The coronavirus epidemic has disrupted our lives, shut down the economy, and killed thousands of people. If God is sovereign and good, some are asking, why doesn’t He stop it?
There are often, at the heart of such questions, misconceptions about both God and the world.
The prevailing view of God today is that of “moralistic therapeutic deism.” God is loving and good, which means that He just wants us to be happy. He can help us with our problems and wants us to be loving and good too. But He is not particularly demanding or judgmental, and He basically leaves us alone.
This view is rampant among teenagers, research has shown, but it can also be found among contemporary theologians who insist that God is so good that He would never condemn anyone to hell or punish His Son for other people’s sins. But while this sentimental view of God seemingly puts Him in a very positive light, it makes Him a straw man for the arguments of atheists, who contend that such a being is incompatible with the real world, with its suffering, evils, and viral epidemics. Indeed, the deity of moralistic therapeutic deism does not exist.
The God who does exist, according to Scripture, is quite different. He is holy. That is, He is infinite, transcendent, and glorious—far above us and beyond our comprehension. He is to be feared. To be sure, He is good, but this righteousness manifests itself in a terrifying wrath against sin. And yet, hidden behind His judgment, as Martin Luther put it, is His love. Both are equally unfathomable.
God is, indeed, powerful. He created and continues to sustain everything that exists. His sovereignty extends to the least detail of His creation. He clothes the lilies of the field. He feeds the birds and attends to every sparrow that falls (Matt. 6:26–28; 10:29). He gives food to the young lion when it springs for the kill (Ps. 104:21). It follows that the coronavirus exists and is sustained according to God’s sovereign plan for creation.
If God is more complicated than the popular view, the same can be said of the world. In its present condition, the world is not supposed to be a secure, trouble-free, and always happy place. This is a fallen world because of sin. It is a realm of death, transience, and futility. This is a place where the devil roams and where we suffer, including from diseases like the coronavirus.
Is this God’s will? Yes. And yet, sin, by definition, is a violation of God’s revealed will. So even though the sinful world defies God’s revealed will, it is God’s sovereign will to sustain this world. And it is good for us that He does; otherwise, we would perish along with everything else that is evil.
Why doesn’t God just make everything good and perfect? He did—in the paradise that we rejected—and He will, in the eternal paradise that He has prepared for His people. In the meantime, we must live in this imperfect world, which in itself is a manifestation of God’s wrath against sin. But this is also where God redeems us from that sin.
God Himself entered this fallen world in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, who subjected Himself to its sin and death in order to save us. And this is the realm where those whom He has saved are called to do battle with sin—to resist temptation, oppose evil, do good works, and experience trials and tribulations that will strengthen their faith and prepare them for eternal life.
The fallen world is a hard place to live. And yet, God’s sovereignty mitigates that world. Though the bad things that happen are in accord with His sovereign will, He continues to love His creation. The beauties, satisfactions, and pleasures of life are the deeper signs of God’s sovereignty.
In the Bible, plagues and pestilence come from the hand of God as signs of His wrath against sin. That is, they are not simply punishments for individual or collective transgressions; rather, they depict God’s judgment and also His plan of salvation.
The plagues of Egypt afflicted Pharaoh and all of his nation, except for those who dwelt in homes that would be marked by the blood of the lamb (Ex. 7–12). Later, God punished His rebellious people by sending a plague, whereupon the high priest Aaron took incense from the altar of sacrifice and “made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped” (Num. 16:47–48). When King David sinned, the Lord let David choose his punishment: famine, war, or pestilence. David chose the latter, saying, “Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man” (2 Sam. 24:14). The angel of the plague slew seventy thousand people, prompting King David’s prayer of repentance and intercession: “Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house” (v. 17). God stopped the plague at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (v. 18), which would become the site of the temple (2 Chron. 3:1). These incidents are all prophecies of the person and the work of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the healer of plagues (Luke 7:21). Matthew comments on one of His healings, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases’” (Matt. 8:17). The reference is to Isaiah 53:4: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Those Hebrew words for suffering carry with them the meaning of sickness. Thus, the second person of the Trinity became incarnate in this sin-sick world, and, in His sovereign power, took into Himself the wrath due to sin and the suffering of this plague-ridden world.
In light of God’s sovereignty, catastrophes like the coronavirus should remind us to “lay up” for ourselves “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19–20). We should meet them with repentance (Luke 13:5), cling to Christ in faith (Ps. 63:8), pray for deliverance (Matt. 6:13), and live out our faith—particularly in our vocations of work, family, church, and citizenship—in love and service to our neighbors (Matt. 22:36–40). And because of God’s sovereignty, we can stand on His promise: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).