When life seems predictable and under control, it is easy to put off asking the big questions, or to be satisfied with simplistic answers. But life is not that way right now — not for any of us.
It is not surprising that, whatever your faith or belief system, the big questions of life are breaking through to the surface, demanding attention.
Coronavirus confronts us all with the problem of pain and suffering. This, for most of us, is one of life’s hardest problems. Experience rightly makes us suspicious of simplistic “answers” and facile attempts to come to terms with it.
What I want to try to do here, then, is to avoid those kinds of “answers”, and to think with you, as honestly as I can, through some of the ideas that have helped me to wrestle with these difficult questions as coronavirus has begun to change everything.
Our attitude to these deep issues is influenced by our worldview – the framework, built up over the years, which contains the thinking and experience that each of us brings to bear on the big questions about life, death and the meaning of existence. We all have such a framework, however much or little we have thought about it.
James Sire, in a very helpful book entitled The Universe Next Door, points out that there are essentially only three major families of worldviews. First, there is the theistic worldview, held by the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This teaches that there is a God who created and upholds the world and who created human beings in his image. (Notice that I said “families” of worldviews: there are crucial variants within each category, as any Jew, Christian or Muslim who takes their holy book seriously will tell you.)
Second, there is the polar opposite of the theistic approach – the atheistic worldview, which holds that this universe (or multiverse) is all that there is; there is no supernatural dimension. Third, there is the pantheistic worldview, which merges the concepts of God and the world into one impersonal entity.
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I am also well aware that there are people who take a sceptical or agnostic perspective. But no-one is sceptical or agnostic about everything, and so deep down most people fit somewhere into one of the three worldviews just mentioned.
I fit into this picture, too. I have a worldview. I am a Christian, and I shall therefore try to make clear [in my new book, Where is God in a Coronavirus World?] why I think that Christianity has something to say about the issue of natural disasters like coronavirus – something that is not to be found elsewhere. Perhaps you will agree with me, and perhaps not. But I hope you will end this book understanding why Christians are able to speak confidently about hope and to feel a sense of peace, even in a world of uncertainty in which death has suddenly loomed closer.
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 13 April.
Are you wanting to explore more? You could try…
- John Lennox — Can the Coronavirus Be Reconciled With the Existence of a Loving God?
- Our Faith & Inspiration page that has series, articles, podcasts and more
- Our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information, Resources and Encouragement page