God’s Will and the Coronavirus

March 17th, 2020 / 46 Comments

I’m not surprised some people are blaming God. Maybe “crediting” God is more accurate.

I’m reading social media posts saying the Coronavirus (Covid 19) is God’s will. Our current suffering is part of some predetermined divine plan.

One post put it this way:

“Sorry to break up the big panic, but the Coronavirus will not take anyone outta this world unless that’s the good Lord’s plan. And you’re not gonna change that no matter what you do or what you buy.”

If this view is true, no need to worry. No need to prepare, defend, protect, sacrifice, or act. It’s all in “the good Lord’s plan.”

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Not the Plan!

I don’t believe the Coronavirus is God’s plan. God is not causing a pandemic that kills some, makes many miserable, and has widespread adverse effects on society.

God did not cause this evil!

Those who say, “God is in control” often claim all that happens, good or bad, is part of a master plan. Every torture, murder, rape, disease, war, and more are part of the divine blueprint.

I don’t believe the Coronavirus is God’s plan. Click To Tweet

Your sister’s rape? God’s plan. That miscarriage you suffered? God’s plan. Every ruthless dictator or fascist system? God’s plan. Cancer, meth addiction, leukemia, severe disability, and so on? God’s plan.

The Coronavirus? God’s plan.

I don’t buy it. I can’t believe a loving God would design that kind of plan! If that’s what God’s love is like, I want nothing to do with God!

God Allows the Virus?

Fortunately, a large number of people today reject the idea God is causing the current pandemic. Unfortunately, a large number believe God allows or permits it.

Does that make sense?

Those who say God allows evil imply God could stop it singlehandedly. If God wanted, God could end this pandemic with a solo act of control. For some reason, say these people, God is allowing death, illness, and widespread harm.

Suppose one of my kids began strangling another of my children. Suppose I could step in and stop this act of violence. But suppose I allowed it – and the death of my child – saying, “I didn’t cause this killing, so don’t blame me!”

No one would consider me a loving father if I failed to prevent the evil I could have prevented. Fathers who allow their kids to strangle one another are not loving.

Those who say God is allowing the Coronavirus undermine our belief God loves everyone. Click To Tweet

Those who say God permits the Coronavirus make a major mistake. They undermine our belief in a perfectly loving God. Just as a loving father wouldn’t allow his kids to strangle one another, a loving God wouldn’t allow a virus to wreak widespread death and destruction.

It makes no sense to say, “It isn’t God’s will, but God allows it.”

“See the Good that’s Come…”

Many who claim God causes or allows the Coronavirus will see some good that comes from our current crisis. They’ll point to stories of self-sacrifice or the good that comes from people cooperating to combat this pandemic.

Upon seeing the good that comes from the pandemic, some will use a “greater good” argument.  “We’ve learned something valuable from the Coronavirus!” they might say. “This pandemic has taught us we don’t need all the stuff we thought we needed.” “It took a virus for us to learn to slow down and focus on what’s important.”

Good things will come from the evils we currently face. Count on it. But we shouldn’t say God causes or allows evil for this good. It isn’t part of some predetermined plan.

Working with a diseased creation, God works to wring whatever good can be wrung from the wrong God didn’t cause or allow. Click To Tweet

Instead, we should think God squeezes some good from the bad God didn’t want in the first place.

God never gives up on anyone or any situation. Working with a broken and diseased creation, God works to wring whatever good can be wrung from the wrong God didn’t cause or allow.

It’s a Mystery

A growing number of people recognize the theological problems that come from saying God caused or allowed the Coronavirus. Instead of offering a better way to think about God’s action, however, they appeal to mystery.

“We don’t know why God acts this way,” they say. Some of the more sophisticated thinkers will say God doesn’t “act” in any way we can understand.  What it means to say “God acts” is an absolute mystery. Finite beings can’t in any sense understand an infinite God, they say.

Others play the mystery card by saying God is uninvolved. Deists say God created the world long ago but now has a hands-off approach. This God watches the world from a distance as it suffers. This God has the power to stop the mayhem but sits on the sideline eating popcorn.

