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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Disease, Disaster, Evil and Worldviews

Aug 10, 2020

One’s worldview determines how we approach things like the corona crisis:

Two nights ago on television there was a replay of the 1996 film Independence Day. You know the story: a bunch of nasty aliens come to earth levelling cities and nations. It is a global war which all earthlings must engage in. And last night I noticed a replay of an older documentary on 9/11. That story we all know: buildings levelled by malevolent Islamic terrorists.

In both cases there were evil beings doing evil things. We knew who the enemy was. But as we seek to get our heads around the corona crisis things are rather different. One can argue that we have two main sources of our current woes: the coronavirus itself of course, but also what many argue are bungling governments overreacting with draconian lockdown measures that are simply making matters worse.

As but just one indication of this (in addition to the many others I have chronicled on this site over the past half year), is this report out of the UK: “Lockdown ‘killed two people for every three who died of coronavirus’ at peak of outbreak.” www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/08/07/lockdown-killed-two-three-died-coronavirus/

So with things like corona, at least some of the enemy is us. Of course one can also ask about how much the CCP and lab workers in China are to blame for the virus. But for those wanting the bigger picture as to how we explain evil and disaster, there are various philosophical and theological traditions to draw upon here.

Needless to say early on during this pandemic I wrote on that very thing. Many Christians for example have asked if this might be the judgment of God. That is always possible. See my piece here: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/03/20/plagues-panic-and-providence/

And one could well make such a case. If it is the judgment of God, diabolical politicians like this would be part of why it is happening: www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/new-zealand-lawmakers-enact-abortion-on-demand-under-cover-of-coronavirus

But as I have said often now, it is one thing to have a clear prophetic word from God as we find in the Old Testament when disaster strikes. Sadly we do not have the same thing today, so we must proceed with some caution on these matters.

Back then God not only warned ahead of time about various divine judgments, but he offered clear commentary as they were occurring. As to the warnings, there are many. Consider just one, Deuteronomy 31:1: “Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?”

And when the judgments did come, there really was little need to keep asking, “Why has all this happened to us?” But the people do keep asking this, so the prophets offer the divine reply. We see this often in the book of Jeremiah, which I happen to be reading again at the moment, so let me offer a few such passages:

-Jeremiah 2:17 Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the Lord your God?
-Jeremiah 5:19 And when your people say, ‘Why has the Lord our God done all these things to us?’ you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours.’
-Jeremiah 9:12-14 Who is the man so wise that he can understand this? To whom has the mouth of the Lord spoken, that he may declare it? Why is the land ruined and laid waste like a wilderness, so that no one passes through? And the Lord says: “Because they have forsaken my law that I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice or walked in accord with it, but have stubbornly followed their own hearts and have gone after the Baals, as their fathers taught them.
-Jeremiah 13:22 And if you say in your heart,
    ‘Why have these things come upon me?’
it is for the greatness of your iniquity
-Jeremiah 16:10-11 And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?’ then you shall say to them: ‘It is because your fathers forsook me,’ declares the LORD, ‘and followed other gods and served and worshiped them. They forsook me and did not keep my law’.
-Jeremiah 40:3 All this happened because you people sinned against the LORD and did not obey him.

There was no doubt, in other words, why all these things were happening. But as mentioned, we cannot always be so certain today. So I can only say that something like this MIGHT be the direct work of God, at the very least to get our attention, and to rouse a sin-ravaged world from its stupor. If this is the case, then, as I said in another piece:

We must allow for God’s full and complete work. If we are hoping the crisis ends in a month, we will all just go back to business as usual. So God may allow it to go on for many months, knowing that the spiritual medicine so many of us need will take some time. There can be no quick fixes here when it comes to soul surgery. We are in need of major spiritual operations. billmuehlenberg.com/2020/03/21/no-more-business-as-usual-2/

Since all worldviews must deal with the problem of evil, let me look at how two important Christian thinkers have discussed such matters. The great Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer spoke repeatedly about how the Christian worldview differs markedly from other worldviews.

In a number of his books and talks he referred to the 1947 volume by French existentialist philosopher and novelist Albert Camus. The book, La Peste (The Plague) told the story of a plague that swept through an Algerian town. In it he has two characters taking a differing approach to the plague.

A Catholic priest says that the plague is God’s punishment for sin, while a doctor seeks to help the people, seeing no divine hand in it at all. Schaeffer says the Christian worldview is different from both of these. As he writes in The God Who Is There:

Image of Unspeakable: Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil
Unspeakable: Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil by Array Amazon logo

Camus intends a deeper understanding. Therefore he confronts the reader with a serious choice: either he must join the doctor and fight the plague, in which case, says Camus, he will then be fighting God; or he can join with the priest and not fight the plague, and thus be anti-humanitarian. This is the choice; and this is the dilemma which Camus faced and which all those face who, like him, do not have the Christian answer.

