Where is God in the Pandemic?
I've been listening to a book about Nazi hunters, people who went looking for Nazis who escaped Germany after World War 2 so they could bring them to justice. That got me thinking about theodicy, the problem of evil. If God is all-powerful and all good, why did he allow the Holocaust? Back in my more Evangelical days, I would have said that the Holocaust was carried out by sinful humans and God allows us to be sinful because Adam sinned in the garden of Eden. This is called the problem of moral evil.
I'm not as comfortable with that explanation as I used to be. Currently, I'm pondering why God allows pandemics. Right now, it's Covid-19 which will not be nearly as bad, as the Black Death or even the 1918 Influenza. Pandemics are not evil created by humans; they are the natural result of the laws of biology.
Some more Fundamentalist Christians argue that before the fall of man in the garden, everything was perfect and there was no disease. I don't read Genesis literally and believe that the universe was created and then evolved to it's current state. There is nothing inherently bad in a virus. Coronaviruses live in lots of different animals. This particular one lives in bats, but jumped from bats probably to pangolin and then to humans late last year. Now it's problematic because it spreads so quickly among humans and has a 1-3% mortality rate.
My question for God is why he allowed that virus to jump to humans. If God just wound up the earth and is letting everything run by nature's rules, then we'd expect these pandemics every so often. Yet, God can and does intervene in human history. There are miracles recorded in the Bible, and lesser miracles recorded elsewhere in human history.
Yet, for the most part, God allows creation to roll right along, following all the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. Krakatoa erupted and killed 36,000 people. The Black Death probably killed 50 million people. The ice at the poles is melting due to climate change. You'd think at some point, God would intervene. But, no, he's letting the world move on apace.
Some people have said that God is using Covid-19 as a trial to teach us to slow down by staying at home and practicing social distancing. I'm not convinced. My son works at a grocery store and is working extra because of the pandemic. Nurses, doctors, and other health care workers are already stretched thin and are going to be stretched to the breaking point. And I hate to think that God would allow hundreds of thousands of people to die so that a few people could learn to relax.
Others have said that God is punishing our nation for their version of immorality, particularly abortion and gay marriage. This explanation isn't really working for me either. For one thing, Covid-19 hit several other countries before it came to us. And, it's not remotely specific to those engaging in gay marriage or abortion. Besides, abortion and gay marriage aren't mentioned in the Bible.
And we are again left with the classic question of theodicy. If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why is there evil in the world? My answer remains, "I don't know." I have never seen a satisfying answer to this question.
How can people of faith handle this kind of controversy? Sometimes I want to stick my head in the sand, but I don't think I'd make a good ostrich.
Jesus tells us, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." I assume he means that we will be comforted by him, but I think he also means comforted by others. Paul also tells us in Romans, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." God didn't plan this pandemic, but we, as believers, had an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the world around us. Let's focus on that.
The biggest thing most of us can do right now is to stay home so that we don't get sick and don't carry the virus to anyone else. Staying home doesn't mean being inactive. Use this time to pray - generally for the local, state, and federal government responses, and specifically for your family and friends. If your local hospital needs fabric masks and you can sew, then you can be involved in that. Call and check on your friends and family. This is a great time to be on social media.
And get used to the language of lament. The case fatality rate of this virus appears to be between 1 and 3%. Some people suspect that 40% of us will get infected. But, let's just assume that only half will actually get sick. There are 320 million people in the world. So, about 20% of us will end up getting sick, about 64 million. Assuming a fatality rate of 2%, we can expect 1,280,000 people to die from Covid-19. If we have done well with our preparations, then we won't have an increase in mortality due to other illnesses because of decreased bed space and lack of equipment.
There is nothing wrong with lament. The Bible has plenty of examples. The entire book of Lamentations kind of gives it away in the title. The people of Israel were lamenting that they had been carried off to exile in Babylon. There are also plenty of psalms of lament. As we watch the virus go through and see people die, sadness is a normal emotion. Remember, Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus, even though he knew that he'd be bringing Lazarus back from the dead. Feel your feelings. Share them with God and with others. Pray through the laments in scripture. Let God comfort you with the assurance that he's still around.
We live in interesting times. I feel like I'm walking through a fog and am just holding on to Jesus to take the next step, hoping I'm not stepping off a cliff! We don't know what will happen tomorrow or the next day or the next day. But, God will be there waiting. However hard it is, let's just hang on to Jesus.
And wash our hands. And stay home.