Apr 9, 2020
The question that never goes away for Christians is “Why does God allow evil and suffering?” The latest version of this question is “Where is God in a coronavirus world?”
This question in its various forms is asked in different ways by different people. Some ask with a philosopher’s edge, as if calamities like the coronavirus are “defeaters” of Christianity, proving that the idea of a loving God watching out for us is obviously not believable. For others, the question is asked through tears, by those deeply wounded by personal experiences of loss, abandonment, or hurt.
Almost as soon as this question became relevant again—in the face of the coronavirus pandemic—Dr. John Lennox turned around a book with answers. If you know anything about the publishing world, the speed of this is stunning. And, if you know anything about Dr. Lennox, it’s probably not because of his work in group theory as “the building block of abstract algebra.” Lennox is an Oxford mathematician and also a Christian apologist who has debated the top atheists and religious skeptics of our time, including Richard Dawkins, Peter Singer, and the late Christopher Hitchens.
In these debates, he's faced the skeptic’s claims about how the existence of evil and the existence of God are incompatible. His outstanding little book, published in what must be record time, is called “Where is God in a Coronavirus World?” In it, Lennox gives answers to the skeptic’s arguments, but that’s not really what this book is finally about.
Lennox wrote this book in order to “convey some comfort, support and hope,” to people who feel disoriented, concerned, even fearful because of the coronavirus pandemic and all of its consequences and disruption in our lives.
And to this end, Lennox succeeds.
Like C.S. Lewis, whose essay “On Living in an Atomic Age” he quotes, Lennox notes that ours is not the first generation to face some kind of severe threat to our lives and well-being. But, unlike many previous generations, we tend to think of these kinds of threats as things of the past, and of personal safety as our God-given right.
Like Lewis, Dr. Lennox also uses our collective shock when bad things happen to point out problems with atheism. For Richard Dawkins, the kind of suffering caused by pandemics is to be expected since, in his view, “there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”
In the universe according to Dawkins, “some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it.” Thus, as Lennox says, for the committed and thoughtful atheist, “moral outrage is absurd. The so-called ‘problem’ of evil— moral or natural— dissolves into the pitiless indifference of uncaring matter.”
Of course, most people, even committed or thoughtful atheists, cannot live this way, much less say it out loud. Still, it’s impossible to derive comfort or hope from atheism without contradicting the worldview it implies.
In contrast, while moral evil, natural disasters and diseases like COVID-19 do pose a real challenge to the Christian belief that this universe was created and is governed by a good God, within the Christian story itself is an answer to that challenge.
The universe is not the way it’s supposed to be. Humans were not the only part of creation affected by the Fall. “Nature itself was fractured by that same event,” Lennox says. As Romans 8 describes, “creation was subjected [by God] to futility.” The Greek word for “futility,” or “ineffectiveness” means “something . . . [that] has not achieved the goal for which it was designed.”
But our current state is not, praise God, the end of the story. Through the suffering death and resurrection of Christ, a process has been inaugurated by which not only humans, but the rest of creation also, will be rescued from the effects of the Fall.
As Dr. Lennox says, a Christian “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.”
If you are dealing with doubts and questions about God’s goodness because of the coronavirus, or you know someone who is, Dr. Lennox’s book, “Where is God in a Coronavirus World?” will help. This month, I’d love to send you a copy as a thank you for any gift of any amount to BreakPoint and the Colson Center.
Next Wednesday, Dr. Lennox will be my guest on the BreakPoint Podcast. You won’t want to miss it.