By John LennoxTuesday 28 Apr 2020
If there is a creator God, he is by definition ultimately responsible for the existence of viruses.
Yet why do they have to exist at all? Surely it is not enough to say — as some might — that the coronavirus pandemic is just biology doing what biology does? Surely there must be more to it than that?
Granted, the science shows us that most viruses are beneficial and some are essential to life, but why do there have to be pathogens that wreak havoc? The key question for theists is this: could God not have made a world without viral pathogens?
This brings us to a whole class of similar questions. Couldn’t God have made electricity that was not dangerous, or fire that did not burn? Couldn’t God have made an organic world without predation? Couldn’t God have made life that never went wrong and viruses that were always beneficial? Couldn’t God have made creatures that never did wrong (after all, though coronavirus is serious, it is not going to kill as many people this year as other people will)?
The World and its People are Deeply Flawed
It is surely obvious that there are deep flaws both in human nature and in physical nature. The world is full of both violent and immoral human behaviour and earthquakes, tsunamis, cancers and the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, we can debate forever what a good, loving and all-powerful God should, could or might have done. But experience shows that none of us has ever been satisfied with the outcome of that particular discussion.
The reason for this is that – no matter what we say – we are where we are, and this is how the world is. We are all faced with the kind of mixed picture presented by a ruined cathedral – with all the beauty of the opening of a flower to the sun, and all the ugliness of a coronavirus destroying the human respiratory system.
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As a mathematician, I am used to the fact that when we have tried, sometimes for many years, to solve a question without success, we begin to think that we might be better off looking at a different question.
“If we accept — as we must — that we are in a universe that presents us with a picture of both biological beauty and deadly pathogens, is there any evidence that there is a God whom we can trust with the implications, and with our lives and futures?”
And there is another question we can ask. If we accept – as we must – that we are in a universe that presents us with a picture of both biological beauty and deadly pathogens, is there any evidence that there is a God whom we can trust with the implications, and with our lives and futures?
We need convincing evidence of the goodness of God’s character if we are to trust him. I would therefore ask you at this point to listen to the core of Christian teaching – whether you are familiar with it or whether it is new to you – and to try to understand it, before concluding that belief in God is inconsistent with the existence of the coronavirus, or any other pandemic, disease or fracture in the natural world.
The Heart of the Christian Message
Christianity claims that the man Jesus Christ is God incarnate – the Creator become human. At the heart of its message is the death of Jesus Christ on a cross just outside Jerusalem. The question at once arises: if he is God incarnate, what is he doing on a cross? Well, it at the very least means that God has not remained distant from human pain and suffering but has himself experienced it.
The Bible teaches, though, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We have none of us kept our own moral standards, let alone God’s; the Ten Commandments tell us that all too clearly. Therefore, we all need a solution to the problem of the sin and guilt that, whether we know it or not, comes between us and God.
“If he is God incarnate, what is he doing on a cross? Well, it at the very least means that God has not remained distant from human pain and suffering but has himself experienced it.”
Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, those who repent of (which means “turn away from”) their own evil and their own contribution to human pain and suffering – those who trust Jesus as their Lord – receive forgiveness; peace with the personal God who created and upholds the universe; a new life with new powers; and the promise of a world where suffering will be no more. Here Christianity does not compete with any other philosophy or religion – for the simple reason that no one else offers us forgiveness and peace with God that can be known in this life and endures eternally.
A Christian, then, is not a person who has solved the problem of suffering, but one who has come to love and trust the God who has suffered for them.
John Lennox is an Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College. He is also an Associate Fellow of the Said Business School and an Adjunct Lecturer for The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. He is particularly interested in the interface of science, philosophy and theology. Lennox has been part of numerous public debates defending the Christian faith against well known atheists including Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Peter Singer. He is the author of a number of books, including Can Science Explain Everything? His latest book Where Is God in a Coronavirus World? was released on April 13.
Are you wanting to explore more? You could try…
- John Lennox Releases New Book ‘Looking For Answers in a Coronavirus World’
- Our Faith & Inspiration page that has series, articles, podcasts and more
- Our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information, Resources and Encouragement page