We need convincing evidence of the goodness of God’s character if we are to trust him. Christianity claims that the man Jesus Christ is God incarnate—the Creator become human. At the heart of its message is the death of Jesus on a cross just outside Jerusalem. The question at once arises: if he is God incarnate, what is he doing on a cross? Well, at the very least it means that God has not remained distant from human pain and suffering but has himself experienced it.
Therefore, a Christian is not so much a person who has solved the problem of pain, suffering and the coronavirus, but who has come to love and trust a God who has himself suffered.
That, though, is only half of the story. If that suffering had been the end of what Jesus did, we would never have heard about it. But it was not the end. The message that set Jerusalem buzzing that first Easter—the message that riveted the first-century world—was that Jesus had conquered death: that he had risen from the dead and would be the final Judge of humanity.
The problem of justice
The importance of this cannot be overestimated. It addresses a fundamental difficulty that the atheistic worldview cannot cope with—the problem of ultimate justice. As we are all aware, untold millions of human beings throughout history have suffered grievous injustice, and after lives of misery have died without any redress. No doubt that will also be true of some of the many victims of the coronavirus.
These people did not receive justice in this life. According to atheism, since death is the end, there is no next life in which justice could be done. If there is no Final Judge, there can be no ultimate justice.
But the resurrection declares that justice is not an illusion and that our desire for justice is not futile. The abusers, terrorists and evil men and women of this world will one day be brought to justice. When I have tried to make this point to atheists, they often say that the thing to do is to work for justice in this world. I, of course, agree—working for justice is a Christian duty. But I also point out to them that this does not go any distance towards solving the matter of ultimate justice. Atheism, by definition, knows none. Atheism is an affront to our moral sense.
By contrast, the biblical view is that ultimate justice is very real. God is the authority behind the moral law, and he will be its Vindicator. There will, in consequence, be a final judgment, when perfect justice will be done in respect of every injustice that has ever been committed from earth’s beginning to its end. Justice is not a mockery.
When the Christian apostle Paul lectured to the philosophers at the Areopagus Council in Athens, he told his audience that Jesus had been raised from the dead and appointed Judge of the world; a fact that guarantees that there will eventually be an ultimate answer to the deepest human questions.
There is a human tendency to long for justice to be done, but there is also a tendency to react negatively to the message of ultimate justice, because it raises the question of our own position before God. ‘I couldn’t believe in a God like that,’ some say, even as they protest at moral evil and accuse God of failing to intervene! Here is the problem with our natural response to God’s future judgment: we welcome God’s intervention only so long as it is an intervention in the lives of others and not of ours.
The fact is that we tend to see the evil in others, not in ourselves. So, when we think of what God should do, most of us would hold the view that God should be getting rid of the very evil people around us, but never us. After all, we are not as bad as all that.
The Bible teaches, though, that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. None of us have kept our own moral standards, let alone God’s—the Ten Commandments tell us that all too clearly. Therefore, we all need a solution to the problem of the sin and guilt that—whether we know it or not—comes between us and God.
According to Christianity, that solution lies once more in the cross and the resurrection of Jesus. These events do not simply give us a way into the problem of evil and pain and a resolution of the problem of justice. They show us what the name of Jesus means—’he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21). Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, those who repent of (which means ‘turn away from’) their own evil and their own contribution to human pain and suffering— those who trust Jesus as their Lord—receive forgiveness; peace with the personal God who created and upholds the universe; a new life with new powers; and the promise of a world where suffering will be no more. Here Christianity does not compete with any other philosophy or religion—for the simple reason that no one else offers us forgiveness and peace with God that can be known in this life and endures eternally.
A Christian, then, is not a person who has solved the problem of suffering but one who has come to love and trust the God who has suffered for them.
So how can this help us cope with disasters and pandemics? The coronavirus is so called because it visibly resembles a crown (‘corona’ in Latin). A crown is a symbol of power and authority—and certainly this virus has colossal power over us humans. It is invisible to the naked eye, and yet just think about what it has forced many millions—indeed, billions—of us to do and not do.
It also forcibly reminds us of our vulnerability. It is easy to forget that we humans are mortal. The coronavirus is evidence that both our relationship with creation and creation’s relationship with us are disordered; and that this is not an accident.
But hope is found in another corona: the crown of thorns that was forced on Jesus’ head at his trial before his execution.
That corona shows us just how deep the break between creature and Creator goes. Earth is God’s creation, not ours. We are not its owner, but we seek to be. We are only tenants and stewards, and flawed ones at that—many of us have made a mess of our own lives and even those of others, to say nothing about what we have done to the planet. There cannot be two paradises for humans, one in fellowship with God and one without him. The coronavirus is very rapidly demolishing the illusion that we can build perfection on earth—and turning our initial lackadaisical, even complacent response into real fear, frustration and anger.
In a fractured world, damaged through the consequences of human sin, pain and suffering are inevitable. Perhaps we had hidden from this reality until coronavirus rampaged across the globe. Now, we cannot ignore it, nor the big questions about life and death which it prompts. C.S. Lewis writes:
We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
Perhaps the coronavirus might function as a huge loudspeaker, reminding us of the ultimate statistic: that one out of every one of us dies. For years we may have ignored the God who wore a crown of thorns in order to bring us back into relationship with him and into a new, unfractured world beyond death. If coronavirus induces us to look to him, then in spite of the havoc it has wreaked, it will have served a very healthy purpose.
This article has been taken from Where is God in a coronavirus world? by John Lennox and published by The Good Book Company. It is reproduced here with permission.