Tragedies are nothing new. Whether natural disaster or human inflicted disaster, people have faced them from the beginning of time. The current Covid-19 pandemic is just another in a long line of tragic events that have disrupted our lives, shut down the economy, and killed thousands of people at home and abroad. And each time something like this happens we hear that familiar refrain from people without faith, “If God is sovereign and good, why does He let it happen?” Among people of little or no faith, they think of God, when they think of Him at all, as one who is presumably loving and good, which means that He must want us to be happy all the time, and they don’t believe that such a God could be particularly demanding or judgmental. Therefore, they don’t understand how He could possibly let such things happen. Maybe He doesn’t really exist, or if He does exist, He doesn’t really care.
At the heart of these questions is a misconception about the reality of God and our world, because both are far more complicated than the narrow understanding of their worldview. The benign God of their imagination doesn’t exist and the world can be a very hard place in which to live. The God of scripture, who really does exist, is very different from their imagination. He is Holy, infinite, transcendent, glorious, righteous and loving, far above us and far beyond our comprehension. He is good, but His righteousness wars against the sin of this world and demands judgement on it. Yet, bound up with His righteous judgment is His unbounded love and mercy.
God created and sustains all of creation, and His sovereignty extends to every single detail of it. He clothes the lilies of the field, feeds the birds of the air, and attends to every sparrow that falls (Matt. 6:26–28; 10:29). Yet, this is a fallen world because of sin. It is a world of death, transience, and futility. This is a place where the devil roams free and where we can suffer calamity, including from diseases like Covid-19. In its present fallen condition, the world is not supposed to be a secure, trouble-free, and always happy place. And yet, God’s sovereignty mitigates that world. Although bad things happen, in His sovereign will He continues to love His creation. The many beauties, satisfactions, and pleasures of life that we enjoy are the deeper signs of God’s sovereignty.
So why doesn’t God just make everything good and perfect? Well, He did, in the Garden of Eden, the paradise that we rejected, and He will again, in the eternal paradise that He has prepared for His people. In the meantime, we must live in this very imperfect world. But, remember that this is also the world in which God redeems us from our sins. God entered into this broken world in the person of Jesus Christ, who subjected Himself to its sin and death in order to save us. This is the world where we whom He has saved are called to do battle against sin, resist temptation, oppose evil, do good works, and experience all the trials and tribulations that can strengthen us in our faith and prepare us for eternal life.
In light of God’s sovereignty, tragedies like the pandemic should remind us to “lay up” for ourselves “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19–20). We should meet them with repentance (Luke 13:5); cling to Christ in faith (Ps. 63:8); pray for deliverance (Matt. 6:13); and live out our faith, particularly in our workplace, family, church and community (Matt. 22:36–40). Because God is still sovereign, and always will be, we can stand on His promise: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Incumbent at St Aidan's Anglican Church,