Listen: LifeWords Q&A Podcast, Episode 85
COVID-19 has disrupted much of the world, killed thousands, sparked a torrent of conspiracy theories—and got many people questioning God: “If he can do anything, why doesn’t he end the Pandemic?” In this episode of LifeWords Q&A, David Reay and Clare Bruce ponder some possible answers.
CB: God can do anything right? The Bible says that with God all things are possible. So if that’s true, why are we still in the middle of a pandemic? Why won’t he just step in and fix this thing?
…This question that we’re looking at today’s obviously very current; there’s never been a pandemic quite like COVID-19 in the world’s history. But really, this is an age old question, isn’t it? I mean, people have been asking this in various versions for millennia.
DR: Yes, that’s right. I mean, the fact that COVID features in this question is really because that’s the pressing issue at the moment. But there’s many other pressing issues in the past tsunamis, earthquakes, world wars. And of course, there’s no easy answers for that. Anyone who pretends that there’s an easy answer to all this is probably providing the wrong answer.
But I just want to make a clarification Clare, that I think it’s important for people who talk about God as being all-powerful. I think as soon as we clear that up a little bit, I think it becomes a little bit easier to adopt a better perspective. You see, God, in one way, can’t do everything. Some people say “oh, because God’s God, God could do everything.”
I say, “He can’t make two and two equal five, he can’t make a square circle, because once it becomes a circle, it’s a circle not a square sort of thing. And he can’t, for example, refuse to forgive a penitent sinner”. Just imagine if we said God could do anything. What that means is God considers to be God!
So there are limits to his power and how I approach this problem, the existence of evil and injustice and all this sort of thing, is that God is choosing voluntarily to limit his power, so as to allow those who live in this world to have proper freedom. And that has good consequences, and it has some not so good consequences.
If human beings were all perfect, it’d be absolutely fine, we’d all go along sailing along merrily and doing our own thing and everything’s fine, but we’re not perfect. And God allowing us freedom, allows us to live out those imperfections and suffer some of the consequences of them.
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CB: What would you say to those people who say, “Well, COVID’s not my fault. I didn’t start it.” You know what what I mean? COVID’s a disease that came from bats or whatever it is like, what are your thoughts?
DR: Well, that’s right. I mean, just because a natural disaster happens or a pandemic happens, does not mean that it was due to some specific act on the part of one specific person. Now, sometimes we do bring specific things on ourselves, through our carelessness. But what we’re talking about here is, us suffering the consequences of what we might call general human imperfection.
COVID started, I would suspect, however specifically it started, it started because we are not perfect people. We are not living in a perfect or healthy world. And as a result of that, the consequences spread throughout the world. It’s not as if when natural disasters come or when pandemics come, that only the bad guys get punished. I mean, if that were the case, we wouldn’t have a problem. The problem is the good people, the people who in a sense are innocent, suffering the consequences as well. And so I don’t think it’s a direct cause effect. I don’t think, “Oh, this person’s done this wrong thing, so that person suffers”. You know, we live in a world where sadly, we suffer the consequences of what we might call general imperfection. When Adam and Eve decided to go their own way at the beginning of human history, they, in a sense, tore down the whole world with us. And we’re still suffering the consequences.
CB: Yes, the ripple effect is still going on. I had a thought as I was pondering this question earlier in the week, and that is that there are a couple of different kinds of people who tend to ask this style of question. Well, I mean, probably lots, but I’m just going to generalise.
One – there’s those who do believe in a powerful God but then wonder why he fixes some problems and not others. But then also Secondly, there are those who aren’t believers at all – atheists, for example, who are trying to prove a point that the world is going down the drain, and this proves there is no God.
And I recently read something by a really good Christian apologist named Vince Vitale. And he pointed out that atheists have a really big problem when they make this argument, because, by pointing to the problem of evil, they’re agreeing that evil is actually an objective reality in the first place. So they’re agreeing that things like murder and rape are wrong, for example, they’re agreeing that a virus wiping out thousands of people is bad and sad, and somehow, you know, messed up. And by agreeing with these, they’re not being very good atheists, because in a truly atheist world, you know, it should be neither here nor there whether there’s suffering, because death and pain and destruction are just a neutral outcome in a chaotic world. And we should all grow up and stop crying about it sort of thing.
