How does theology explain a pandemic? Basic biology, human sin, or the Devil?
When I first asked whether the coronavirus is evil, the virus was still novel and the panic not quite a pandemic. But as I type now, almost 1.5 million people have died worldwide and the virus proliferates relentlessly, a conflagration with plenty of wood yet to burn as we await a vaccine and its dissemination. What may have seemed to be a controllable fire in the beginning now rages nearly out of control in the United States, India, Brazil, Europe, and elsewhere. Viewing the virus as part of God’s “good creation” presses against our theological sensibilities. Is the coronavirus evil? How can it not be?
“COVID-19 pandemic has wide implications for what Christians mean by the goodness of creation,” wrote theologian Hans Madueme, who leveraged my “hornet’s nest” of a query for an online symposium. As this array of brilliant respondents has written, a virus, no matter how destructive, cannot carry the moral equivalence of human willfulness. But the mere lack of moral willfulness does not make it good.
Viruses are not free agents, but I still wonder about a kind of created freedom in the nature of things—akin to what we know about uncertainty in the quantum realm undergirding the reality we experience. Inasmuch as humans are made from the dust in God’s image (Gen. 2:7), there exists a continuity between Creator, creation, and creature. The free will of God manifests in the moral choices humans make, and is reflected, perhaps, in what we perceive as the random nature of nature.
John Stackhouse labels the virus “a pestilence with no place in the messianic kingdom to come.” Katherine Sonderegger aptly narrated the dreadful landscape wrought …