Schaeffer discusses how Jesus was grieved – even angry – with death, while raising Lazarus from the dead, and goes on to say this:

There is an adequate reason for fighting wrong. The Christian never faces the dilemma posed in Camus’ book La Peste. It simply is not true that he either has to side with the doctor against God by fighting the plague, or join with the priest on God’s side and thus be much less than human by not fighting the plague. . . .  In Camus’ words, Christ hated the plague. The point is that He claimed to be God and He could hate the plague without hating Himself as God. A Christian can fight what is wrong in the world with compassion and know that as he hates these things, God hates them too. God hates them to the high price of the death of Christ.

But if I live in a world of non-absolutes and would fight social injustice on the mood of the moment, how may one establish what social justice is? What criterion do I have to distinguish between right and wrong so that I may know what I should be fighting? May it not be that I could acquiesce in evil and stamp out good? The word ‘love’ cannot tell me how I may discern, for within the humanistic framework love can have no defined meaning. But once we comprehend that the Christ who came to die to end ‘the plague’ both wept and was angry at the plague’s effects, we have a reason for fighting that does not rest merely on my momentary disposition, or the shifting consensus of men.

The second Christian thinker I wish to draw upon here is Os Guinness. A few years after 9/11 he released an important book on these matters called Unspeakable (Harper, 2005). You can see my review of it here: billmuehlenberg.com/2005/08/24/a-review-of-unspeakable-facing-up-to-evil-in-an-age-of-genocide-and-terror-by-os-guinness/

Early on he compares 9/11 with another disaster, the 1755 Great Lisbon Earthquake. Along with a tsunami and devastating fires, some 60,000 people were killed. Guinness notes some parallels with what happened in NYC, and then says this:

But the difference between 1755 and 2001 is crucial too. The outcome of the Lisbon earthquake, as interpreted by Voltaire and others, was to weaken traditional faith in God and providence and strengthen the new confidence in Enlightenment progress – God is dead and the future of mankind is one of our own making. Whereas the outcome of September 11 has been to destroy the last threads of the Enlightenment belief that humans are getting better and better. It has also served to reunite the deepest questions about God with the deepest questions about humanity.

Readers are urged to read his incisive work as he seeks to show that the Judeo-Christian worldview best helps us to understand and cope with evil, suffering and disaster. While we may not have every single answer to questions about why earthquakes, terror attacks, and plagues happen, we do have the rock-solid assurance that the God we worship is not immune from suffering, nor is he aloof from our suffering.

Worldviews matter. In closing, let me offer these words from my review of his book:

In the Christian religion, not only is there a plausible explanation for evil, but there is the conviction that something has been done about it. God has entered human history and confronted sheer evil. And the sheer love of God has defeated this evil. Of course the mystery of evil can never be fathomed, at least in this world. In the Hebrew scriptures a whole book was devoted to the subject. Job asked a lot of questions which were never answered. “In the end, rather than getting an answer from God, Job encounters God himself, which is his answer.”

[1776 words]

7 Responses to Disease, Disaster, Evil and Worldviews

  • Eric Metaxas’ new book deals with these ideas.
    “If you can keep it”

  • I believe that to think that the coronavirus as a divine judgement is too simplistic a view (the disciples to the blindness of the man Jesus healed as attributable to sin in John 9:1-3, & the disasters Jesus mentioned in Luke 13:1-5), they may also serve as a “wake-up call” to the church & Christians in general; & an act of God’s grace for many to come to repentance.

  • The shameful part with 9/11 was it brought the nation to church but NOT to God. People wanted comfort and soothing words someone to hold their hand and say there there, there there. And that is exactly what they got. When fire and brimstone sermons were needed platitudes were given. A wake up call was needed a therapy session was given. Jesus loves you and God loves you are the most abused phrases out there even by the church. No one knows what divine love is anymore.

    People keep asking why did this happen but don’t want the REAL answer they want an answer that is a quick fix something they can throw money at or build or a phrase they can say to put everything right then go back to living their lives in peace.

    It’ll take a lot more than this to wake up the church. When she is awake she is wide awake but we when she is asleep she is in a dead sleep. Hopefully it will happen before we are taken to the camps OR gallows.

  • I believe God is letting these things like the coronavirus happen to our nation instead of protecting us fully from them because of our many national sins like abortion, SSM, euthanasia etc. It is Jesus in Revelation 5 and 6 that lets loose the four horsemen of religious deception, wars, famines, disease epidemics and earthquakes. These things have all happened before but they are intensifying eg in Australia we have had a long drought and bushfires that we thought would never end but they did with some flooding, only to be followed straight away by the coronavirus from overseas, some racial protesting and now the coronavirus again as we erroneously let people returning from overseas out in the community. We must keep praying and helping as some people are being brought to their knees while others are being kept safe.
    On another note, here is an explanation for the devasting blast in Beirut https://worldisraelnews.com/analysis-what-really-happened-at-the-port-of-beirut/

  • just wanted to let you know scrolling works now on safari.

  • Thanks Paul. My computer guy may have tweaked something there.

  • Yes, I had scrolling issues for years with your site using Firefox, but I’ve noticed in the past few days the issues have disappeared. Only ever happened with this site for some reason. Much easier to manage without the page scrolling at the rapid rate it used to – so many thanks to your computer guy.

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