A friend asked me this morning “Where is God in the pandemic? Did God create the coronavirus?”
It’s a good question. There is always the possibility that the coronavirus was made in a bio-weapons lab. That would certainly be the short answer to “Did God create the coronavirus?”
However, most people dismiss that answer, opting for the version that the virus is of natural origin. If so, “Did God create the coronavirus?” is a good question. To answer the question we have to look at the big picture. We begin by positing the belief that God created the whole world with all its complexity. So yes, God did create the coronavirus. But he also created mosquitos, rattlesnakes, grizzly bears and tapeworms.
Everything in the created order is morally neutral. They are neither good nor bad, but are good or bad depending on the circumstances. A rattlesnake uses its venom to kill and consume his victim. A tiger stalks his prey. These are natural functions. Good for the rattlesnake and the tiger, but not good for the mouse or the antelope.
Like bacteria, viruses are neither objectively good or evil. This article explains some of the science about viruses and why they are a useful and necessary part of the immune system. The problem is therefore not in the thing itself, but in the circumstances. If we lived a more natural life, remaining local, not traveling, eating home grown food and avoiding all the artificial junk we put in our bodies we would be healthier. The bacteria and viruses that exist locally would work to strengthen our immune system and epidemics would be far more unlikely.
This being the case, God can’t be blamed for the pandemic. The fact is, we don’t live naturally. We travel. We eat stuff we shouldn’t. We cram our bodies full of medications that have all sorts of side effects. We live in cramped, unhygenic cities. We are lazy, obese and do dumb stuff like smoke and do drugs. It’s interesting that the Spanish flu pandemic came right after the First World War when so many people were traveling around the world in an unprecedented way. This is not to say we are to blame for the pandemic as if somebody planned it. Its just to make the point that if we lived naturally we would probably not be as prone to viral infections.
But, in saying that we are corporately responsible for the unfortunate pandemic, it is also true that God has given us the brains to figure out how to deal with it most effectively. We have learned about bacteria and viruses and learned how to produce antibiotics and vaccines. We create unforeseen problems, but we are also smart enough to very often learn how to cope with them. If God is to be blamed for the virus, he has to take credit for creating us with brains to deal with the problems.
A virus, therefore, is part of nature that is 0bjective and neutral. The rattlesnake, the tiger and the virus are neither morally good or evil, but the effects of their existence and interaction with the world around them may cause suffering to individuals who are (if you like) in the wrong place at the wrong time. The same might be said about earthquakes, volcanoes and other natural disasters. All creation is in an ebb and flow. You might get caught in a rip tide and be swept out to sea to be drowned or eaten by sharks. The rip tide and the sharks are not evil, but it is an unhappy thing to be caught in them.
This begs the question, however, “Why did God create a world that has such traps in it in the first place? Could he not have created a world without earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, man eating tigers and nasty viruses?”
That’s the tough one. Of course God could have created a world that was practically perfect in every way, and we must believe that his creation was indeed perfectly done and perfectly ordered. However, that creation was broken. It was broken by something called pride. Pride, in all its forms is a rebellion against God and (by extension) his perfectly created order. This is the theme I explore in the first half of my new book Immortal Combat. Theologians explain, therefore, that when pride and rebellion entered the world not only did the sentient beings (the angels) fall from grace, but they dragged down the whole created order with them. Creation itself is fallen. It is broken. It doesn’t operate perfectly anymore. Their are fault lines not only in human nature, but in the crust of the earth itself. We rage and are full of spiritual and emotional tempests and the weather rages, cracks and blows also. Weeds and thorns entangle the garden of our souls as well as the garden of nature. There is a cosmic and psychic unity between ourselves, the angels and all of creation and this is something that in our rationalistic, mechanistic, gnostic approach to philosophy and theology that we have forgotten.
But Sacred Scripture does not forget this unity between us and creation. In one of the most mysterious passages St Paul writes to the Romans:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:9-13)
The astonishing hint here is that all of creation is joined in this great battle, and as we become more holy, creation becomes more whole. It is as if the passion and resurrection of Christ effected some great healing for the whole world, and not simply for the human race. This is the truth I wish more people had gleaned from the pope’s encyclical Laudato Si. Too many conservative Catholics dismissed it as “just more climate change propaganda” but locked within the pope’s teaching is an important truth which comes not from the United Nations Commission on Climate Change, but from St Paul…that we are bound up in this mystery of God’s creation. We’re locked into the groaning of creation…the groaning of all things looking for redemption.
Here’s the kicker: the struggles of this life are part of how all this takes place. The world was redeemed through the passion and resurrection of Christ. We are participants in that great drama–that great struggle. Again, I refer you to my new book on this subject. I go into all of this, and the point is this: it is in and through participation in the struggle that the redemption is won. What is the struggle? The struggle is with the pain of the world’s broken-ness, and when we win through any part of that struggle we are wrestling with the elemental facts of life and love and redemption themselves. Therefore, as we struggle with a pandemic we are sharing in this greater cosmic struggle. It’s part of the redemption mystery. It’s part of the cross we bear, and doing so with strength, hope, perseverance, good faith and a dash of good humor is what it is all about. As we struggle with the pandemic and the virus that has got inside of us, we are sharing in that greater struggle, and in the end all shall be well.