What do Christians believe about Natural Evil?
When natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, or pandemics happen, people ask questions such as why God would allow such evil to kill innocent people. For example, an atheist recently asked me, “why did your God create coronavirus?” Therefore, this article is designed to discuss the novel coronavirus pandemic from a Christian perspective.
What do Christians believe about natural disasters like the coronavirus? How do we respond? What are the relevant scriptures to support what we believe? And how do we apply wisdom in times of crisis? These questions need answers and are more difficult to grapple with when Christians are amongst the victims of such natural disasters. Therefore, the first approach is to trace the origin of natural disasters like the current coronavirus pandemic, and the best place to commence the search for a Christian perspective is the Bible.
What is the Origin of Natural Disasters?
What is the origin of natural disasters like the coronavirus pandemic? Before we attempt to answer this question from a Scriptural point of view, it is essential to note that we cannot know everything from this side of heaven. Notwithstanding, we have enough information in the Bible, general studies, science, and philosophy to enable us to deduce plausible answers logically. It is not about having all answers for all questions, because if anyone is able to answer all questions accurately, then that person has become God. However, in Why Does God Allow Evil, Christian apologist Clay Jones, rightly opines, “We need to know God’s plan so that we can make sense of tsunamis, fires, cancers, strokes, rapes, tortures, and the fact that, except for the Lord’s return, the only thing that will prevent us from watching everyone we know die will be our own death.”[i] God has given us relevant insight in the book of Genesis that will help us trace the origin of natural evil as well as His plan. Suffice it to say that the question of whether natural evil started before or after the fall of Adam is debated amongst Christian scholars. However, this article will focus on the plain reading of the book of Genesis without dabbling into that debate.
To decipher the origin of natural evil, it is also pertinent to understand the nature of evil. In the City of God, Augustine theorizes, “For evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name ‘evil.”[ii] Hence, evil is essentially a negation of the good. In Genesis chapters 1 and 2, the Bible says that at the point of creation, everything God created was very good, but from Genesis chapter 3, everything changed because of Adam’s sin. Genesis 2:16-17 showcases the fulcrum upon which the destiny of creation rests: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Nevertheless, Genesis 3:1-6 narrates how Satan, disguised as a serpent, spoke to Eve and deceived her. Eve ate and gave the forbidden fruit to her husband, who also ate. Their disobedience subsequently triggered a series of catastrophic cosmic events—death. Once they ate, they sinned, and because of that sin, the whole of creation fell as God placed curses on both mankind and creation. It is important to emphasize that in Genesis 3:14-19, God not only put a curse on Adam and Eve but also the ground. In the curse of Adam and Eve was the curse of all humanity, as well as the curse of the ground or creation. Genesis 3:17-19 states,
…Then to Adam, He said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you saying, you shall not eat of it, cursed is the ground for your sake. In toil you shall eat of it, all the days of your life, both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; For dust you are, and to dust, you shall return.
The curse was placed on the ground. How did this curse extend to all creation? To account for the interpretation that the curse on the ground extends to the entire creation, we need to bear the unique genre of biblical writings in mind and cross-reference other scriptures that speak on the same subject. One New Testament reference regarding the above curse is found in Romans 8:19-23, which states:
For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the Son of God, for the creation was subjected to futility not willingly but because of him who subjected it in hope, because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God, for we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pains together unto now, not only that but we also who are the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
This passage shows that just as all humanity is bound in sin, creation itself is subjected under the bondage of corruption and awaits a form of redemption as Christians await the glorification of their bodies. It is not humanity alone that will experience glorification, but the entire creation. Every true believer is waiting for that final day when Jesus will come, our bodies will be transformed, and we will be glorified (1 Cor 15:35-55). So also, this entire creation will pass away, and the new heaven and new earth will emerge (2 Peter 3:10-13).
I have provided this background because the coronavirus pandemic and natural evil, in general, are the result of the bondage of corruption in the fallen world. Adam’s sin caused the fall of humanity as well as the fall of creation. Hence, if Adam’s sin caused the Fall, and the consequences of the Fall include sickness and death, we can clearly see the origin of a disease like coronavirus. Whether viruses existed before the Fall or not is not the issue here. What is important is the effect diseases now have on humanity, namely, that humans now become sick and die from these diseases. If you can see that diseases originated in the Fall and that we are still living in this fallen world, then you will agree that this coronavirus pandemic is a consequence of the Fall. You will also realize that the hope of glorification is the ultimate answer and solution to this ravaging pandemic.
What is God’s Role in Natural Evil?
God’s role in natural disasters or evil is very intricate. I cannot claim to know God’s role in its entirety or why He created things like viruses. Also, I do not have the depth of knowledge it takes to decipher how and why God sometimes uses natural disasters (like the Flood) in executing His justice on creation. However, God is not silent about natural evil. In this section, I will focus on God’s response to natural evil, as revealed in God’s redemptive plan following the Fall.
1. At the time of the Fall
God was not delighted with the fall of Adam and Eve and the subsequent entrance of evil in the world. Despite suffering rejection at the hands of the first humans, God clearly showed His love for humanity at the point where He could have justifiably turned His back on humanity. God knew that Adam and Eve had sinned and fallen from grace, yet, He chose to visit them at the Garden to mitigate the damages. Although He cursed them and cursed the ground for their sake, Genesis 3:21 indicates that the primary thing God came to do was to rescue rather than damn. Genesis 3:21 states, “Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin and clothed them.” That act of benevolently clothing Adam and Eve with skin was a prophetic action symbolizing the coming redemption in Christ Jesus. God had already forewarned them that if they ate of this fruit, they would die—the wages of sin is death. This death was perpetual for humanity, but God mitigated it by the promise of redemption. God did not just clothe them with the leaves they had used earlier; He clothed them with animal skin. In doing so, He indicated for the first time, that He was going to give His Son to redeem humanity.
