As the global impact of the coronavirus (so named for the crown-like spikes on its surface) has started to set it in – over 130,000 deaths, deflated economies, strained health care systems, isolated citizens, emotionally scarred people, uncertain futures – the question of God has started to emerge. Where is God? Why, as philosopher John Lennox recently put it, does it feel like God is in lockdown?
It’s not a new question to humanity. Job famously complained, “I cry to you for help and you do not answer me…” (30:20). Christ Himself echoed the question from the cross as He prayed Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”
Such questions have moved many to formulate syllogisms of protest against God:
- If God is good, He would stop such viruses.
- If God is powerful, He could stop such viruses.
- But such viruses persist.
- Therefore, God either isn’t good or isn’t powerful or doesn’t exist.
And the often unstated conclusion goes something like this: So, I reject Him.
For many, such syllogisms amount to nothing more than logical shields to hide a hurting, disappointed heart. And, while rejecting God may remove the problem of God’s relation to suffering, it does not remove the problem of suffering. In fact, in the process of removing God, it also removes hope.
If this question of God and suffering were settled by syllogisms, we would simply offer the following:
- God is good and He will stop such viruses.
- God is powerful and He can stop such viruses.
- God is wise and can work through such viruses for His purposes.
- God is eternal and not limited to our time demands for ending human suffering.
- Therefore, He can be trusted.
While this answers the individuals’ intellectual protest, it doesn’t really do much to help their hurting hearts. Perhaps this is why God’s response to human suffering isn’t a syllogism, but a Person. Where is God? He’s hanging on a cross, crowned with creation’s curse – the cursed corona of sin!
God is not indifferent to our sorrow. He is not ignorant of our pain. He’s not socially distant from our pandemic. In Christ, God has come near. He has made His dwelling among us! He has locked Himself down with us! And on His cross He is crowned with creation’s curse, its cursed corona. He absorbs the virus of sin into Himself and takes it into death with Him.
This doesn’t mean we won’t suffer, that we won’t wear creation’s cursed corona, or that we won’t catch this virus. In this fallen world, we will suffer, and we might contract this virus. But it does mean we aren’t defined by creation’s cursed corona and that we are not abandoned to it. Our God has worn it. Even more, He has defeated it and He will, one day, banish it forever! As a dear and wise Christian friend recently shared with me, “As disheartened humanity sits in a stupor, God megaphones from the cross, “IT IS FINISHED!” And on Easter morning, God triumphantly trumpets, “HE IS RISEN!” She added, “The End became the Beginning. Hopelessness emerged as Hope. Darkness revealed Light. Death birthed Life.”
And yet, as she wrote, we may in this life “walk with a limp,” wounded by creation’s curse. This present pandemic may not end soon. This coronavirus may not go away quickly. We may limp financially, emotionally, socially, and mentally. Our limp may, however, prove beneficial. It was C.S. Lewis who perceptively wrote, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s how little we control, how quickly our pillars of surety and confidence can crumble, how desperately we need a Savior. And it is this Savior, Jesus, not the current pandemic, who calls for our attention. Yes, we should be aware and take precautions and practice the recommended hand washing and social distancing, but let us not give this pandemic greater notice than Jesus.
C.S. Lewis spoke in a parallel circumstance nearly 80 years ago. He was addressing life lived under the threat of the atomic bomb. In the following quote, I have simply replaced the references to the bomb with references to the coronavirus/pandemic. Consider carefully his words:
In one way we think a great deal too much of the [coronavirus]. “How are we to live in an [pandemic] age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me… you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the [coronavirus] was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways… It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by [a pandemic], let that [pandemic] when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about [viruses]. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
— “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948)
Pandemics need not dominate our minds; Jesus should. Our minds must be dominated and captivated by His words and His promises: “It is finished!” Death and its deed-doers are defeated! Christ has triumphed! He is living! Martin Luther captured this confident confession in his famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” written during a time of great trial for Luther (plague, death of a child, intense opposition to the gospel):
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Though these all be gone,
Our vict’ry has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.
This is our confidence in the face of pandemic! Where is God in the midst of this pandemic? He’s not distant: He’s on the cross wearing creation’s cursed corona, dying for the very people whose sin cursed creation in the first place and made pandemics possible.
But, as we highlighted earlier, Scripture points us also to Christ’s resurrection. The cursed Christ is the glorified Christ. He is crowned with the Creator’s glory, a splendid corona that shines for us, a corona, astonishingly, that we will share! Scripture promises: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). And again,
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself (Philippians 3:20-21).
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).
And Paul, writing to pastors, but offering hope to all who follow Christ, writes, “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4).
Where is God? He’s among us wearing creation’s cursed corona for us. He’s exalted for us wearing the Creator’s glorious corona, a crown we will share. Perhaps my friend said it best:
Good Friday and Easter are for me and for you. Christ's Resurrection is our new beginning, our hope, our light our life. It's enough for today and enough for an eternity of tomorrows. The free gift of faith is ours given at Baptism and nourished through the Word and His body and Blood. It's all we have; and it's all we need. It's our everything when in an instant all our earthly props can become nothing.
He loves us, friend. He is for us. May He and His promises captivate our hearts and minds in the midst of this pandemic and even into eternity. – Pastor Conner