During this difficult and confusing time, children and young people are asking plenty of questions about coronavirus, including why God doesn’t simply stop it spreading and causing the deaths of so many people. All of us try to find reasons, often applying logic to calm our anxieties. This article considers the question, ‘Why doesn’t God stop the virus?’ from a biblical perspective. We hope that it will be helpful as you engage with the questions of those young people around you.
In an interview some time ago, actor, writer and presenter Stephen Fry was asked what he would say to God when he died. His answer was, ‘How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault….why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?’
His answer goes to the heart of the question of suffering – why does God allow suffering to exist? The view that God should stop suffering comes from a rationalist perspective, the logic of which says: God is all-powerful; God is love, therefore God can and should stop suffering. And yet, usually God does not. Does this mean that God is not omnipotent? Does it mean that He doesn’t really love us?
To find an answer to this apparent inconsistency, we need to go back to the creation of the world. The Bible tells us (Genesis 1-2) that God created a perfect world. In the cool evenings, he walked with Adam and Eve, the people he created and placed in His perfect garden. But Genesis 3 tells us that they disobeyed God, eating fruit from a forbidden tree and there were consequences for their disobedience which still affect us today. Sin entered the world; in his letter to the Roman church (Romans 8:22) the apostle Paul talks about creation ‘groaning’ as a result of that sin. And it doesn’t just affect people – the physical world is also out of step with God’s perfection, so natural evil has become part of every level of our existence. That includes harmful viruses. The Bible says that the world will stay like this until God ends time and disposes of our damaged world (Revelation 21:1).
Pandemic viruses are nothing new. The Black Death, in the Middle Ages, is estimated to have killed between 75 and 200 million people. Between 1918 and 1920 nearly 27% of the world’s population was infected by a deadly flu pandemic. It killed up to 100 million people, many of them young. Even the measures we’re taking to protect ourselves today are nothing new. When plague broke out in the Derbyshire village of Eyam in 1666, the villagers quarantined themselves, paying for food and medicines left outside the village with disinfected money. They even practised social distancing, holding church services in the open, standing in widely spaced household groups. People selflessly nursing the sick themselves became ill and died.
So has anything changed? Maybe the perspective of many people in society has. Previous generations often took a different view of where God was when they were suffering and dying. They accepted, as Christians do today, that God is omnipotent, but because the world has been broken, illness and suffering are part of life. The world will remain in this condition until the end of time.
Sometimes people see pandemics as God’s punishment for sin. But think for a moment about whether that is consistent with a loving God. Do parents just indiscriminately punish all their children at the same time for no obvious reason? No. Loving parents make sure that punishment is for something specific so that children can understand what they have done wrong. And while we are all sinners, the Bible teaches us that Christ died to take that punishment for us, so that we could be forgiven by God. So why do Christians still get sick and die? Because there’s a difference between punishment and consequences. God promises forgiveness, but we all still live with the consequences of sin in the world and that includes the virus.
But logic also says that a loving God should want to stop us suffering. And this is one big area where Christianity differs from other religions, because the Bible tells us that God loves us so much that He’s right there with us, while we’re suffering. The apostle Matthew wrote, ‘Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?’ (Matthew 6:26). And Jesus himself said, ‘Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows’ (Luke 12:6). Not only did God send His son to die for us, he is still intimately involved in our world and, therefore, in our lives.
It’s perfectly natural at times to feel anxious and distressed about whether we, or someone we love, will get sick or die. But the Bible tells us to give all our worry to God, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). And Christians have a hope for the future, one where ‘God shall wipe away all tears…and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain’ (Revelation 21:4).
So next time you feel anxiety bubbling up inside of you, remember that God is right there with you, offering forgiveness for your sin and promising to be with us as we live with the consequences of a world broken by sin. Peter was echoing words from the Psalms ‘Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken’ (Psalm 55:22). And that’s a promise!