Did God CAUSE the Coronavirus, Suffering, and Death?
Many if not nearly everyone is asking the question "Did God cause the coronavirus? And if He did not directly cause it, why did He allow it?"
Of course, some of us are not asking that question since we have settled in our minds to trust Christ in the face of what we don't understand. But do we have a maturing child asking this question? Is a friend throwing this question at us: "Why doesn't God stop this!?"
My daughter Joy commented to me, “Dad, many may not be asking this question, but maybe one of their kids is, and we should applaud such questions, not fear them or give pat answers. Now, more than ever, their families have the time and space to sit and think about God. 'Is He good? Does He love us? Or, is He sending viruses because we are all sinners who should be punished?”
Here's one reply to this issue that I humbly offer. We cannot answer why bad things happen to good people, but the Bible unequivocally declares what in fact God causes.
In Romans 8:28, the apostle Paul says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Notice the key word "causes.” In short, Paul is saying that God causes bad things to work together for good.
Is that an acceptable statement to some people? No. Many want a perfect world where good things happen to good people, so they take the position that God should not allow bad stuff to come to good people.
I empathize. I feel this longing and offense like they do. The sorrow I have felt over the years cannot be measured. For instance, one of my best friends, who was president of Denver Seminary, called me years ago saying, "Emerson, pray for me. I have a brain tumor." He was dead in a few months. He wrote a pamphlet called "The Unexpected Journey." He had never expected his life to go this way.
Elsewhere in Romans 8 we observe a whole lot of bad things coming to good and godly people. So bad, in fact, that in verse 36 of his letter Paul quoted Psalm 44:22, which says, “But for Your sake we are killed all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” Sheep to be slaughtered! That’s evil.
Many Christians during that time were feeling separated from the love of Christ. They were feeling condemned. They were feeling overwhelmed by either “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword” (Romans 8:35).
And yet, Paul tells the church in Rome that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God.” Even when “all things” includes the types of tribulations they were going through that most of us could never even imagine ever facing during our lifetime.
Today, however, we are going through the tribulation of a pandemic, the coronavirus called COVID-19. And many are asking, did God cause this pandemic? Did He create the coronavirus? Did He intentionally orchestrate the events that first allowed such a contagious and harmful virus to jump from animal to human in China late last year?
No, we would not say that God caused these bad things, per se. We would not say that God caused a pandemic, given we label it evil since some scientists recognize the good that some viruses do (https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev-vi-04-071217-100011).
Yes, God allowed the coronavirus but we must be cautious in declaring “God is bad for causing this wicked pandemic!” Instead, we need to focus on Romans 8:28 that promises us that He "causes” all things—including the coronavirus—to work together for good moving forward on the heels of evil.
With a sad heart, I agree with those frustrated by God not telling us why He allowed this worldwide pandemic. But I have personally tried to accept the reality that God won’t provide to me all of His reasons for allowing the coronavirus to affect certain people and result in their suffering. Painfully, I must live with some unanswered questions. What I had to ask myself was this: Can I and will I trust what God says about His love and causing all things to work together for good though He remains quiet on why He permitted the sickness to happen in the first place? I have chosen, as have most Christians, to trust God’s promise to show His care and comfort to us in the midst of our sickness and suffering.
In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul describes God as “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (vv. 3-4). In this passage, Paul indirectly reveals to us the fact that afflictions do indeed come to us, but he does not answer why that affliction came to us in the first place. The question we all love to ask—why?—was not Paul’s focus. Instead the apostle’s aim was to focus on God’s comfort coming to us in our affliction. In effect, the apostle Paul is letting his reader know that he is not going to get into the causes nor into why God allowed the affliction, but he boldly proclaims that God will show up in the affliction.
Many years ago as a young man, an oak tree fell on the future governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, as he was jogging, leaving him paralyzed and in a wheelchair for life. Recently someone said to him, "God put you in a wheelchair, Greg." Abbot humbly but firmly replied, “God didn’t cause the accident that left me paralyzed, but He did help me persevere over that enormous challenge.” He then said, “I’m a testament that the glory of God is revealed by a young man’s back being broken in half and still rising up to be governor of Texas. With God all is possible.”