If we can’t provide plausible answers to our present struggles and biggest fears — including the Coronavirus — why believe in God at all? Click To Tweet

I wonder why anyone believes in a God of absolute mystery. If we can’t provide plausible answers to our deepest struggles and biggest fears — including the Coronavirus — why believe in God at all?

If God’s ways are not our ways, no way is as good as any other.

A Better Way

There’s a better way to think about God’s will and the Coronavirus.

This way says God wants to defeat the virus. God desires to prevent the deaths and destruction we currently see. This way says God loves everyone and everything, from the most complex to the least. And God always actively engages the fight against the Coronavirus, at all levels of existence and society.

This better way says God can’t defeat the Coronavirus singlehandedly. God needs our help. In this time of struggle, God needs the best of medicine, the best from social leaders, the best from each of us.

I call this view “the uncontrolling love of God,” and I’ve written academic and popular books explaining its details. (For an easier read, see my best-selling book, God Can’t: How to Believe in God and Love after Tragedy, Abuse, and Other Evils.) This view says God’s love is inherently uncontrolling. And because God loves everyone and everything, God can’t control anyone or anything.

The uncontrolling God of love is the most potent force in the universe! But because love does not force its own way (1 Cor. 13:5), even the strongest Lover cannot control others.

God’s Will for Us

What is God’s will? In one sense, it’s the same today as every day: to love God, love others, and love all creation, including ourselves.

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In our current crisis, God’s specific will changes. God calls each person, each family, each community, and each political structure to unique responses of love. These specific calls are particular to what each creature can do in each situation. God calls us all to act in loving ways in light of what’s possible.

For most, social distancing can be a significant form of love. Sharing provisions – including toilet paper – can be another. Cooperating with health officials can be a powerful expression of love. Taking reasonable precautions can be an act of love. And so on…

We are always called to love. Our present crisis presents new challenges in discovering what love now requires. I commit to doing my best to discern and then respond to God’s calls of love.

I hope you join me. God does too.

God can’t defeat the Coronavirus singlehandedly. God needs our help. In this crisis, God needs the best of medicine, the best from social leaders, the best from each of us. Click To Tweet

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Comments

David J. Felter

Hello Tom:
A great word of wisdom for this challenging time.


Chris Williams

This is good. Thanks, Dr. Oord for your reflections toward our current situation. What about the existence of disease in the first place? Where does this evil come from since it would be perhaps a “natural evil” like hurricane’s and tsunamis wiping out human populations?


thomasjayoord

Great questions, Chris. I address several in my books. But the short answer is that the possibility of evil is part of what it means for creatures to be and have agency that God cannot control. That includes less complex entities and aggregates. In a world God continually creates and cannot control, the possibility of deviance sits alongside the possibility for love and beauty.


thomasjayoord

Thanks, David!


Robert Russell

Thank you, Tom, for these words. They speak truth regaiding God’s desire for us, his love for us, in times like these. Keep up the Good Word.


Larry Payne

I appreciate your insights! A question: how should we express prayer in the context of Uncontrolling-yet-Active Love? We’re not asking for intervention as if God has been on vacation, of course. Can you suggest collaborative language to use in our petitionary or intercessory prayer?


Robert Hale

very well said Tom. Thank you!


Chris Williams

Okay. I didn’t understand the “less complex entities and aggregates” thing, but I did just buy your book (“God Can’t”) because I’m curious now. Thanks for responding!


thomasjayoord

Thanks, Robert!


thomasjayoord

Excellent, Chris. Let me know what you think of the book’s ideas.


thomasjayoord

Thanks, Larry. That’s an important question. I plan to address it in my new book. In the meantime, I just did a podcast in which that question was central. I’ll post the link when it’s up.


thomasjayoord

I appreciate your encouragement, Robert!


Brian Felushko

I can no longer believe in any understanding of God who is completely lacking empathy and is uninvolved with his creation, any more than a God who permits/allows/causes suffering as part of his grand scheme for humanity. The God who doesn’t care or the God who holds back what he can do while millions fervently pray for his intervention, neither God is worthy of my devotion. I choose to believe the suffering in this world is not God’s plan but that he’ll work in us and through us when we cooperate with and strive to imitate his uncontolling, unconditional, and persistent love. Though our understanding of exactly who God is and how he works will never be perfect, thanks Tom for all you do to promote belief in this God.


