Where is God in a Coronavirus World? is an interesting and provocative title for a book. I think it is a very relevant and appropriate question which probably most of us have asked at least in our minds, if not openly. Some of us are searching for answers in News channels and social media, and many people think there is no answer. As Christians, we can find answers to difficult questions as we read the Scriptures. Dr. John C. Lennox is a Christian, who is an Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, who has spoken and written on the interplay between Science and Christianity on several occasions. In Where is God in a Coronavirus World? Lennox seeks to persuade readers that Christianity offers the only worldview that can make sense of events like the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking with Warmth and Grace
The author invites his readers to a warm conversation: “I am sitting with you in a coffee shop (if only we could!), and you have asked me the question on the book cover. I put down my coffee cup and attempt to give you an honest answer. What follows is what I would try to say to convey some comfort, support and hope” (pg. 5). He maintains a warm tone while sharing his perspectives which are informed by the Bible. He grounds the book in the current situation of worldwide vulnerability and presents the historical context and different worldviews and their inability to give satisfactory answers to the current situation. Lennox rightly presents the answer from the Bible and asserts that only the God of the Bible has an answer to this crisis.
Putting the Present Situation in Perspective
Lennox helps readers to understand the unprecedented situation coronavirus has brought in, which even he has never experienced in his lifetime. I think the brief history of past pandemics that he presents would be helpful for the readers to understand that this is not the first or even the worst pandemic that the world has witnessed. Amidst this, he reminds us that in the past people looked to God and leaders called for prayers. But now, he notes that there has been a subtle shift in the perspective that has happened in especially Western society. Lennox accurately puts his hand on the pulse and explains that this is because many people have rejected the Bible and its God. I think this is true even in certain sections of our country, and it is reflected in such questions that are raised about God by people: “Is he in inaccessible self-quarantine? Where or from whom can we get real solace or hope?”(11).
The Problem of Pain and Suffering is Real
This change in perspective of Western society has been well captured and presented by Lennox in the examples of the partially destroyed Cathedrals through bombing or earthquakes. He then explains the problem of natural and moral evil in the light of these examples (13-15) and sheds light on the problem of pain and suffering (16-19). This treatment of the issue has helped me to think clearly, and will be useful when I need to explain to people struggling with such questions. Lennox ends the second chapter with a note to the readers saying “But I hope you will end this book understanding why Christians are able to speak confidently about hope and to feel a sense of peace, even in a world of uncertainty in which death has suddenly loomed closer”(21). As a Christian, I was encouraged that we have our God, and that this gives us hope and boldness to confidently live in this current crisis.
Atheism Cannot Answer the Problem of Suffering
Having dealt with the question of pain and suffering, Lennox shows how hollow Atheism is, and highlights its inability to provide answers to the current crisis. The way he clearly describes the philosophy of Atheism, helps readers to understand why situations like COVID-19 would be hopeless for someone who subscribes to Atheism and believes in the non-existence of God (23-29). In the end, like the fatalistic worldview prevalent in our country, Atheism offers no hope to people in crisis situations and it would rather leave them hopeless and in a moral dilemma. This situation leads us to the question of how Christianity would then answer the question posed by the popular atheist David Hume “Can the coronavirus be reconciled with the existence of a loving God?”(31).
Viruses and Earthquakes Preserve Human Life
Lennox aptly presents and reconciles the question posed by the atheists in this section. He explains that things like viruses and earthquakes, though tragic, are actually necessary for human existence and for the balance of the earth to be maintained (32-35). This was something new for me to understand and I now probably have a better and scientific understanding about the nature of viruses and earthquakes. Lennox talks about the nature of humanity (36) and presents the actual reason behind ‘Why things are the way they are,’ which is what the Bible calls sin (37-40). This reminded me of my own past life, and how God has saved me from sin and has given me a new life. He ends the chapter with a gripping question in light of what he has discussed till now, “Is there any evidence that there is a God whom we can trust with the implications, and with our lives and futures?” This question encouraged and challenged me to examine my own understanding about where I put my trust in.
God will Set Everything Right
The convincing evidence of the goodness of God’s character needed to trust him brings us to the question of “Ultimate Justice” – is the universe God created just? This question poses a great problem for atheists and it is a fundamental difficulty which the atheist worldview cannot answer satisfactorily. Lennox clearly presents the lack of explanation from an atheist worldview to the problem of ultimate justice. But in contrast, he presents how Christianity definitely and clearly answers and reconciles “Ultimate Justice” with Christ’s death, resurrection and his second coming. At the end of the day, all the injustices will be made right. This is the greatest hope we Christians have and it is on this foundation that we are called to live daily. The Cross gives us the foundation and identity and the Second Coming gives us the hope to move on and persevere till the end.
Christ’s Suffering Brings True Hope to our Suffering
In answering the opponents of Christianity. Lennox presents a great picture of a true understanding of a person believing in the God of Christianity “A Christian, then, 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.” (47) I would say amen to that, and I think this is a truth which sometimes people who don’t know God find difficult to understand about Christians. Lennox says that the coronavirus situation is like a beacon which calls people to return to the God whom they have ignored, and that in this it is actually serving a healthy purpose. (49) I know as a Christian, that the evidence of love shown by God is true and real because he suffered and died for me so that he could reconcile me to himself.
Practical Suggestions for Pressing On
In the last chapter, Lennox offers readers some helpful suggestions on how to cope with and respond to the current circumstances. From a biblical perspective, he prods us to heed the advice and follow safety parameters, to maintain perspective and trust God, to love our neighbour by helping them in need, and to remember eternity and keep persevering with hope. This is a great reminder and helped me once again to look at the current situation in light of Scripture, and we would do well to heed Lennox’s Biblically saturated and wise advice.
Lennox ends his book with a strong note that God makes the difference saying “One day, Jesus will appear. The coronavirus and all the plagues that have ravaged the world will be no more: the crown of righteousness that will be given to those who love the Lord Jesus will never perish or fade. Peace in a pandemic? Only Jesus can give that. The issue for all of us is this: will we trust him to do so?” (61). I highly recommend that you read this book, as it will help you to understand suffering better, and to answer and counsel people going through hardships and struggling to see God’s goodness in their lives.
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Santosh S. serves as a staff with Satya Vachan church, Lucknow. He is married to Rani and they have two sons.