Impossible questions come and go, but asking God, “Why?” lasts forever. And to prove this, a few days ago a friend asked the “why” question: “If there is a God and he is good, why would he allow this pandemic?” Today, in this blog post, I want to answer that “why” question with a definitive answer that details what God is up to. I want to, I really do, but I can’t. No one can. It’s an impossible question. Now, that is not to say that we cannot say a few things that might be helpful to us as we wrestle with this question. I can’t answer “why,” but I hope I can give some guidance that will help us navigate these strange waters.
First, remember while things today are bad, if the truth be told, things have always been bad. To gain some perspective and wisdom, let’s go back to 1965 (that’s probably the first time in history anyone ever said that!). In 1965, a gravelly-voiced Barry McGuire sang a protest song entitled, “The Eve of Destruction.” It was a great song. See for yourself (and sing along if you know the tune!):
Don’t you understand, what I’m trying to say?
And can’t you feel the fears I’m feeling today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no running away.
There’ll be no one to save with the world in a grave.
Take a look around you, boy; it’s bound to scare you, boy,
And you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.
Okay, it wasn’t a great song back then (and the next line proves it: “Yeah, my blood’s so mad, feels like coagulatin’; I’m sittin’ here, just contemplatin’”), and it hasn’t gotten any better with age. However, it seems to me that if you replace that one line “if the button is pushed” with “if you are virus ambushed,” it suddenly feels very relevant. Worse, it makes us feel we all are on the eve of destruction! And that’s the point. In fact, almost every generation has felt that way, whether it was from war, famine, plague, or whatever. If history tells us anything, it tells us that there has always been something or someone out to kill us. We like to think that what we are going through today is an aberration and that normal life may be frustrating at times, but not evil. And that’s the problem. We have forgotten that we live in a fallen world where it is always the “eve of destruction.”
Now, theologically, I would bet we all believe we live in a fallen world. It explains why we sin and why cars break down and why the only clothes that look good on us are the most expensive. But somehow when terrible things happen (things like pandemics and death and natural disasters), we are caught off guard and feel obligated to blame God. (Ever notice how when things are great, we think we are responsible; but when things are bad, we think God is at fault?). But maybe awful times are not proof that God is asleep at the wheel, but reminders that we live in a fallen world of our own making and that death and suffering and frustration and misery reign over us. Let me say it this way: The pandemic is the fall exerting its reign over us.
Now, we don’t like that. We tend to think that we are so smart, so advanced, so powerful that we can control the negative impact of the fall through education, science, and social programs. The pandemic reminds us we are not as smart, as advanced or as powerful as we thought. We also tend to think that we only need God for the big things (salvation, heaven and for getting us out of speeding tickets), but that we can handle the rest of life on our own. But now, we see, that is not true.
In fact, the pandemic serves to remind us of all sorts of things (for those with eyes to see and ears to hear). The pandemic is a tangible reminder that while we are cut off from each another, our root problem is that we are cut off from God. And it is a reminder that sin is not the little annoyance or naughty indulgence we usually think of it as, but something that kills and separates and destroys. And the pandemic is a reminder that this is not the world God created, but a world we created by choosing to sin. Here’s the awful truth: Our fall into sin is why there is a pandemic.
Now, that does not mean that God sent the Covid19 virus to punish us for the fall or even to show us our sin. If anything, the exact opposite is true. The virus came because we live in a sinful world, and in sinful worlds things are always out to kill us. But God’s plan since sin one was to redeem us and to put to rights everything that was lost in the fall. Sin and the fall played the virus hand, but God is playing a hand that cannot be beat: redemption, love, restoration, healing and hope. And while the virus wants to root us in fear and death and separation, God wants to root us in his love and life and hope. That’s his sure promise to us in Revelation 21(3-5):
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’”
Why does a good God allow a pandemic? The Bible doesn’t tell us why. But the Bible does tell us what God is doing about pandemics and evil and death and suffering. He sent his son into the world to suffer as one of us and then to die with us, instead of us and for us to redeem us so that through the power of the resurrection, all things could be made new again in Christ Jesus.
There is much more to say about this (impossible questions take time to answer), and we will do that soon. But if I keep on going now, your blood may get coagulatin’. And maybe you need some time just to sit and do some contemplatin’! So we will come back to this topic again soon. In the meantime, stay well. Stay safe and stay connected at the River’s Edge.