How can a good God allow horrific suffering like a pandemic? This question is not new. Let’s see how Jesus fielded it 2,000 years ago.
Luke 13:1-5: About that time some people came up and told him about the Galileans Pilate had killed while they were at worship, mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices on the altar. Jesus responded, “Do you think those murdered Galileans were worse sinners than other Galileans? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you too will die. And those 18 in Jerusalem the other day, the ones crushed and killed when the Tower of Siloam collapsed and fell on them, do you think they were worse citizens than all other Jerusalemites? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you too will die.”
When you hear a story like this, probably your mind rushes to substitute the names of those killed in some recent news event: Students at Parkland High School. Passengers on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Workers at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Jesus would say the same thing about them. They weren’t worse people than anyone else. Unless you and I turn to God, we too will die.
What have all of us done to deserve death? Maybe it will help to think of something that totally disgusts you. It might be a putrid, rotting corpse or a sadistic act of violence. Here is what God finds that repulsive:
Genesis 6:5-7 The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth…for I am grieved that I have made them.”
This is why everyone dies. We are facing a threat far greater than any virus, natural disaster or terrorist attack. We have an affliction that is both terminal and global. It is called sin—the word the Bible uses to describes the evil things we do. Even if you never get covid-19 or step on a land mine, someday you are going to die. That’s universal. The worst thing that can happen to you is not to die in your 20’s or file for bankruptcy. A much worse fate would be to die before you turn to God in dependence and love.
Should it surprise us that a loving God could allow a pandemic? Not at all. What should surprise us is that he allows any of us to enjoy peace and prosperity that will make us complacent and unaware of our need for God’s mercy. The tragedies like the 2 Jesus referred to and the ones we hear on the news remind us that all is not right in the world and that we will all ultimately face death.
If this is so, how should Christians pray about this pandemic? It may sound awkward at first, but we should pray like this:
· We should pray that people will be healed AND that God will use the pandemic as greatly as he chooses to draw people to himself
· We should pray for people to have jobs and finances AND pray for God to use financial distress to cause people to turn to him in dependence
· We should pray for individuals to be able to hold their weddings, graduations and more, AND pray that they will not find satisfaction in these things alone but in a relationship with God
Do these prayers create emotional dissonance for you? If so, that’s actually good news. It means you are becoming like God, the perfect Heavenly Father. He wants to bless and enrich each of his children, AND he wants to send as much hardship as is needed to draw them away from evil and to himself. He uses as much discipline as he must, but he never enjoys it. Like their Heavenly Father, Christians also rejoice when suffering makes people turn to God, yet we hate the suffering and pray against it.
If we are still angry with God because of allowing a pandemic, we need to realize how he dealt with the far greater pandemic of our evil. Jesus could have remained distant in heaven and let us face the penalty we deserved. Instead he willingly stepped into our helplessness and took all the suffering we deserved upon himself. We have no right to blame God as if he were a passive bystander who sent us the pandemic of coronavirus. Instead we should honor God for sending his only Son to face death so that neither sin nor mortality can touch us in eternity. Instead of asking how a good God can allow a pandemic like coronavirus, we should be amazed that the Creator God got his fingers dirty in our pain so that no pandemic can touch us in eternity.