Where Is God in a Coronavirus World?

Fakhri Benindo
Fakhri Benindohttp://antinomi.org
History Education Department, State University of Jakarta

This year’s coronavirus pandemic has truly shaken the world’s citizens both physically and mentally. People are required to self-isolate to prevent the spread of the more severe coronavirus. Since all over the world, churches are being closed to limit the spread of the virus, many are asking where God is—that is if he is there at all. Is he in inaccessible self-quarantine? Where or from whom can we get real solace or hope?

A fragile world

Never before have we experienced the lockdown of cities and even countries, the closing of borders, the banning of travel, the shutting of all but essential services, the banning of large sports gatherings, and the silent towns and cities that shout of fear and self-isolation. A virus that just emerged at the end of 2019 suddenly created this bad situation! Is it a dream? We may still remember our activities in schools, malls, and markets, but suddenly we could not enter these places.

This is proof that the world is fragile. Any of us had got used to a fairly stable world, where life was reasonably predictable. Now that all appear to be crumbling away: the things we have always counted on have gone, and we are exposed as never before to forces way outside our control. People fear for their health, both physical and psychological; for their families and friends, particularly the elderly and infirm; for their social networks, their food supply, their jobs, economic security, and a host of other things.

This situation is certainly different from the pandemic in ancient times when humans still have a stronger spiritual dimension than today. In ancient times, humans prayed for forgiveness and salvation from God every day. But nowadays, fewer and fewer people have any God-dimension whatsoever in their lives.

Suffering and Pain

Regarding suffering and pain, these two things cannot be separated from evil. Pandemics can be considered a crime of nature because this is not purely human-caused damage. It should be noted that suffering and pain originate from two things.

First, there is suffering due to natural disasters and diseases for which humans are not (directly) responsible: earthquakes, tsunamis, cancers, and the coronavirus. But the coronavirus outbreak seems to be a case of natural evil (although moral evil lurks nearby in selfish panic buying and hoarding of food). Second, there is suffering for which men and women are directly responsible: acts of hate, terror, violence, abuse, and murder. That leads to the problem of moral evil.

That said, there is evidence that the authorities in China initially suppressed reports of a potentially devastating new virus. In the Guardian newspaper on 11th March, 2020, Lily Kuo reported from Hong Kong:

“Official statements by the Chinese government to the World Health Organisation reported that the first confirmed case had been diagnosed on 8 December. Doctors who tried to raise the alarm with colleagues about a new disease in late December were reprimanded. Authorities did not publicly concede there was human-to-human transmission until 21 January.”[1]

We all have sufficient knowledge and insight to deal with a pandemic. We all have sufficient knowledge and insight to deal with a pandemic. Feelings of anxiety and fear will remain; the feeling of wanting to depend on God will certainly remain in the heart.

Pain Function

Human experience and elementary medicine teach us that pain has an important role to play in our lives. First, pain warns us of danger. If, for example, you put your hand too near the fire, your nervous system alerts your brain, and you feel pain, which makes you withdraw your hand and so protects it from injury.

Second, a certain amount of pain is involved in physical development. For instance—if athletics, mountaineering, or the physically demanding games of American football, British rugby, and boxing are anything to go by—sports enthusiasts will put up with a great deal of pain to excel.

Third, at a deeper level still, suffering and pain can contribute to character formation. There are many examples of resilience and fortitude in the face of suffering—molding great quality characters.

How Can There Be Coronavirus If There Is a Loving God

According to John C. Lennox, to know the answer to this question, we need to understand three things: first, the nature of viruses in general; second, the nature of humanity; and third religious teachings.

First, the nature of the viruses, maybe some of us realize that everything created by God has a good meaning and purpose. Even the coronavirus that attacks humans actually has a good purpose, but humans sometimes forget about that and always blame fate.

Second, the nature of humanity. God has made things that never do moral wrong. God could have made a world of robots that simply automatically followed their inbuilt programs. But that world would not have contained us human beings. In fact, people who wish they inhabited a world without the possibility of evil are actually wishing themselves out of existence. The reason is that one of the greatest gifts that God has given us is that of free will. We can say yes or no, and that capacity opens up wonderful things: love, trust, and genuine relationships with God and each other. However, that very same wonderful and good capacity makes us capable of evil, even though it does not permit us to do evil.

Likewise, with all the pleasures we have today. It is not something that comes naturally but is a gift from God. People who have pleasure are more expected to be able to share with others. Many of the lower class have difficulty coronavirus pandemic. This is an opportunity for those who have more wealth to share it and be kind to others.

What should we do?

Facing this continuing pandemic, we need to do good things such as heed advice, maintain perspective, and loving neighbors.

  • Heed advice

First, on the practical level, we would be wise to take heed of the best medical advice of the day. In order to reduce the spread of the virus, quarantine has been introduced for those people most at risk, especially the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions of the heart and respiratory system.

  • Maintain Perspective

John C. Lennox quotes from C.S Lewis on how to respond to atomic weapons that are terrible for humanity by applying them to the coronavirus pandemic in them. John C. Lennox inserted “coronavirus,” “virus” or “pandemic” in square brackets at the relevant points to give the idea (slightly imperfectly, I admit, and I apologize for that):

“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb [coronavirus]. ‘How are we to live in an atomic [pandemic] age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’

“In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb [coronavirus] was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists [coronaviruses] 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.

“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb [coronavirus], let that bomb [virus] when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—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 bombs [viruses]. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”[2]

  • Love Your Neighbor

As previously explained, humans are moral living beings; humans should help each other in this situation. In the face of the coronavirus, we are all equal. There is no higher or lower degree in a pandemic. Actually, there are several other responses delivered by John C. Lennox, but the three things above are sufficient to represent what is most important to humans. John C. Lennox wants readers to understand that God is always with us in times of pandemics like this.

[1] theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/13/first-covid-19-case-happened-in-november-chinagovernment-records-show-report (accessed 23 Mar. 2020)

[2] On Living in An Atomic Age” dalam Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays (1948).

Pict: chicagotribune.com

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