By Spencer D Gear PhD
Published in On Line Opinion (30 April 2020)
Thoughtful people can have honest questions about God’s goodness because of COVID-19, the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, Cyclone Tracy (1974), the Nazi Holocaust during World War 2, and the September 11, 2001 disaster in the USA. So …
What makes him a good God?
Everything he does is ‘worthy of approval’. God is the final standard of goodness, holiness and righteousness. It is his very nature – as demonstrated through Scripture and the world around us.
Dr David Jeremiah explained:
God’s goodness conveys His generosity. His goodness means far more than His generosity, but it certainly includes His infinitely generous attitude toward us. By nature, He longs to bring joy and blessing to all His creatures.
The Bible repeatedly presents goodness as a core quality of our Lord.
Jesus said ‘no one is good but God alone’. After he had created everything in the beginning he declared ‘it was very good’. We may find it hard to understand but the truth is that ‘The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made’.
Consider how this is worked out in a Covid situation. We are dependent on God for every breath we breathe. He made plants to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. Human beings mainly breathe in nitrogen and oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. So the God-given cycle continues with God maintaining it.
He created the universe in the beginning and provides light through the planets. The scientific discipline of astronomy has helped us gain a much better understanding of the enormous universe. He sustains the cosmos. Life and death are in his hands. Is this pandemic causing people to consider how short life can be and what lies beyond death? God patiently waits for people to come to him in remorse for their sins against him.
Adam and Eve fouled it up for the whole universe.
When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he gave them the choice to eat from any tree in the garden except ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die’.
They ate from that tree and death and sin entered the human race with disease like we are experiencing. There was increased pain in childbirth, cursing of the ground with thorns and thistles. Its origin is from our first parents who disobeyed God’s command.
What were the consequences of sin-disobedience entering the human race? Romans 8:19-21 explains that creation is waiting for God’s children to be revealed. Until then, creation is subject to God’s curse (including COVID-19, SARS, Ebola, rabies, the plague, and Black Death). ‘Glorious freedom from death and decay’ awaits God’s future kingdom.
Bill Gates, writing in The New England Journal of Medicine, considers ‘Covid-19 has started behaving a lot like the once-in-a-century pathogen we’ve been worried about. I hope it’s not that bad, but we should assume it will be until we know otherwise…. It can kill healthy adults in addition to elderly people with existing health problems…. Covid-19 is transmitted quite efficiently. The average infected person spreads the disease to two or three others — an exponential rate of increase’.
I disagree about the origin. The great harm to creation brought on by Adam and Eve’s sin resulted in the curse of disease for plant and human life. Yes, there may be transmission from animals to human beings but the origin is not with Mother Nature but with the first human beings.
Fadela Chaib, spokesperson for the World Health Organisation, told a news briefing in Geneva: ‘All available evidence suggests the (Covid) virus has an animal origin and is not manipulated or constructed in a lab or somewhere else’.
The media and Mother Nature
Who are the media blaming for the virus?
Common Dreams’ assessment (2 April 2020) had nothing to do with God: ‘The coronavirus may not, in retrospect, prove to be the tipping point that upends human civilization as we know it, but it should serve as a warning that we will experience ever more such events in the future as the world heats up…. In so many ways like these, Mother Nature strikes back when her vital organs suffer harm’.
With the Ebola virus, it is known that villagers became infected when ‘a number who had carried, skinned, chopped or eaten a chimpanzee from the nearby forest’.
Channel 9’s ’60 Minutes’ programme reported in March 2020: ‘“This is Mother Nature’s revenge”: Coronavirus expert calls for shut down of Asia’s wildlife markets…. The Coronavirus is believed to have originated at a wildlife market in China’s Wuhan city’ and ‘it is suspected that the virus crossed to humans from the pangolin’.
What is Mother Nature? It is a personification ‘used for referring to nature and natural forces’ (Macmillan Dictionary 2020. s.v. Mother Nature). This is how the meaning of Mother Nature is skewed, with an example from the Macmillan Dictionary: ‘We hope Mother Nature will save the crops by bringing rain’. This is an example of mistaken identity for God the Father who sends the rain (see Matthew 5:45). The invented Mother Nature has not a skerrick of power to create rain or send the sun.
