In the first part of this discussion, I tackle whether or not God is the cause of the coronavirus pandemic. So many believers jump to the question of “Why did God allow the coronavirus pandemic to happen?” without considering the first question of whether or not God actually caused it. You can’t consider divine intent (why God allowed it) without first considering whether or not God is the cause. If God caused it, then God, who does nothing randomly but is always deliberate, has an intentional reason for bringing it about. If God didn’t cause the coronavirus pandemic, then He has no intent behind the disease and thus, isn’t bringing the disease on mankind for the sake of righteous judgment.
The “God’s righteous judgment” claim is used to claim God’s hand is in many disasters and tragedies. Take September 11th, 2001, for example. 9/11 is a day many of us remember and could never forget. It is one of the most tragic days in the nation’s known history, a day in which terrorism destroyed not only a national landmark (World Trade Center, WTC) but also took the lives of thousands of innocent people who were just “in the way” so to speak, no fault of the victims. Christians have said for the last 19 years (and I know this because some in my family are also guilty of saying the same) that “God brought 9/11 on New York because of its Gay Pride parades.”
But if God brought judgment down on New York for its Gay Pride, why not bring His judgment on New Orleans for its Gay Pride, or California for its own Gay Pride? Some respond with, “Well, God dealt with New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina.” These statements have been made, with serious faces, by “God-fearing” Christians who sincerely believe what they say.
So, in discussing whether or not God caused the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve already examined that God isn’t the cause of the coronavirus pandemic. There’s nothing known in Scripture that confirms it. Even if we say, “Well, God has used sickness and disease to teach Israel a lesson in the Old Testament,” there’s no explicit proof that God is using the coronavirus pandemic to teach anything. It’s not good logic to take explicit words for one thing and plaster them onto another.
But those who argue that the coronavirus pandemic is God’s righteous judgment on this world are those who do believe God is the cause of the coronavirus pandemic. As I said in the last post, “Did God cause the coronavirus pandemic?”, they believe that if the leaf falls or someone falls among thieves and is beaten and left for dead, God is the cause of it all. And yet, they realize how heinous it is to accuse God of something sinister, so much so that the “righteous judgment” claim is a way to soften the blow of meticulous sovereignty.
Meticulous sovereignty and Divine Causation
I’ve defined meticulous sovereignty already, but for those who haven’t read that post, I’ll define it here again. Meticulous sovereignty is, as stated above, the belief that nothing (not even the leaf falling, the sun and moon rising, or the slightest or greatest disaster) happens apart from God’s hand. Meticulous, as a definition, is “showing great attention to detail; very careful and precise.” So when God does something meticulously, every part of it happens by way of His active, direct guidance. Everything He does is active and direct. Calvinism and Molinism are two theological systems that strongly endorse meticulous divine sovereignty. “God caused it all” is essentially their position.
Calvinists strongly believe in meticulous sovereignty (if you don’t, congrats; you’re not a Calvinist!), but they realize the problem with such a claim. If one believes that God causes everything, then one believes God causes both good and bad. Well, to believe that God causes the bad and tragic is to believe that God causes evil, that God is the author of sin and evil. Well, Calvinists know that this doesn’t sit well with most everyday believers, so they have to find a way around the claim.
How do they do that? By way of “God’s righteous judgment.” Take Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis, for example. Though it’s heinous and immoral to kill cities of innocent life, they say, God rains down fire and brimstone on the two cities because of their evil. When God kills them, He’s doing so because of righteous judgment. In other words, God is giving Sodom and Gomorrah “justifiable punishment,” punishment that has a reason that makes it good instead of sinister and evil.
There’s nothing wrong with accepting righteous judgment as the reason behind some things. God clearly says of Sodom and Gomorrah in Scripture that He sent angels to destroy the cities because of their great wickedness (Genesis 19:12-13). In fact, one of the angels sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah says that the fire and brimstone is the “punishment of the city” (Genesis 19:15).
While we can see Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction as punishment, and Scripture clearly says as much, can we take these words and assume them for the coronavirus pandemic, for every disaster or tragedy? Scripture gives us reason to doubt this “copy-and-paste” approach to understanding evil and tragedy in this world.
Jesus rebukes divine judgment claim (Luke 13:1-5)
There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5, New King James Version)
Jesus’ words here in Luke 13:1-5 challenge us to see events the way our Lord sees them. Here, Jesus refers to two tragedies: Galileans who had been killed and their blood mingled (or mixed) with sacrifices, and the 18 people killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Both are tragedies, as they both involve the loss of human life. We should mourn the loss of life because human life is a gift from God.
And yet, some believed these incidences happened because of God’s righteous judgment. This is why Jesus says, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?” in verse 2, and “do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?” in verse 4. The point of these questions was to challenge notions of suffering in Jesus’ own day among His own people. The Jews, like Job’s friends, believed that people only suffer because of their own sin. In their naive perspective, no one suffers because of events outside their control, but because 1) of God’s sovereignty and 2) God’s decision or choice to punish the wicked for their sins. Funny, but isn’t that the issue with the coronavirus pandemic?
And yet, Jesus says the Galileans whose blood was consumed with sacrifices and those 18 people the tower of Siloam fell on weren’t worse than all others in their day. In other words, they didn’t suffer because of God’s righteous judgment. Remember, God only brings righteous judgment upon wicked sinners. And yet, these people didn’t suffer because they were worse sinners than anyone else. Jesus is telling us in Luke 13:1-5 that these people suffered without reason. There was no divine judgment behind the tragedies, no divine reason behind them.
Luke 13:1-5 is a reminder to us that not every victim of every tragedy suffers because of righteous judgment. Not every person suffers because they’ve offended God. And when applied to the coronavirus pandemic, we can see that not every person has suffered and/or died because they were more wicked than anyone else. In this COVID-19 disease, we can see that even believers are dying.
Sure, there are pastors that have died in defiance of state Stay-At-Home orders, but not every believer has died in defiance of common sense.
The truth of the matter is that not every tragedy is a result of God’s righteous judgment. And if every tragedy is not a result of divine judgment, then some tragedies only bear a human cause and are caused by man alone. And some tragedies bear only a human cause and human intent.
In other words, there is such a thing as gratuitous evil. That poses problems for Calvinists but gives comfort about God’s essential goodness to the rest of us.