agents. This mandate still stands.

Third—some perspectives on Evil

While there is much skepticism about the biblical character called the Devil—evil personified—there is little disagreement about the presence and power of evil in modern life. Our military exists to combat it, our law enforcement to control it, our movies portray it, our politicians legislate it, and our philosophers debate it. It is everywhere! And it entered Eden and presented to mankind the possibility of a life living in the good of the riches of Eden without limits. Freedom! It meant exploiting the resources of creation without concerns about fulfilling the mandate or bowing to the Almighty or bearing the burden of accountability to the Creator. It meant a total reversal of the divine order where God was God and mankind was mankind, so that Man would be god and the created order would be his domain. And God would no longer be God. Mankind would walk away from God and render allegiance to the Devil, God would no longer be God, and mankind would control the whole created order with the Devil actively involved. Reversal.

Fourth—some perspectives on the world

When the Devil—evil personified—entered Eden and tempted mankind who succumbed, a catastrophe of biblical proportions was the result. The Scriptures describe it simply as sin entered into the world and death by sin. Two unthinkable dynamics became part of the pristine creation—sin and death (and that appertains to it). Think of sin as that which comes short of God’s standards and you can begin to visualize a created order in which nothing is the way it ought to be. Not that it has lost every trace of its original glory—glimmers and traces are everywhere—but that every part of it is not what it ought to be. This is the heartbreak of God.

By this time, you’re probably wondering what happened to the questions that come from looking at the days in which we live from a biblical perspective.

Fifth—some perspectives on coronavirus

So, let’s see if we can put this together. I firmly believe that this world, fallen and spoiled and beautiful as it is, is not spinning in space hopelessly meaningless and out of control. The Creator and Upholder of the Universe is still in overall charge. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that as it was at His command that creation happened and by His command that the creation has survived, so by the same authority the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly (2 Peter 3:5-7).

But as mankind rejected the Creator and ceded what had been entrusted to them to the Devil, the result is the whole world is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19). He’s still like a roaring lion. He can still terrify, and the fallen world can still yield to his dictates. So our wonderful bodies, subject to the curse of sin and death, can suffer from rogue cells that go “viral,” highly educated but fallen and fallible mankind can make serious miscalculations, world systems that have produced political deadlock can exacerbate problems, and the result can be a pandemic.

But God has made it clear that He is, in Christ, actively engaged in the process of making everything new… for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:4-5). Through the death and resurrection of Christ, the power of the Devil has been blunted and his power has been curtailed. He’s still dangerous, evil is still rampant, but God—patient beyond our imagination—allows this state of affairs to continue. Why? Because He knows the end story—He wins. And secondly, because as our Father in heaven, He disciplines the one He loves and chastens everyone He accepts as His son (Hebrews 12:7). He doesn’t create the virus; He doesn’t send the virus. The virus is the result of the fallen-ness of mankind and the failure of world systems, the nefarious intent of the evil one coming together in a perfect storm—all under the permissive will and purpose of the Almighty God.

This perspective, I fully recognize, raises many questions, many of which are imponderables. We can ask them and perhaps find answers for some of them, but the main thing to take away from this approach is to ask: If the Lord is lovingly allowing His people to go through tribulation, what end does He have in mind—and am I open to receive it?