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Coronavirus and the will of God?

The contrast was painfully ironic. During the first weeks of life with the virus we enjoyed the most beautiful early spring weather: nothing but blue skies and sunshine. Everywhere there was beauty and new life: magnolias and almond trees blossomed, primroses and grape hyacinths grew in profusion – in our garden at least – and the trees were bursting into leaf.

And at the same time we heard of nothing but disease and death, of people ‘locked down’, often cooped up flats and single rooms and unable to enjoy to the full this most beautiful of moments.

How can nature be so lavish in its gifts and yet so cruel, seemingly so indifferent to us humans who are its ‘guests’? Some may say that the coronavirus is a divine punishment inflicted on mankind for our disregard of God. Yet I, for one, would hesitate to suggest that God wilfully inflicts such suffering on his creatures. As usual, if one wants to apportion responsibility for our present ills,

the finger points rather at human activity. A recent newspaper article argues that the virus is a consequence of our thoughtless exploitation of nature for profit –

and our hubris in thinking that we are masters of the world, forgetting that ‘we are governed by biology and physics, and dependent on a habitable planet’, and allowing ourselves to be ‘dominated by those who put money ahead of life’.

Another article describes the forms of industrialised exploitation of the natural world that are the root cause of the present crisis: ‘agribusiness’, factory farming, logging, mining, road-building, urbanisation: ‘We have created a global, human-dominated ecosystem that serves as a playground for the emergence and host-switching of animal viruses’. Viewed from a Biblical standpoint, this writer is suggesting that we have abandoned the role of stewards of the creation originally intended for us (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15) and sought instead to be its masters – like the tenants of the vineyard (Luke 20:9-15).

This seems to me to imply that, rather than claiming that the virus is the direct result of ‘God’s hand’ at work to punish mankind, we should see it as a consequence of the forces and mechanisms built into the world as God created it, just as the beauty of flowers and trees is. Like most ‘natural disasters’, it is

the result of the operation, triggered by our selfish behaviour, of the disciplining constraints on our existence that are implied by Genesis. In that case, the ultimate responsibility still lies with God – the relationship between man and

the natural world that he ordained has functioned as he designed it – but it is we that make it happen.

However, God, unlike us, was and is able to predict how the interaction between human ambition and natural forces, set in motion in Genesis 3, would play out

and where it would ultimately lead – hence the predictions of ‘plague’ and ‘pestilence’ that we find in several places, e.g. in Matthew 24 and Revelation, indicating perhaps that humanity is now pushing at the limits that God has imposed on its freedom. Whether it is, as many confidently assert, a ‘sign’ of a rapidly approaching end, we wait to see. For myself, I prefer to leave the predicting to others.

Graham Jackman

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