Chris

Yeah Tom! I suggest you and Richard Beck (The Slavery of Death) tour the country with good stuff to chew on in these times! Thanks for sharing your wisdom and your gifts. Blessings


thomasjayoord

Thanks, Chris. I like the idea of touring with Richard!


thomasjayoord

Thanks, Brian. I agree with you!


Sandy Williams

Embracing this view of “God’s uncontrolling love” and suggesting that “God can’t” runs contrary to so much popular Christianity. Even suggesting that someone ought to at least consider these ideas is almost certainly to bring ridicule and rejection. A disciple is not above his teacher.


thomasjayoord

Good point, Sandy. These ideas run counter to the thinking in some circles.


Ryan

Hi Tom, I really appreciate your thoughts and your gracious spirit, but I think there might be a flaw in your reasoning. You define love as inherently uncontrolling, but you also argue that if a loving God *could* singlehandedly eliminate evils in the world He would. If love is inherently uncontrolling, wouldn’t it also be unloving for God to singlehandedly eliminate the coronavirus – whether He was capable of it or not?


thomasjayoord

Great question, Ryan. I say God’s love is inherently uncontrolling based on an a posteriori argument (argument from evidence) rather than an a priori one (argument by definition). So I begin by saying a loving God who could singlehandedly stop evil should. Because evil occurs, I surmise that God doesn’t have the power to prevent evil singlehandedly. That’s the a posteriori move. So claiming that God’s love is inherently uncontrolling is not something I’m saying is true by definition. It seems to be true due to experience.


Vince

Tom, your work is much appreciated. Question: Thinking soteriology, would you argue the work of God in Christ will ultimately rid the world of evil? Is this the end of the loving actions in which we participate?


Lon Marshall

Great article Tom. I have been thinking about theology and Pandemic development. Many believe these viruses develop because of humanity’s continual encroachment into the homes of other creatures, and our destruction of the environment. One way of loving would be to cooperate better with Creation and join the scientific with the theological.


thomasjayoord

Great thought, Lon. I suspect you’re right. What is the evidence we can use to make this argument? Links?


Lon Marshall

Here is an interesting link related to my above post. https://nyti.ms/33r5bzt


Jerry Carter

Fantastic article but help me align with one of the traditional takeaways from Job which seems to be an appeal to The Mystery.


R

Though I agree with some of this it isnt completely true. Good can do things. He often stops evil behind the scenes. Why slow corona and not others? Did it slip between God’s cracks? No. God allowed it for greater love. Corona isn’t the fear. Death is. Corona isn’t the same type of evil as a rape or murder etc get real. You’re comparing Apple’s and oranges. Yes God can. There’s different types of evils caused by different stimuli you cannot lump them all together. The evil of a tsunami is not the same as abortion.


Buz S

Assuming that I am not somehow choosing to block God from acting in my life–exercising my freedom to reject God–what factors or criteria does God use to decide whether it is right to bless-protect or to withhold blessing-protection?
I’m wondering if God might be more likely to use these criteria (notice carefully how these are stated):
1.    God never protects or blesses if it would cause one to trust more in self and less in God.
2.    God never withdraws protection or withholds blessing if it would cause one to pull back from trusting God.
Would God bless someone if God knew that person would “take the money” and say “thanks God, I think I can make it on my own now”?
Would God withhold blessing and protection from someone who is clearly living an immoral life (like an addict prostitute, or a corrupt businessman) if He knew that this person was at a point in their life where they could be drawn into a trust relationship with God if only they felt God really cared about them.


thomasjayoord

Thanks for your comments, R. I fundamentally disagree with you. But I appreciate your contribution.


thomasjayoord

Jerry – The Job story is tough! It has SO MANY interpretations. I think the main point of the story is to say bad things can happen to good people. We don’t always reap what we sow.

I have big problems with the way the story begins: God makes deals with the evil one! I don’t believe a loving God plays with the well-being of people in attempts to with a bet with the evil one. So I don’t take this aspect of Job as telling us the truth about God.


thomasjayoord

Good comments, Buz. I don’t find these criteria ultimately helpful, as I have said in my books. But I like the way you’re wrestling with the issues.