The stupidity of human beings
It started with the defiance of the first human beings. We know God sends judgments on people and nations for disobedience to his commands. We’ve seen it through Noah’s flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. That’s not where it will end. God has set a day when all people will be judged by Jesus: ‘He will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead’.
‘Scientists from multiple countries have published and analysed genomes of the causative agent, SARS-CoV-2, and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife, as have so many other emerging pathogens’ (ABC News, Brisbane, Qld, 18 April 2020). Would this virus have originated without contact through ‘wet markets’?
This folly is seen in how human beings transmit HIV/AIDS. It is spread through certain body fluids of an infected person. Mostly it is from sexual behaviours and sharing injection needles. However, it can also be proliferated through ‘blood, semen, pre-seminal fluids, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids and breast milk’.
Research by Deo et.al. (2009) confirmed the hypothesis that human beings who cleared the land of native vegetation had a ‘significant effect on climate extremes including the duration and severity of droughts in eastern Australia’. Could we call this an example of raping the land and experiencing the cost?
Don’t expect transparency from a Communist government.
At the beginning of January 2020, the mayor of Wuhan admitted there was a lack of action but when 100 cases had been confirmed by 23 January, ‘city-wide restrictions were enacted’. About that time a whistleblower, Dr Li Wenliang warned colleagues of a Sars-like virus. He was silenced by the authorities and later died of COVID-19.
The Lancet medical journal reported Dr Li’s message was ‘meant to be a private message, he encouraged them to protect themselves from infection. Days later, he was summoned to the Public Security Bureau in Wuhan and made to sign a statement in which he was accused of making false statements that disturbed the public order’.
Wuhan, sub-provincial city, China
BBC News reported on 17 April 2020 that the ‘China outbreak city Wuhan raises death toll by 50%’. On 27 March 2020, Radio Free Asia estimates the death toll in Wuhan is much higher than 2,500. ‘The city’s seven crematoriums should have a capacity of around 2,000 bodies a day if they worked around the clock’.
This isn’t the first time the Communists misrepresented the facts. Remember the Tiananmen Square massacre in June 1989; the persecution of the Muslim Uighurs in western China, and Hong Kong’s core freedoms to continue after the British handing over of the colony in 1997?
China-based media support the deceit of the Chinese regarding the pandemic: (1) According to Chinese authorities, the death toll from COVID-19 in Wuhan (population 11 million) is a little over 2,500. (2) Those figures don’t add up as Caixin investigative journalism discovered ‘one native crematorium within the metropolis was working for 19 hours a day and in simply two days, 5,000 urns [for ashes of the dead] had been delivered to the institution’.
The principles of Marxist atheism are demonstrated in China. COVID-19 has exposed the lie at the heart of Communism. Eminent Soviet dissident and writer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, put it bluntly in his Nobel Laureate lecture for literature. His Soviet experience demonstrated the root of Communist totalitarianism ‘is invariably intertwined with the lie…. Violence cannot conceal itself behind anything except lies, and lies have nothing to maintain them save violence. Anyone who has once proclaimed violence as his method must inexorably choose the lie as his principle’ (Nobel Lecture 1970)
Tragedy sent to shake our priorities
Before COVID-19, how long has it been since you considered the shortness of life and the possibility of dying? Has this loss of income and job caused you to re-evaluate how dependent you are on God’s mercy and compassion? When did you last thank him for the food in the fresh food market or the supermarket?
Over the last 12 months, Australia has been subjected to horrific drought. Where has been the call from Christian politicians and churches for the Lord to break the drought? He has answered our prayers in many areas but March rainfall was below average across the country. ‘Water storage levels in the northern Murray–Darling Basin remain low despite some inflows’. Drought continues in SE NSW.
Reasons why God allows suffering
Pope Francis spoke to God about the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it was not a time of God’s judgment ‘but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others’.
I’m not as confident as he about God’s justice allowing wickedness to continue worldwide without consequences when Scripture states, ‘God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness’. How can we as a nation live with clear consciences before God when we kill 80,000 unborn children a year, legalise euthanasia, brothels and same-sex marriage?