DR: Right. So what’s happening is those thoroughgoing atheists are really claiming a certain set of objective absolute values, when in fact we have to say well, “Where are you getting those objective values from?” Thoroughgoing atheism, I think is so absurd and illogical. It’s far more honest to be an agnostic and to say, “Look, I really don’t know the answer to this”, or “I really do have a problem with a good God allowing these things to happen”. But to say, “A good God couldn’t possibly allow these things to happen” is, as you say, appealing to some sort of law above ourselves, some overarching principle, and we have to ask where that comes from.
And the other thing about the thoroughgoing atheist, is, what’s the advantage of giving up on God? I mean, as a Christian, yes, I have problems with this situation. But if I give up my belief in God, because of this, I’m going from the frying pan into the fire.
And as far as Christians feeling well, you know, “Why doesn’t a powerful God sort of step in” and so on – I think, as I said before, God voluntarily limits his power. And as for that subsidiary question you touched on “Why does God intervene in some things, but not in others? For example, even in the COVID pandemic, why are some people getting off fairly lightly and some people suffering badly?”
I don’t think it’s because one lot of people are bad and the other people are good. The simple answer to that is, we don’t know.
But we’re not living in a world which is thoroughly ordered and micromanaged by a God – who certainly is the source of right and wrong. What we’ve got to understand Clare, not only in COVID, but other things is, that God’s sovereign control over his world is not a tight micro-managing of everything that happens. Once God starts intervening in every single example of human imperfection, you’ve lost the freedom of humanity.
God as it were, steps back. And it sounds crude, but he allows things to proceed. And I think what we’ve got to do with things like COVID and other things, we’ve got to see God’s sovereignty, if you use that term, in a few different ways.
I certainly believe, number one, God will sustain us, if we call out to him. And number two, God can work good out of it. If only we will discern and look for what is good. Number three, God will have the last word in this. How that will work out, I don’t know. But I think that’s where I see God’s sovereign control all this.
CB: So it’s a really good point to see we’re just talking about God, not sort of being a micromanager. It brought to mind the idea that God has given us agency to represent Him and His kingdom in the world. And so wherever it’s in our power, he places on us the opportunity to make the difference and to pray and to do good works and to love one another and to heal and to, you know, to do all that we can to bring his kingdom to the earth.
So I think sometimes when we say “why won’t God do this”, we forget that we can, actually we’re called to partner with him in seeing his good spread on the earth.
DR: That’s right. We don’t know all the answers to these questions, we scratch our heads and puzzle and shake our fists at God, all that sort of thing. Because certain things aren’t clear. But you’ve put your finger on something very important Clare, that one thing is clear is, we are always to help those in particular need. Bear one another’s burdens, be at the forefront of sacrificial caring to people. So while I think it’s perfectly valid to wrestle with the questions we’re wrestling with today, we can’t be paralysed by them and sit in our chairs in front of our computers or in front of our books and say, “Why God, why God, why God?”
I don’t think for one thing we’ll find the definitive answer, number one, but number two, I think God says as you’ve touched on, “Unfortunately, you won’t know all the answers now, but go and do the things that you know are clearly commanded”.
Despite all the stuff that you don’t know, what you do know is that, as you’ve said, care for other people. And this can become a means by which a bad thing like COVID can lead to some good in the sense that Christians can be seen to be expressing that love which God has commanded them to show to others.
CB: And just lastly, as well, when we don’t sort of see things being solved overnight. It doesn’t mean we stop praying, does it?
DR: No, no, at all Christian people are praying every day that this epidemic be wiped out. Because I believe that he can do it.
CB: It’s still a good prayer to pray.
DR: Yeah. But I don’t think he’ll do it by sort of waving a magic wand. I think he will do it through what do you describe human agency – vaccinations, proper social controls, and all this sort of thing. So I think we pray number one that this COVID pandemic go. Number two, we pray that we discern the best ways forward in terms of caring for people. And there’s people like me who lead churches, “What’s the best way forward? What is God saying to us through this that we may learn some good positive things through it?”
So we say, “God, please take this away”. It’s almost like the Gethsemane prayer of Jesus, isn’t it? “Lord, make this cup pass from me. But in the end, your will be done. Lord, show me this day, how I should properly behave in this challenging environment and how I can best serve those who are really struggling.”
CB: Awesome. Thank you, David, it’s been another good chat. This has been LifeWords and I hope that that’s been as helpful for you as it has for me. I love these conversations where we struggle with the difficult questions of the day and come up with some good ways forward.
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