Well, we’re all sequestered and quarantined and hunkered down because of this horrid corona virus spreading across the world. Everyone in any kind of ministry is rushing to publish something about it because it is seriously affecting everyone on earth. Two questions come to mind for me concerning this corona virus. I want to look at the easy question first, and then look at the difficult question.
The Easy Question: The Problem of Evil
The first question is, God, why are you letting this happen?? If God is Love, and God is Omnipotent and All-Powerful, there shouldn’t be such a thing as the corona virus! There are four possible answers to this question:
- God is Love, but He is not omnipotent, so there is nothing He can do about it, even though He would like to.
- God is Omnipotent, but He is not really loving, so He doesn’t really care about our suffering. He has bigger problems to worry about and we don’t matter to Him.
- God is neither Love nor is He omnipotent. This is the easy answer of atheism. There is evil and suffering in the world, therefore there must not be a governing intelligence.
- God really is Love, and God really is Omnipotent, and there is some other dynamic at work which will come out in the end.
I believe that the Cross of Christ is God’s answer to the problem of evil. To be clear, I believe that natural suffering, such as people who live through or die in earthquakes and tsunamis and pandemics, is horrible, but such suffering does not incur the additional guilt of the sinful evil that we choose. We all have tremendous compassion for the person who suffers from cancer, but the person whose sin brings suffering down upon their own head, we count it as justice. The Cross of Christ is an answer not only to the horror of guiltless natural suffering, but also to the guilty suffering of the sinner.
The Cross of Christ is the finger of God written on human history with His own blood, telling us many things about this central question. First it says, God hates evil and sin and suffering. Grace doesn’t work because God ignores it all – it works because He has achieved justice through the cross. God has declared in the death of His only begotten Son that he hates the suffering we go through. He hates the sin by which we ourselves suffer and by which we harm others. He hates the cloud of guilt and shame and hopelessness under which we all labor. He hates the fear and pain and suffering with which we are all, to one degree or another, burdened with.
But He also declares that He does not solve this by eliminating it. He did not eliminate it even for Himself. He instead has entered into our suffering and suffered along with us, because according to the Scripture, we have fellowship with Him in our sufferings. He has shown that he can take the worst thing to ever happen, the unjust execution of the one and only begotten Son of God, and use it to redeem the whole world. In the end, He will cause all of our stories of suffering and sorrow – even despite our guilt in the matter – to turn out for good. This was what He did with his own Son’s death, and since His Son is “the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of his nature,” (Hebrews 1:3) we know that God wasn’t just like this once. He is always like this. God is always ready to sacrificially love you, to give everything for you, to redeem your life from the pit.
So this is God’s answer to the corona virus. If you – God forbid – should catch the disease, and if you end up in the hospital because of it, and if you are on your deathbed because of it, know this: God has not abandoned you. Your death is not the end of the story. Your suffering will never be for nothing. He is going to turn this around for some great good, some grand saga of triumphant victory on your behalf. This is His declaration in the cross of Christ. This is His answer for the problem of suffering and evil in your life.
The Harder Question: Social Distancing
The social distancing we are being asked to practice as a defense against the rapid spread of this disease brings up a very difficult and important question for me. If we are to be socially distant because of this, shouldn’t we be socially distant for just about everything?
What do I mean? When we come together for communion, it is a scandal every way you look at it. I love the practice of the sacrament where everyone shares a sip of wine from the same chalice. Isn’t there a chance that we’ll share the same disease? I think it is important that we be really straightforward about this: of course there is a chance we’ll share the same disease! This is the picture that is intended. But isn’t there a chance that some alcoholics in recovery will be tempted to relapse because of this wine? Of course there is a danger of that! God is offering unlimited acceptance and pure eternal forgiveness to proven evil sinners, addicts every one. Community is dangerous and frightening and we really ought always to distance ourselves from everyone else at all times. It’s worse than any virus. We’re all sinners! It’s very catching. One guy got it in a garden a long time ago, and now every human who has ever lived has caught it, and it has a 100% morbidity rate (Romans 5:12-14).
But communion is not something we do. Communion is something Jesus offers to us. On our own, under the law, if we touch a leper, the disease spreads to us. But when a leper approaches Jesus to ask if He is willing, Jesus says, of course I am willing! And His power is greater, His love prevails. He is saying, through giving His own body and blood for us, that He is willing to demonstrate His own love for us at our very worst possible state. We do not gather at the communion table in celebration of our good works. We gather at the communion table as God-killing cannibals, evil and noxious and horribly infectious. We really ought to stay away from one another. Corona virus is the very very least of it.
But God has saved us from our isolation – He has not just saved YOU. God in Christ has saved US. And this is so important! He has removed the righteous judgment of the law as the center of our relationships, which can only serve to drive us away from each other and to isolate us further. He has replaced it with the righteousness of GOD, who has demonstrated His own love towards us, in that while we were yet wicked and evil, He didn’t just touch us. He died for us.
God has considered that we, together, in community, are more important than His own life. God in His amazing humility apparently thinks that we are more important than He Himself is. Perhaps in His great love for us, He has gone crazy. But this is God, the progenitor of all things that exist, all powerful and all-loving. I have nothing to bring to the table except my sin, and my danger, and my extremely misguided pride. He brings love and mercy and genuine sacrifice to the table, and offers me to eat and drink without limit.
I am astonished and undone. Praise be to God forever and ever and ever. Amen.
[Luk 5:12-13 NASB] 12 While He was in one of the cities, behold, [there was] a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” 13 And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately the leprosy left him.