We are at the moment living through a Covid-19 pandemic and many are asking the question why would God allow such a harmful virus and why would he allow so many people to die? Some Christian preachers are attributing this viral outbreak to our nation’s sin–two in particular but such preachers conveniently ignore other types of sins such as disregard for creation. Regardless, the preachers seem to be saying that we have this horrible virus because God is punishing us. But is that what the Bible really teaches and is that really who God is?
I begin with how the Bible speaks of God as LOVE. In 1 John 4:7-8, we are taught that God is love. Not that God loves or that God does loving things, but that God is himself love. I don’t believe God is sending lethal viruses.
God has chosen to partner with human beings
In the beginning of Genesis, God created human beings in God’s image. As image bearers God gave human beings the task of ruling in the garden. They were to produce families, food, tend the animals and cultivate the garden and co-work with God in creative ways. The first humans were to do this in relationship with God, accepting God’s wisdom, guidance and influence. But as the story goes, human beings were led astray by a deceptive being and found themselves following the wisdom of the serpent. (The serpent is an image for wisdom in the Ancient Near East). (Genesis 1-3)
And we had families, built communities and formed nations as human beings influenced by the wisdom of this world. Humans were affected by sin and built systems affected by sin. We experience evil, injustice and other maladies due to the effects those systems.
God gave human beings the task to tend the garden and care for the animals. Scripture tells us that God gave humans dominion over the garden and the animals. How did I get tending from the word dominion? God called Israel’s leaders to lead not as the nations around them led, exerting power over, but as shepherds who tended. The shepherd’s job was to tend the sheep, to care for them, to see that they were kept safe from beasts that would harm them–to bind their wounds and feed the hungry ones. (Ezekiel 34) This is a very different image for a ruler than our meaning of the word dominion conveys in English.
Human beings were to tend the garden, cultivate it, nourish it, rotate the crops and even give the land periodic breaks so that they could be replenished. Keeping the garden healthy and keeping the animals healthy was a part of our God-given task as image bearers.
What does this have to do with the Coronavirus and the problem of evil?
One of the ways I am dealing with my anxiety about Covid 19 is to learn about it. I’ve been reading articles and watching videos that show where the virus came from and how viruses in general jump from animals to humans. Many of the pandemics and outbreaks have came from our farming methods in which we keep animals too close together in factory farm settings. We have feedlots and poultry farms within which animals are kept in overcrowded conditions, they cannot even at times turn around and receive very little exercise. These unhealthy conditions are breeding grounds for viruses. In fact most of the lethal viruses we’ve seen over the last 30 years have come from such conditions.
Covid-19 also came from a wet market in Wuhan, China within which the animals were also crowded together in unhealthy, tight spaces. Being butchered in the market setting also created conditions within which the virus could quickly spread to humans. (Flu Factories)
We are not tending the animals very well and we are experiencing the consequences of unhealthy ways of producing food. It isn’t just China, as we also have factory farming practices in the US that contribute to disease and it’s spread to humans.
I grew up on a farm–at least during my teen years. Most farms had pastures for the cows and open spaces for the chickens to roam and places for pigs to be able to root around in the mud. These sunlit, wide-open spaces were good for the animals. They were healthy did not need as many chemicals or antibiotics. Healthier animals were better not only for the animals but also for the people near them.
My point: God had little to do with this virus. We are experiencing the consequences of our careless creation care. We’ve perhaps become too greedy for meat or too anxious in making large profits that we have forgotten the wisdom of creation care.
When we keep our world healthy and our animals healthy, then we as people benefit and are able to better maintain our health. Creation care matters for all of us.
This brings me to the problem of evil and the question of why a good God would allow such evil in this world?
As God’s partners called to care for creation, perhaps it’s not God’s fault but ours. We can makes necessary changes in how we join God caring for the animals so that our world can become more healthy.
Scripture tells us “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:22) All creation longs for it’s justice and ethical treatment from the children of God.