Thomas J. Oord: Gottes Wille und das Corona Virus – freestyleprojekt.de

[…] anfangen kann). Der Artikel wurde von Michael Jung übersetzt. Den englischen Artikel findet ihr hier. Eine pdf-Version der Übersetzung […]


Tony Kayser

What Does God Allow: A Response to God’s Will and the Coronavirus by Thomas J Oord

When I woke up this morning the first thing that my wife told me is that here in Amarillo, Texas we have hit Coronavirus threat level red. For weeks now I have been monitoring the threat level just wondering how much it would take for us to reach a level where the city is forced into a mandatory shut-in. The answer is twenty-five. As of this moment there are twenty-five cases of confirmed coronavirus and another twenty cases of quarantine. My wife and I are among those twenty people that are in a doctor ordered self-quarantine. I am still awaiting my test results to come back. So, when I got the news from my wife my anxiety level jumped a couple of levels itself. I laid in bed a little while longer just thinking about how things were going to be moving forward. What was going to happen to my current work? What about the job that I was newly offered that has the potential of being life changing? All the thoughts in my head had me wondering just how things are going to get better. Then that still small voice of the Lord reminds me that He’s got this.
Is God in control of our situation? This is a question that many over the last few months have asked repeatedly, and there are so many differing opinions on this subject. Some schools of thought believe that God is the cause of this as perhaps, a way of judgement. Others would state that while God may not be the cause of the situation, He does allow it. Then there are those that belong to a form of theology called open and relational theology that believe that neither does God cause nor does He allow the situation. This situation is out of God’s control and he cannot fix the situation on His own. One of the loudest voices in this camp be long to Thomas J Oord. What follows is a copy of His blog God’s Will and the Coronavirus.
What follows is my attempt to hopefully, put things into more of a biblical perspective. For me to do so I must turn to the book of Job. Other than Jesus, Job suffered more than most people will ever be able to bear. From the very first chapter we see God talking to Satan about how faithful and righteous Job is. Satan tells God to strip away everything that Job has, and he would surely curse Job. It is at this point that God allows Satan to test Job. Satan is given permission to strip everything away from Job that he owns. In one day, Job loses all his wealth and all his children. Job’s response is quite remarkable. He states, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). From the beginning of his trial Job had a belief that God was the one who was allowing the crisis in his life. However, he also believed that God had the right to do such a thing. This falls in line with what we see in the beginning as Satan was given permission to test Job. Satan is given another chance to test Job as God gives permission to strike Job’s body just short of death. If Oord is correct, then why would God openly and blatantly allow Satan to harm one of His children? It seems to me as if either God has something different in mind, or God is not all loving as Oord suggests.
To say that God is not loving would be the greatest mistake we could ever make. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1John 4:8). The issue that I take with Oord is not that he believes in a loving God, but that he sets out to make love into God, and my friends, this is simply not true. There are many facets to God, and His love is Just one of them. We must take into consideration that God is also just and righteous. I am not saying that the coronavirus is a way for us to be punished or corrected. However, if the course of human life was to be changed, then this would in fact, be a good thing.
Lastly, If God, as a loving God, would not allow His children to strangle one another, then why did he even allow his children to hang His only begotten Son on a cross. John 3:16 gives us the clearest picture of this answer, “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only son so that those who believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life”. I love Thomas Oord. I love the love that he has for God. However, God does not “need” our help. He could very easily step in and save the day, just like Superman, but God is not Superman. He is so much greater than that. In the end yes, we must do our part, but it is not for us to ask why. It is for us but to trust God’s wisdom.


thomasjayoord

Thanks for weighing in, Tony. You make several points, and I agree with some. I address many of them in my writings. Have you read God Can’t?


Tony Kayser

Thank you for responding to my comment. It is greatly appreciated. As a student in your class, I have read several of your works. I do not believe that I have read God Can’t. If you would like to send me a copy I would definitely read it.