All of us must acknowledge the mystery of evil that theologians and philosophers have tried to explain. None of us are going to be able to answer why evil comes to good people in the first place. Yes, we might say some things like, “An evil murderer killed your godly friend because the murderer was robbing him and the robbery turned into murder when your friend fought back.” But why did God allow this robber to pick your friend in the first place? We can’t answer that, though many have tried and will continue to do so, with futile efforts.
The Old Testament books of Ecclesiastes and Job address this struggle in dealing with the age-old “why?” question: Why do bad things come to good people, and why do good things come to bad people? Why does God permit these things? In Ecclesiastes 8:14, King Solomon wrote, “There is futility which is done on the earth, that is, there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility.” I love the simple phrasing the NCV gives to this same passage: “Sometimes something useless happens on earth. Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. I say that this is also useless.”
And the entire premise of Job is about unthinkable tragedies happening to a man described as “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:1). God does not cause these tragedies that strip Job of basically every good thing in his life, but the Scripture does not hide the fact that He indeed allowed them to happen.
But let’s be honest. For many, this distinction does not help them feel better concerning why something terrible happened. Because while most people are willing to conclude that God doesn’t cause evil, that becomes a moot point in that He definitely allowed the evil, electing not to stop it. He did not circumvent the coronavirus. The rape. World War II. The Spanish flu that killed fifty million people. Satan attacking Job. In their view, since God allowed it, He is responsible. After all, if He’s all-loving and all-powerful, should He not have stopped the bad stuff based on His divinity? But because He didn’t, many ask, is He truly an all-loving and all-powerful God?
They begin to wonder that perhaps He is just one of these things. Maybe He’s all-powerful and could’ve stopped it but because He’s not all-loving He didn’t care to. Or, maybe He’s all-loving but He’s not all-powerful; therefore, He couldn’t stop it, though He wanted to.
These are the types of issues that have been talked about for centuries. As Solomon concludes in Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” During this coronavirus quarantine, no one is asking any question that hasn’t been asked before.
However, I still affirm the asking of these questions. They are some of the most profound questions any human being can ask. We must ask them. The psalms, most of which were written by King David, are filled with “why?” questions for God.
“Why do You stand afar off, O Lord? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?” (10:1).
“Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” (42:9).
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning” (22:1).
Perhaps you recognized this last one, which is what Jesus screamed out to His Father from the cross. And if Jesus can ask why, then certainly we can as well. It is not unchristlike to ask, “Why?” The Christ Himself asked, “Why?”
But what will we do if put in a position to live with no answers to our satisfaction? In my opinion, we must live in the tension of not knowing all the answers to the causes and allowances. We must live with some unanswered questions.
How many years did the Old Testament Joseph ask why? “Why, God, did You let my brothers throw me into a pit and then sell me into slavery? Why did You let them fake my death so that my dad could not come find me? Why did You let me get thrown into prison for so many years for doing the right thing and not sleeping with my boss’s wife?”
As Joseph was only human, I’m sure he must’ve asked God why many times during the middle decades of his life, most of which were spent either as a slave or a prisoner. But fast-forward to the end of his story in Genesis, and we find his unforgettable statement of faith that he said to his brothers: "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).
There is no doubt that God “caused all things to work together for good” in Joseph’s life.
And of course, we cannot forget the first “Good Friday,” of which we are celebrating this week. On this “good” day, Jesus was beaten and scourged, then crucified between two thieves. Certainly Jesus’ disciples, who themselves opted to hide in the upper room so as to not suffer the same fate of their friend and Savior, considered this to be an incredibly “bad” Friday.
Yet God “causes all things to work together for good.” And as much as we celebrate Easter Sunday, Jesus’ miraculous resurrection would not be “good” for us had He not suffered the pain of the cross as He did, taking upon Himself the punishment of our sins. As the prophet Isaiah wrote, Jesus “was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Yes, that was a “Good Friday” for us indeed, no matter how it looked to the disciples at the time.
I believe that we can confidently say based on the Bible that God "causes all things to work together for good” to those good people looking to Him in the midst of their pandemic. Though we can certainly ask, we may never get the why (did this happen, beyond the raw science about viruses), but we absolutely can learn who (is still sovereignly working all things out for good) and what God promises to provide for us (His care, comfort, and direction in our bad times moving forward).
And even more, we can know how it is possible we can have such a relationship with the Father. It's because of the punishment for our sins that Jesus took upon Himself on that first Good Friday, which at the time seemed anything but good.