Did this coronavirus originate with God?

As I write this in March 2020, the world is going through a pandemic of coronavirus, specifically COVID-19. We don’t have a vaccine yet—and plenty of fools will refuse it anyway once it’s developed and available—so meanwhile we’re largely under quarantine. I live in California, and people here are expected to stay home. It’s not illegal to leave home, and hopefully never comes to that… so long that people wisely stick to our leaders’ wishes instead of being defiantly libertarian. The thinking is if we all stay apart, the virus won’t spread, and we can spare some of the people who might be hit hardest by it. So for the most part we can only interact via internet, and can go out only for supplies—or if we have essential jobs. (I do, and have been working a lot of overtime.)

And yeah, since I’m posting this on the internet, you knew this already. I’m explaining ’cause people may read this article years from now, and know nothing about it, or have forgotten most of it.

Naturally people wanna know God’s role in all this. And naturally plenty of people think they already have answers to that question, and are happy to share them with anyone who asks. Even people who don’t ask. None of TXAB’s readers asked me what I think about it. Which is fine; I wrote this article preemptively. It’ll come in handy in the event of future viruses.

So as I wrote in my first article on theodicy, humans have five typical answers to “Where’s God?” based on how they imagine him. And there’s a lot of projection involved in these answers. By default, we humans fill in the gaps of our knowledge with ourselves and our motives. If we like to imagine we’re nice, kind, good people, we extrapolate these motives onto God: He’s a nice, kind, good God. If we’re self-centered and not so kind, we imagine God’s kind of a dick too. So the answers to “Where’s God?” run the gamut:

  • “God created this virus long ago; probably to kill bats. We unleashed it on ourselves. Shouldn’ta messed with nature.”
  • “God doesn’t create viruses, so don’t pin this on him. Humanity created it. Probably the government.”
  • “This is God’s wrath. His punishment towards a world full of dirty sinners. ’Cause it’s long past time the Baby Boomers reaped the consequences for their wanton ways. Repent!”
  • “God’s fighting this virus right along with us. He’s inspiring scientists to invent cures. He’s strengthening nurses to care for the sick. And I can sell you some essential oils, or silver-embedded tchotchkes, which’ll cure you too! I take Venmo.”
  • “God unleashed this plague so humanity would put aside all our petty differences and fight a common enemy—the virus.” (I like to call this theory “the Watchmen scenario,” based on the graphic novel where—spoilers—that’s what happens. But y’notice diehard partisans never actually do put petty differences aside. For anything or anyone. Bitterness can run mighty deep.)
  • “God had nothing to do with the virus, good or bad. Stop talking religion and go wash your hands.”

And variations thereof. Which one’s correct? I myself lean in the fighting-it-with-us direction, but let’s get closer to right, shall we?

Karma and natural disasters.

Most of our problem begins because people try to apply the rules of karma to plagues. Very few of us are comfortable with the idea this sort of thing just happens, randomly, and has no meaning. After all, the human brain was created to solve problems, to find meanings—even where there aren’t any. So we try ”connecting the dots,” if we think we can find any.

If you wanna analyze the average human’s quick-’n-dirty thought process in more detail, it loosely goes like this: Viruses cause suffering; suffering must happen for a reason; the reason must be that people deserve to suffer. Usually because they did something evil. The universe is punishing them. They racked up some bad karma.

Too much karmic thinking has wormed its way into Christianity, and the result are far too many Christians who think God uses viruses, and other forms of suffering, to punish the wicked. Like Jesus’s students asked him before he cured a blind man, “Rabbi, between this man or his parents, who sinned so he’d be born blind?” Jn 9.2 KWL Somebody had to have sinned. It simply didn’t occur to the kids this man’s blindness might have no meaning behind it at all. That the only way it has any meaning is if Jesus gives it one—by becoming its cure. Jn 9.3-5

And if this idea ever does occur to people, they put it out of their heads right away. They don’t wanna live in a random universe, where bad things can happen to just anyone for no reason. They want to know, no matter what, everything happens for a reason; everything’s going according to a divine plan; the universe is gonna sort everything out; all things are working together for our good. Chaos terrifies them. So they gotta have determinism: God has his hand on absolutely everything that ever happened or will happen. There are no accidents.

And if there are no accidents, disasters therefore have a purpose. Chaos has a cause; it’s not simply the way things naturally are before God starts to sort things out. Ge 1.2 Suffering has a meaning—namely, that somebody sinned. Doesn’t have to be you that sinned, ’cause Jesus didn’t, and clearly suffered because others sinned. But it’s gotta be somebody’s sin behind our suffering. Like Adam’s original sin or something: We’ll blame Adam, at least, for the fallen world we live in, and the occasional virus which gives us anything from sniffles to violent death.

But is a deterministic universe what the scriptures describe? Nope. Read Ecclesiastes again. Time and chance happen to everyone. Ec 9.11 Accidents, disorder, mayhem, illness, and disaster can strike for no reason, kill for no reason, and ruin one’s life for no reason. If you don’t wanna live in a universe like this: Tough beans. You do.

