Until now I have held back from writing about the coronavirus. Partially for my own sanity, that is trying to go on with some semblance of normativity so that I don’t have a mental breakdown. But also because everyone is talking and writing about it. Every time I turn on NPR they’re talking about the pandemic. I recently posted a link to an article written by Christianity today on my Facebook page with the comment that while the article overall was great I thought that the author left the issue unresolved. What do I mean by unresolved?
Anytime something bad happens there tend to be two different reactions among Christians. At least in our culture, we tend to ask the Why question. But the answer that is given to this “Why” question concerning suffering, of any sort, typically is given two answers. Both of which I think is insufficient. The first is to say that God caused the event for whatever reason, and in neo-calvinists camps like John Pipers, the reason is usually that God is doing this particular event like all things for His glory. The second reaction among Christians tends to be the sentiment that God allowed it to happen for the sake of freewill or some other hidden reason. This was ultimately the reason given by this article on Christianity Today. That God allowed the pandemic of the sake of creations freedom. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big freewill guy myself. I love the idea that creation has freedom, probably as much as some Calvinist love the idea that we don’t have freedom. But if God allows it and has the ability to prevent or at this point or any point for that matter to stop it why doesn’t God do so? Before we get to addressing that question however I want to take a brief detour.
Maybe a deeper question to ask is, “Should we even be asking the “Why” question? This, in fact, brings me to why I thought it necessary for me finally to drop my hat in the ring of this cacophony of voices. In response to my posting of this article’s link and my attached comments, people brought this question to, particularly my priest. His contention, as well as David Bently Hart’s about the Why question for the problem of suffering, is that the point is mute. The cause of suffering and evil is ultimately not important because, in Christ death, suffering and evil are overcome. While I can give a hearty amen to the victory of Christ over these things, that doesn’t make the question of “Why” any less important especially for those suffering.
Please do not misunderstand me. I’m not saying that we as Humans can wrap our puny little minds around why an all-good and all-powerful God allows, causes, or has some inability to prevent the evil and suffering that we as His creation is enduring. But to stare into the darkness and simply say we must just lament and trust that God knows and we do not I think is untenable. Particularly when so many don’t believe in God because they are given bad answers or no answers to these sorts of questions. Honestly, besides cabin fever, I’m not really experiencing the worst of the pandemic as many are with the loss of jobs, death, sick family members or the myriad of other ways in which people are suffering. But I have experienced my own suffering. When I was a child my mother abused me. Her boyfriend sexually molested me. And she took his side, arguing that he didn’t abuse me and that she never abused me. So this question of “Why” for me isn’t a mere academic question for pipe-smoking, elite, tweed elbowed white guys arguing about how many angels can dance on the point of a pen. I need a good answer. Not a perfect answer, not an answer that provides a false sense of intellectual certainty. But some sort of answer that conforms to how I have experienced God to be in my own life. That gives me some sort of sense that God cares not only about me but the countless others who suffer abuse sometimes much worse than my own. For some in the pandemic, they need a plausible answer as well. Not something that they can have as an apologetic defense against militant atheists but something that affirms that God does indeed care.
Of course, there is a time to lament. We should be lamenting, even now. But lamenting and searching for a decent answer aren’t mutually exclusive. Having a decent answer isn’t the same thing as having certainty about the issue. And having a decent answer doesn’t mean we have God all figured out neatly packed up into our decorated shoe box that we keep stashed away in our closet for safekeeping.
So getting back to our question of Why. It is important at least in my own life of faith. Maybe it’s not for you, and I suppose until you need it to be that’s okay. But for me and many others the answer that God caused it is just silly, asking for me to become an atheist. The answer that says God allows it, makes me want to throw up in my mouth because then God sat by and watched me get abused. That God is not worthy of worship. And the lack of an answer leaves me wandering lost in what appears to be an enchanted forest but really whatever divinity lies behind it all doesn’t really care about all that’s happening.
For me, it makes more sense that God’s very nature is uncontrolling love, that God can only ever love. That He is always seeking the good of His creation. But because His very nature is love, which if it is to be worthy of the name love, must always be non-coercive. This means that God always gives freedom, but can never take it away. For God to do so would make God unloving and therefore not God at all. It’s not that God causes or even allows evil, suffering, my abuse, or even this current pandemic but God cannot singlehandedly stop it.