Joas Adiprasetya

Hi Thom, I ask for permission to translate this wonderful article into Bahasa Indonesia and share it.


Ryan

Hi Tom,

This is a belated reply to my post (and your response) on March 18th. First: thank you so much for responding. As an open and relational theologian, you certainly practice what you preach in being “responsive” to your readers! 🙂

I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying, and I apologize if I’m just repeating my initial question with what about to say, but here goes…. If we assume your starting point that it would be loving for God to singlehandedly stop evil (if he could), then doesn’t it logically follow that we cannot also say that love is inherently uncontrolling? If that’s our starting point, then doesn’t God’s lack of control reveal nothing of his loving nature? Rather, isn’t it just indicative of a lack of power?


thomasjayoord

Feel free to translate it, Joas. And please send me a copy!

I wish you well,

Tom


thomasjayoord

Thanks for your response, Ryan. I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here. And perhaps I can do that by focussing on your last question, instead of talking again about a posteriori and apriori.

Yes, I’m saying God doesn’t have the power or ability to do some things. But I’m saying God’s nature is what “limits” God. I’m saying God’s love is inherently uncontrolling.

How do I know love is inherently noncontrolling? I don’t, if by “know” we mean I know this with certainty. I’m saying we can infer this, assuming God always loves and God wants to prevent evil.

Does this help any?


Phoebe Marlow

Hi, i am a 14 year old who is thinking lots about theology and i have a few questions. Any answers at all to these would be much appreciated or even just any thoughts.

If God can’t do anything without humans, then how did he create anything and everything before humans?

Going with the parent child analogies – imagine the situation: a parent tells their child not to create or do something and the child creates or does the thing anyway and it turns out that the thing will destroy them and any other child or thing that the parent creates, or it allows them and any other child to sin. Then the question is: is it loving for the parent to allow the child to keep this thing that they’ve created/allow the fatal consequences of the thing the child did for the reason that the child was told not to do/create the thing and out of their own free will they were tempted and did it anyway? So if the parent doesn’t destroy the thing that would mean that the thing would destroy the child and any other children, even if it is easily in their power to do so, then is the parent still perfectly loving or even still loving at all?
I understand this is quite similar to your thoughts on God allowing the virus so i wondered if your thoughts are similar (“it isn’t God’s will, but God allows it”) relating to original sin.

Also, is the idea that God can’t do something that he actually can’t, that it is just totally against his nature, or that he still has the power to do it (so therefore can) but just won’t?

Thanks


thomasjayoord

Fantastic questions, Phoebe. I answer many of them in my new book, Questions and Answers for God Can’t.


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[…] ” God’s will and the Coronavirus” – Thomas Jay Oordhttp://thomasjayoord.com/index.php/blog/archives/gods-will-and-the-coronavirus […]


Ana Maria

Very interesting read. Could you answer a couple of questions, please?

(1) Does this perspective hold from a weslyan tradition?
(2) How do you reconcile this with God’s omnipotence and being “the same yesterday, today and forever”?
(3) Isn’t the purpose of troubles to glorify God (John 11:4)?

I look forward to your insights, thanks!


thomasjayoord

Great questions, Ana Maria. I’m answering them in a book to be published next month called Questions and Answers for God Can’t. But briefly here…

1. This view is accepted by some but not all Wesleyan theologians.
2. I don’t think God’s uncontrolling love (almightiness) changes.
3. I don’t think God causes or allows evil so that we might glorify God.


Jessie

So…One thing that ran through my head while I was reading the a loving God doesn’t allow bad things whole ordeal is this: Yes a loving parent disciples their child if they have gone astray but that does not necessarily mean that God is the same way. Our views of God are limited as His perfect nature and actions are way outside of human understanding. Another thing is that if a loving God does not cause/allow bad things to happen then how do you justify the Plagues of Egypt? Or the Flood? Or how about Job? I look forward to a look into how you understand these events, thanks. 🙂


thomasjayoord

Great comments, Jessie! I address some of the examples you list in Questions and Answers for God Can’t, which just released. As to understanding God, I don’t want to say I understand God fully. But I’m proposing a way of looking at God I think makes best sense of our experience, the Bible, and the logic of love. Thanks!


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