Could God control absolutely everything in it, if he wanted to? Of course; he’s easily that powerful. But does he? Nope. He created a universe where bad things might and do happen. It’s risky, and many of us would really rather he not take such a risk. But I remind you, God is so almighty, it’s not really a risk to him. He knows precisely how everything’s gonna turn out, regardless. (Being unlimited by time, God already exists way beyond the point he sorted everything out; he sees exactly how good it’ll be.) So if we’re his kids, we’re gonna be better than fine in the long run. If we’re not… well, don’t choose that option!

In the short run, we gotta put up with the chaos. Which includes dealing with accidents, disorder, mayhem, illness, and disaster. And recognizing that sometimes they mean nothing. They just happen. It’s the universe we live in. God’s not behind them; God’s not smiting us with them; God’s not manipulatively using them to build character. They happen.

Karma is what people believe in, and cling to, when they can’t handle this idea. And karma is never based on grace. It’s always gonna be harshly judgmental: We’ll take little, minor things—stuff which had little to no consequences; stuff which God forgave long ago, and Jesus’s blood entirely wiped out—and we’ll blow them up into the entire reasons for our suffering. Like “The reason you got cancer was because you gossiped that one time.” As if little sins throw God into a crazy homicidal rage… but then again, when people don’t know God, they’ll believe he’s that kind of psycho. (Even teach it in church!)

So if we’re gonna talk about what God does or doesn’t do through natural disasters, we first gotta shove aside any of this determinism nonsense, or this karma nonsense. Both these things will simply mess us up, and make us think God’s behind all the evil in the universe. No he’s not. Bad stuff happens. But God is good.

God isn’t behind every disease.

When the LORD permitted Satan to take a dump all over his faithful follower Job of Utz, Satan gave Job boils. Not the LORD; Satan. Job’s plague didn’t originate from God; it came from Satan. Says so in the bible and everything.

Job 2.7-8 KWL
7 Satan went forth from the LORD’s face.
It struck Job with evil boils, from the sole of his foot to his scalp.
8 Job got himself a pottery shard to scratch himself with.
He sat in the middle of the garbage fire ashes.

Doesn’t say whether the boils were the result of a massive allergic reaction, a bacterium, or a virus. All we know is they didn’t come from God.

Where’d this disease come from? Duh; Satan. But certain Christians are gonna insist God’s the only creator, so therefore Satan can’t have engineered a disease; it must’ve borrowed an old disease, like the plague of boils God used on the Egyptians. Ex 9.9 Thing is, if humans can do it, I don’t see why the devil can’t; and since humans have learned know how to edit gene sequences, clearly this is an ability not limited to the Creator alone. I don’t rule out the possibility an evil spirit stole some DNA and repurposed it to kill and destroy; that’s exactly the sort of thing Satan does. Jn 10.10 I also don’t rule out the likelihood a beneficial bacterium or virus devolved into something destructive and deadly; chaos happens too.

Determinists are gonna insist every disease has a divine reason, a divine cause, and a divine origin: God created ’em, causes them, and has his reasons. Even when the devil makes someone sick, or some terrorist nation tries a little biological warfare, determinists are gonna insist God’s hiding behind the scenes, allowing disease—again, for divine reasons. They’re mighty insistent on pinning the blame for every disease upon God. ’Cause if he isn’t behind every single disaster, it implies in their minds he’s lost control of his universe; we’re boned.

On the contrary: If God’s behind every disease, yet Jesus cures people of disease and actively fights disease, we are so boned. Because all of Jesus’s compassion for sick people would be an act. Would be hypocrisy. He set everything up, endangered people’s lives, all so he can look like the hero, but it’s entirely for show—and he’s only pretending that hypocrisy annoys him more than anything. He’s a fraud; you can’t trust him… and if we can’t trust Jesus, like I said, we’re boned. Christianity falls apart, and we’ve no idea whether we’re even saved. So yeah, determinism isn’t quite as comforting as you’d imagine. No matter how you struggle to explain it, determinism always turns God into a secretly-evil schemer.

Yes God has used plagues and disease to punish people in the past. He used boils on the Egyptians, hemorrhoids on the Philistines, 1Sa 5.6 leprosy on Miriam Nu 12.10 and Uzziah 2Ch 26.19 and Gehazi. 2Ki 5.27 It’s not like viruses are outside of his toolbox, if he’s gotta get people’s attention, and sometimes even punish them. It’s just when he does smite people with disease, he makes it abundantly clear that’s what he’s up to. Has he done likewise with our current plague? Nope.

Some natural disasters have nothing to do with God, 1Ki 19.11-12 and this is one of them. He’s not the cause. He can be the cure, when we turn to him; same as every disease. And he can also answer no, if he chooses. But let’s not start with a disastrous initial mistake, and automatically presume he’s the cause.