God’s Will and the Coronavirus
by Thomas Jay Oord | 3 April 2020 |
I’m not surprised some people are blaming God. Maybe “crediting” God is more accurate.
I’m reading social media posts saying the coronavirus (Covid 19) is God’s will. Our current suffering is part of some predetermined divine plan.
One post put it this way:
“Sorry to break up the big panic, but the coronavirus will not take anyone outta this world unless that’s the good Lord’s plan. And you’re not gonna change that no matter what you do or what you buy.”
If this view is true, no need to worry. No need to prepare, defend, protect, sacrifice, or act. It’s all in “the good Lord’s plan.”
Not the Plan!
I don’t believe the coronavirus is God’s plan. God is not causing a pandemic that kills some, makes many miserable, and has widespread adverse effects on society.
God did not cause this evil!
Those who say “God is in control” often claim all that happens, good or bad, is part of a master plan. Every torture, murder, rape, disease, war, and more are part of the divine blueprint.
Your sister’s rape? God’s plan. That miscarriage you suffered? God’s plan. Every ruthless dictator or fascist system? God’s plan. Cancer, meth addiction, leukemia, severe disability, and so on? God’s plan.
The coronavirus? God’s plan.
I don’t buy it. I can’t believe a loving God would design that kind of plan! If that’s what God’s love is like, I want nothing to do with God!
God Allows the Virus?
Fortunately, a large number of people today reject the idea God is causing the current pandemic. Unfortunately, a large number believe God allows or permits it.
Does that make sense?
Those who say God allows evil imply God could stop it single-handedly. If God wanted, God could end this pandemic with a solo act of control. For some reason, say these people, God is allowing death, illness, and widespread harm.
Suppose one of my kids began strangling another of my children. Suppose I could step in and stop this act of violence. But suppose I allowed it – and the death of my child – saying, “I didn’t cause this killing, so don’t blame me!”
No one would consider me a loving father if I failed to prevent the evil I could have prevented. Fathers who allow their kids to strangle one another are not loving.
Those who say God permits the coronavirus make a major mistake. They undermine our belief in a perfectly loving God. Just as a loving father wouldn’t allow his kids to strangle one another, a loving God wouldn’t allow a virus to wreak widespread death and destruction.
It makes no sense to say, “It isn’t God’s will, but God allows it.”
“See the Good That’s Come…”
Many who claim God causes or allows the coronavirus will see some good that comes from our current crisis. They’ll point to stories of self-sacrifice or the good that comes from people’s cooperating to combat this pandemic.
Upon seeing the good that comes from the pandemic, some will use a “greater good” argument. “We’ve learned something valuable from the coronavirus!” they might say. “This pandemic has taught us we don’t need all the stuff we thought we needed.” “It took a virus for us to learn to slow down and focus on what’s important.”
Good things will come from the evils we currently face. Count on it. But we shouldn’t say God causes or allows evil for this good. It isn’t part of some predetermined plan.
Instead, we should think God squeezes some good from the bad God didn’t want in the first place.
God never gives up on anyone or any situation. Working with a broken and diseased creation, God works to wring whatever good can be wrung from the wrong God didn’t cause or allow.
It’s a Mystery
A growing number of people recognize the theological problems that come from saying God caused or allowed the coronavirus. Instead of offering a better way to think about God’s action, however, they appeal to mystery.
“We don’t know why God acts this way,” they say. Some of the more sophisticated thinkers will say God doesn’t “act” in any way we can understand. What it means to say “God acts” is an absolute mystery. Finite beings can’t in any sense understand an infinite God, they say.
Others play the mystery card by saying God is uninvolved. Deists say God created the world long ago but now has a hands-off approach. This God watches the world from a distance as it suffers. This God has the power to stop the mayhem but sits on the sideline eating popcorn.
I wonder why anyone believes in a God of absolute mystery. If we can’t provide plausible answers to our deepest struggles and biggest fears – including the coronavirus – why believe in God at all?
If God’s ways are not our ways, no way is as good as any other.
A Better Way
There’s a better way to think about God’s will and the coronavirus.
This way says God wants to defeat the virus. God desires to prevent the deaths and destruction we currently see. This way says God loves everyone and everything, from the most complex to the least. And God always actively engages the fight against the coronavirus, at all levels of existence and society.
This better way says God can’t defeat the coronavirus singlehandedly. God needs our help. In this time of struggle, God needs the best of medicine, the best from social leaders, and the best from each of us.
I call this view “the uncontrolling love of God,” and I’ve written academic and popular books explaining its details. (See my book, God Can’t: How to Believe in God and Love after Tragedy, Abuse, and Other Evils or the more academic treatment, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence. This theology says God’s love is inherently uncontrolling. And because God loves everyone and everything, God can’t control anyone or anything.
The uncontrolling God of love is the most potent force in the universe! But because love does not force its own way (1 Cor. 13:5), even the strongest Lover cannot control others.
God’s Will for Us
What is God’s will? In one sense, it’s the same today as every day: to love God, love others, and love all creation, including ourselves.
In our current crisis, God’s specific will changes. God calls each person, each family, each community, and each political structure to unique responses of love. These specific calls are particular to what each creature can do in each situation. God calls us all to act in loving ways in light of what’s possible.
For most, social distancing can be a significant form of love. Sharing provisions – including toilet paper – can be another. Cooperating with health officials can be a powerful expression of love. Taking reasonable precautions can be an act of love. And so on…
We are always called to love. Our present crisis presents new challenges in discovering what love now requires. I commit to doing my best to discern and then respond to God’s calls of love.
I hope you join me. God does too.
Thomas Jay Oord is a theologian, philosopher, and scholar of multidisciplinary studies. He is a best-selling and award-winning author, having written or edited more than twenty-five books. Oord is known for his contributions to research on love, open and relational theology, science and religion, and the implications of freedom and relationships for transformation. He serves as the director of the Center for Open and Relational Theology. He blogs thomasjayoord.com.