This is God’s recipe for Australian greatness: ‘Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people’. In Isaiah’s day, king Cyrus the Great, was anointed as leader of a non-Jewish nation by Isaiah who confirmed that the Lord forms the light, creates darkness, brings prosperity and creates disaster. ‘I the Lord do these things’ (Isaiah 45:7). So, we could be in the midst of a pandemic created by God to shake up our values to get us on track with the Lord of the universe.
Evidence provided above indicates evil began with Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden. The diseases among human beings, animal and plant life are related to the effects of disobedience.
No person or thing, no tsunami, September 11, or the Qld floods, can ruin the nature and actions of the sovereign will of God. They may cause people to doubt God but we need to get back to the fundamentals of God Himself. ‘I am God, and there is no other’. Will we scoff at Him, blame disasters on Mother Nature, or will we bow before Him who could be the one sending this debacle?
C S Lewis’s words from 70 years ago ring with a contemporary sound if we replace ‘atomic bomb’ with ‘COVID-19’, which I will do in some places. We think too much of COVID-19. How can we live in a pandemic age? We could have lived through it before with the London plague, the Viking raiders from Scandinavia, the age of cancer, STDs, strokes and paralysis, heart attacks, and terrorism.
‘You and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was discovered…. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty’.
If we are going to be destroyed by the atomic bomb and these other calamities, including COVID-19, we ought to be sensible people – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about a pandemic. ‘They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds’ (Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays 1948).
For a case study on suffering, read the Book of Job in the Bible. I have gleaned these principles:
Job 1:8-12 (ERV) gives a powerful message that provides the meaning of suffering for Job:
8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him. He is a good, faithful man. He respects God and refuses to do evil.”
9 Satan answered the Lord, “But Job has a good reason to respect you. 10 You always protect him, his family, and everything he has. You have blessed him and made him successful in everything he does. He is so wealthy that his herds and flocks are all over the country. 11 But if you were to destroy everything he has, I promise you that he would curse you to your face.”
12 The Lord said to Satan, “All right, do whatever you want with anything that he has, but don’t hurt Job himself.”
God used Satan to test a good man to determine if Job would continue to serve the Lord while experiencing horrific suffering. Will we go on living the Christian life in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis? Suffering is meant to test the tenacity of our faith in the Lord. For unbelievers, God can use suffering as a ‘rattling of the cage’ to get them to consider God’s call. It also confirms that in God’s world, bad things happen to good and godly people.
According to Job 1:21 (ERV), Job bowed before God and said: ‘“When I was born into this world, I was naked and had nothing. When I die and leave this world, I will be naked and have nothing. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of the Lord!” In other words, no matter what happened to Job (and he lost everything), the Lord God was sovereign and he accepted God’s actions in his life.
There are about 25 ‘why?’ questions in the Book of Job. Job wanted to know why God did this to him. No answer came from God, but Job continued to serve Him.
Job stood strong in the middle of this atrocity:
10 But God knows me.
He is testing me and will see that I am as pure as gold.
11 I have always lived the way God wants.
I have never stopped following him.
12 I always obey his commands.
I love the words from his mouth more than I love my food.
13 “But God never changes,
and who can stand against him?
He does anything he wants.
14 He will do to me what he planned,
and he has many other plans for me (Job 23:10-14 ERV).
Imagine you were in Job’s shoes: horrific loss and suffering beyond imagination and you got this message: ‘Then he said to humans, “To fear and respect the Lord is wisdom. To turn away from evil is understanding”’ (Job 28:28 ERV). So, COVID-19 suffering is the Lord’s wisdom that we need to respect. It is wise to turn away from evil to bring understanding. This is profound wisdom from the Lord, through Job’s ministry: Suffering sent by God has a purpose to make us wise and bring understanding. That’s a higher knowledge than the esteemed Cambridge Dictionary.
The human race doesn’t have all the answers about suffering. Job gives us a peep into God’s view. However, Job was so angry with what was happening to him that he cursed the day he was born:
I wish the day I was born would be lost forever.
I wish the night they said, ‘It’s a boy!’ had never happened.
4 I wish that day had remained dark.
I wish God above had forgotten that day
and not let any light shine on it (Job 3:3-4 ERV)
Will COVID-19 cause more people to think about how quickly people have died across the world? Will they seek God and his revelation that happens after death? Is eternal salvation on their minds?
(image courtesy OCHA)
Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 April 2020.