2. At the Time of Redemption
The redemption God promised at the Fall, He fulfilled at the Cross by giving Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son to die a substitutionary death for the rescue of humanity and creation from the bondage of corruption. The Bible captures this divine benevolence in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” When Adam and Eve sinned and subsequently fell, the whole humanity fell with them because they were the first human beings—the progenitors of the human family. That is why the Bible tells us that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Also, all are conceived in iniquity and born in sin.
This concept of the corruption of sin upon all humanity is repeated in the book of Romans 5:6, 12-17, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world and death through sin, death spread to all men because all sinned. But the free gift is not like the offense, for if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.” In this passage, there is an interplay between the first man—Adam and the second man—Jesus Christ. Through Adam’s sin, death entered, and that death went to all men. Adam’s sin plunged us into death, but the righteousness of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the Cross brought us into justification.
In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God provided a remedy for the Fall, and the remedy He provided is what those who believe experience when they become saved. But Christians are still awaiting the fullness of salvation (Romans 5:1-10), for we have been saved—justification, we are being continually saved—sanctification, and we will yet be saved—glorification. Creation has not entered the justification and sanctification phase of redemption because it is not morally culpable. Rather, creation is presently enjoying the light Christians shine in the world and the savoring they give as the salt of the earth. However, the Bible tells us that at the phase of glorification, the whole creation will be glorified alongside the redeemed.
3. At the End of Time
What is going to happen at the end of time? What is God’s ultimate plan? 2 Peter 3:10-13 says,
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless, we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Let us look at the overarching picture that is presented in this passage. Here, Apostle Peter is telling us what is going to happen to the present heaven and the earth. We do not know what mechanism God is going to use to destroy the old heaven and earth, whether natural or supernatural. However, He will ultimately usher in an entirely new creation. In I Corinthians 15, Apostle Paul emphasizes that just as those who are alive when Christ returns will receive glorified bodies, those who have already died in Him will resurrect and acquire glorified bodies. So also, the Bible tells us that this earth we presently live in, will dissolve, and a brand-new earth will emerge. This old earth—that now has coronavirus, and earthquakes, that has Ebola and tsunamis—will be dissolved and replaced with a new earth devoid of natural disasters. This is God’s ultimate plan of redemption and salvation for both man and creation. Revelation 21:1-5 gives a glimpse of what the new heaven and earth will look like:
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also, there was no more sea. …And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God, Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.
There will be no more coronavirus, no more earthquakes, no more suffering, no more death. That is our hope—Maranatha! (come, Lord Jesus, come).
What is the Conclusion?
Rather than ask the question “why does God allow evil in the world,” the correct question should be, “what has God done regarding the evil Adam brought into the world?” Just like we have physical laws like the law of gravity, we also have spiritual laws like the law of sin and death. Although these laws are contingent on the supreme Lawgiver, they are necessary for life on earth and have determined outcomes when broken. Adam broke the law of sin and death and suffered the consequences, which include both the fall of humanity and creation. God—the Creator and Lawgiver—in His benevolence made a plan to redeem humanity and creation. Hence, it is not about God allowing or not allowing the coronavirus pandemic but what He has done about it. As we have seen, the origin of the coronavirus is the fall of man, but God graciously decided to redeem us and has sent Jesus to do just that. That is why we urge people everywhere to repent and to put their faith in Jesus Christ as the only savior and mediator between God and men.
Within the redemption that is through Christ Jesus, God has provided healing and grace to help us here and now, but that is not His ultimate goal. I have experienced the joy of supernatural healing, and it is a pleasure to pray for people and see them healed, but that is not the final answer. We will not always be healed all the time. While in the world, if we get healed, or survive by God’s supernatural intervention, we should be thankful. However, our hope and desires should be placed on God’s ultimate promise of eternal redemption, where there will be no more sickness, no more coronavirus, no more death. Our greatest hope is to receive our glorified body—a glorified body that will never experience sickness, pain, or death. In the new earth, there will be no death, no sickness, no coronavirus, and no evil. God will do away with the problem of evil once and for all, and righteousness will fill the new earth.
Therefore, do not be troubled or dismayed by the plethora of information highlighting the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic. We have powerful spiritual weapons within the body of Christ, namely the tool of prayer and the gift of healing. Christians should stay strong in faith that we are not going to get the disease, and if we do contract it, we are going to be healed. Nonetheless, if some Christians get sick and die of this disease, our confidence is that they are going to be with Jesus for all eternity. Redemption is a win-win promise: “For [the Christian], to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Our prayer is that no one would get this disease: “Let us, therefore, come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). God encourages us to come to His throne of grace, to Jesus Christ, our High Priest, who is continually interceding on our behalf in the presence of God. The Bible admonishes us to come boldly, because we are children of God, to obtain mercy in the time of need. Every believer should remember that “in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39). If we have such hope, we should be bold and fearless in the face of every crisis. A pastor friend of mine puts it this way, “make sure your theology is what informs your biology.” Therefore, the Christian perspective on natural evil should guide the Christian in responding to the current coronavirus pandemic.
[i] Jones, Clay, Why Does God Allow Evil: Compelling Answers for Life’s Toughest Questions, (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2017), 18.
[ii] Augustine, Aurelius, The City of God, (Book XI), Chapter 9.