Gene Edward Veith:
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.