The coronavirus has exploded around the world resulting in more than 885,000 confirmed cases and more than 44,000 deaths. The world’s economy has crashed, resulting in hardship for millions. Hundreds of millions are living under stay-at-home orders. With all this, it’s natural for people to ask ultimate questions: Why is all this happening? Where is all this heading?
This week I read N. T. Wright’s article with this stunning headline: “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To.” Wright argues that the Bible offers no ultimate answers to this virus and the profound suffering it has caused worldwide.
He says that seeking rational explanations for such evil and suffering is a “knee-jerk reaction” that’s effectively barking up the wrong tree. Rather than trying to locate ultimate meaning in answers about what God is doing in all this, we should follow the psalmists in hopeless lament. Yes, hopeless. Wright quotes T. S. Eliot: “The only advice is to wait without hope, because we’d be hoping for the wrong thing.”
We Do Know How It Ends
But the Bible was written to give us hope. Christian hope shines brightest when all earthly hopes flicker and flame out. Better than Eliot, Christians have Scripture, which instructs them in what to hope for. What is hope—any hope—but a feeling, a sense in the heart that the future is bright? Worldly hopes are often dashed because they aren’t rooted in real information about the future, but only in good wishes and sweet dreams. As James says, “We don’t know what will happen tomorrow!” (James 4:14).
But Christian hope is radically different, because Christianity is different from every other religion. Why? Because it’s eternally founded on the prophetic words of God, revealed to prophets who wrote down what God said about the future. The God of the Bible is eternal, infinitely above the unfolding of time. He is the “Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13). He wrote the complex story of human history before the world began. And he has revealed everything we need to know about the future.
God challenges the idols to a duel over the future: “Tell us what the future holds, so that we may know you are gods” (Isa. 41:23). They failed in Isaiah’s day, and they’ll always fail. God is the King of the future; he alone decides what will happen.
And he told us in Scripture where the journey of history ends: in a new heaven and new earth, radiant with the glory of God, populated by redeemed people from every nation, people purified by faith in Jesus Christ (Rev. 7:9–14). In that beautiful world there’ll be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain (Rev. 21:4). The tree of life will be there, and the leaves of that tree will be for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:4).
Despite what T. S. Eliot says, Christians know exactly what to hope for. We’ve been clearly instructed by God’s prophetic Word, and therefore, we should be radiant with hope—an unshakable conviction that the future is indescribably bright. The world is “without hope and without God” (Eph. 2:14); so when Christians radiate hope, the world notices and is moved to ask us to give a reason for the hope within us (1 Pet. 3:15).
But Where’s God Now?
But what of the tragic details of history, the seemingly irrational twists and turns along the way? Christianity offers the proper stance for those as well; they’re all a beautiful combination of scriptural truth (rational explanations) plus heartfelt compassion (including lament).
Wright pits these against each other, but the Bible harmonizes them perfectly. No chapter in Scripture displays this harmony better than John 11, which poses four questions:
- Why did God allow Lazarus to become sick at all?
- Why did Jesus delay coming to his sick friend’s side?
- If Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, and could have healed him, why did he let him die?
- Why did Jesus weep?
The narrative offers clear answers to these questions, often directly from our Savior’s lips.
The answer to number 1: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory, that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).
The answer to number 2: “Jesus loved Martha and her sister, and Lazarus. Therefore when he heard Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days” (John 11:5–6, emphasis mine; “therefore” is in the Greek). And Jesus said to his disciples, “Lazarus is dead. And for your sakes I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (John 11:14–15). The delay was intentional by Jesus, to bring his loved ones (including us) to a stronger faith in his resurrecting power.
This is also the answer to number 3. Jesus allowed Lazarus to die to put this powerful truth on display for all time: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25–26).
But what about the answer to number 4? Why did Jesus weep? Even more, why did he rage, as the Greek word says he did (John 11:33)? These questions become all the more poignant when we realize Jesus knows full well he’s about to raise Lazarus. He knows death is the final enemy (1 Cor. 15:26), and that death will cost his beloved people immeasurable anguish over the centuries.
But it will finally be defeated at the end of all things (Rev. 20:14).
So Jesus laments with deep compassion for the temporary suffering of his people. Temporary, because moments after Jesus wept, he said “Lazarus, come forth!” and the dead man was raised to life. So rational explanations and lamentations ultimately yield to Jesus’s resurrection power.
We’ll See His Glory
When all his believing people are resurrected in glorious bodies like his, I believe Jesus will allow us to look back over the magnificent tapestry of redemptive history, with all its dark and light threads, and see his wisdom in it all.
For God’s redeemed, no sickness ever ended ultimately in death. And God isn’t willing that we’ll be eternally in the dark about his intentions. Jesus said:
I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, because everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)
God isn’t going to hide his purposes from his children. And though we may never know in this world the full dimensions of God’s purposes in the coronavirus, it will be made clear one glad morning.