COVID-19: The Sign of a Wounded World
“Where is God in all this?” wailed my friend who was worried about the pandemic. “Did God create this virus?”
I explained that a virus is morally neutral, like a tiger. A tiger stalks and kills a deer. It’s bad for the deer but good for the tiger. A virus, in its natural setting is neither good or bad. In fact, if we lived naturally, viruses would be necessary parts of our complicated immune system. A virus in the wrong place for the wrong people at the wrong time, however — like the tiger — can cause havoc.
Idiocy or Theodicy
“Theodicy” is the exercise in answering the perennial riddle, “How can a God who is all good and all powerful allow evil? If he were all good he would want to stop it. If he were all powerful he could stop it. Therefore he must either not be all powerful or not be all good.”
When confronted with the problem the atheist might well say, “It’s not theodicy, it’s idiocy. Only an idiot would see the evil in the world and believe in a God who is all good and all powerful.”
The present pandemic is a reminder that the world we live in does present us with a puzzle. While we can accept that a tiger killing a deer is simply good for the tiger but bad for the deer, we should go on to press the question, “But why did God create a world where tigers kill and eat deer? Why did God create a world where viruses cause diseases that kill hundreds of thousands? Why don’t viruses create life instead of death?”
Dancing in the Dark
When faced with the tragedies of life the pessimist sees nothing but danger, disaster and death. In their view, human beings are selfish, petty, violent and stupid. Furthermore, they see themselves and their fellow man headed for destruction, yet being happily unaware of the looming disaster. They’re not re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. They’re dancing on the decks until dawn, ignoring the fact that they are dancing in the dark.
Some Christians say mankind is totally depraved, without a glimmer of goodness, even the good things we do are no more than window dressing — caramel candy coating on a poisoned apple.
Therefore the pandemic might provoke the prophets of doom to preach a message of God’s judgment on our folly. “Dark, dark, dark! They all go into the dark!” Seeing the vanity and luxury of our lives they might say we deserve to have death staring us down and stalking us.
A Wounded World
The traditional Christian view is that God created the world and it is good. In the ancient creation story, when he was done, God stepped out and viewed his handiwork and said, “That’s good!” Or as the old gospel preacher said, “God don’t make no junk!”
God’s world is good, but that goodness has been soiled. God’s work is perfect, but it has been broken. His wonderful world is wounded. This is why “nature is red in tooth and claw.” This is why the tiger hunts the fawn and a virus lays us low. The whole of creation is cracked and those weaknesses are simply part of the way things are.
But the traditional Christian view not only says the world is wounded, but that it can be healed. God has given mankind the intellect and energy to work with him to bind up the broken hearted, heal the wounds, bring light to the darkness, rescue the shipwrecked, cure diseases, protect the vulnerable, rehabilitate the wounded and patch up the problems of our broken world.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
The pandemic has brought goodness out of all of us if we have eyes to see it and arms to embrace it. Isolation has made us slow down and treasure simpler things. We’ve learned to value doctors, nurses, truck drivers, cleaners and supermarket workers. We’ve come to appreciate medical researchers, scientists and statisticians, immunologists and medical technicians who have skills and knowledge most of us can never begin to comprehend.
We’ve learned to value some of the precious things we’ve taken for granted — quality time with family, the luxury to travel and follow our dreams, the enjoyment and reward of hard work and enterprise and the security of a society that can absorb some punches and body blows, then work together to come up with solutions.
God’s world may be wounded, but beneath it all, it is deeply and powerfully good. And if God’s wounded world is good, then so are all the people in it. He made us in his image, and although that image is marred and scarred, He also put the plan in place to redeem, restore and re-create us.
All we have to do is accept that plan, recognize the risks, then roll up our sleeves and get on with the business of working with him to mend this broken world, speak the good news and bind up the wounds so they can heal.
Dwight Longenecker is a Catholic priest working in South Carolina. His new book is Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness.