The Pandemic: A Theological perspective

For we know that even the things of nature, like animals and plants, suffer in sickness and death as they await this great event. And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children, including the new bodies he has promised us—bodies that will never be sick again and will never die. Romans 8:22-23 TLB

The COVID-19 Pandemic raises again that age old question of where diseases and pestilence come from. We are again confronted with finding an explanation for this terrible scourge that will be consistent with our understanding of God as the source of all and only what is good.

If God created the entire universe and looked upon His creation and declared that it was “very good”, where then does disease which is manifestly evil come from? If God made all the organisms good, why have some gone rogue and become responsible for causing disease?

One analogy that can help us understand creation in relation to God is to think of creation as a programme that God wrote and man as a system administrator (this is in reality what it means that man was given dominion) appointed by God to oversee his programme. Now the devil who did not create anything by himself comes on the scene and approaches the system administrator, and somehow manages to gain access to the source code of the programme, and moves a few lines of code around, essentially creating bugs in the programme which causes it to malfunction.

In other words, a perfectly good programme was corrupted by someone with evil intent moving around a few lines of code. The Code is still God’s, but because the sequence has been altered, it no longer functions as God wants it to, and all of this is due to the fact that the system administrator chose to express his will wrongly.

So if you think of sin as a bug in the programme which causes it to create, and manifest features not intended by the programmer, you will understand what Paul the apostle was describing in this portion of scripture.

I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can’t. I do what I don’t want to—what I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience proves that I agree with these laws I am breaking. But I can’t help myself because I’m no longer doing it. It is sin inside me that is stronger than I am that makes me do these evil things.

Romans 7:15-17 TLB

How does sin work?

God’s intention when he made man system administrator was that man will express his will in faithful service of God’s purpose. When man granted the devil  access to the code however and sin was introduced, the course of nature was altered by the curse. So while the programme intended for the ground to yield herbs and fruits, the bug caused it to instead yield thorns and thistles.

It is the same bug of sin that causes men to malfunction. As Paul says, there’s a desire (a pre-disposition) to do right, but there is something at work in the system that makes it impossible to do. In reality, man being gifted with a will, had the capacity to do right or wrong, but the bug of sin has a way of short-circuiting the ability to do right such that the scripture testifies that:

When the Lord God saw the extent of human wickedness, and that the trend and direction of men’s lives were only towards evil, he was sorry he had made them. It broke his heart. Genesis 6:5-6

Redemption

God didn’t however stay heartbroken, He had a plan to redeem man – his system administrator. God longs for fellowship with man and although we had messed up the first time, God already had a plan to redeem us.

Jesus came and died on the cross of calvary to pay the price for sin. By shedding his blood to cleanse us of our sin, he contains and renders powerless the bugs in the programme and carries out a hard reset of our relationship with God. God then issues this bug fix as an update, but this update cannot be automatically installed; you have to accept the terms before installing. When we accept Jesus’ terms of salvation, the update is installed and it comes with a super anti-virus in the person of the Holy Spirit, who stands guard and warns us when the devil tries to reinstall the bug.

Now, all of this happens only for us humans who are made after the image of God. For the rest of creation, there is as yet no fix for the bug because in reality, God is writing an entirely new version of that programme.  All of creation is waiting for the launch of the new programme which in real terms means a new earth.

For we know that even the things of nature, like animals and plants, suffer in sickness and death as they await this great event. And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children, including the new bodies he has promised us—bodies that will never be sick again and will never die. Romans 8:22-23 TLB

The day of the Lord is surely coming, as unexpectedly as a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the heavenly bodies will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be burned up. And so since everything around us is going to melt away, what holy, godly lives we should be living! You should look forward to that day and hurry it along—the day when God will set the heavens on fire, and the heavenly bodies will melt and disappear in flames. But we are looking forward to God’s promise of new heavens and a new earth afterwards, where there will be only goodness. 2 Peter 3:10-13 

So what happens before then?

Unfortunately, the bug will continue to work in nature. What is often missed though is that, even as it leaves a trail of destruction and woes, the bug and its manifestations must ultimately serve God’s purpose. How so? Although man granted satan access to the code, God remains the System Architect and even though he won’t remove the bug by fiat, because that will override the will man, He still ensures that all things work together for his purpose (Rom 8:28).

This is what it means for instance when we read that, “if they had known, they never would have crucified the Lord of Glory” (1 Cor 2:8). Indeed, if the devil had known that by writing in the bug of murder into the code, it would have led to the crucifixion of the Lord and the salvation of mankind, he would never have written murder into the code.

Someone might say, “oh well, Jesus is life and it didn’t matter that he was crucified since he knew he would rise again. What consolation is there for a mere mortal like me, in the fact that evil befalls me, and the all powerful God allows it?”

To such a one, the account of Paul’s conversion offers some insight. Accosting him on the road to Damascus, the Lord said to Saul, “why do you kick against the goads?” (Acts 9:5). In essence, I have been nudging and pushing you towards redemption. When we search  scripture for any hint of this nudging, we find one in the account of the public execution of Stephen.

The Jewish leaders were stung to fury by Stephen’s accusation and ground their teeth in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily upward into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and Jesus the Messiah standing beside God, at his right hand!” Then they mobbed him, putting their hands over their ears, and drowning out his voice with their shouts, and dragged him out of the city to stone him. The official witnesses—the executioners—took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as the murderous stones came hurtling at him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” and with that, he died.

Acts 7:54-60

What do you think was happening to the conscience of that young man called Saul as the men laid their tunics at his feet and went off to stone Stephen to death? This was a young man who was zealous for God, and completely believed that he was doing God’s work. What do you think may have been going on in his mind as Stephen’s face shined gloriously even as the blood poured down from his head into his eyes and mouth? And then Stephen called out in prayer to God to have mercy on the souls of those who were so gruesomely murdering him – at that point, what do you think was happening in the heart of Saul?

All of that was the goading; the nudging. While satan had written the bug of murder into the code, God was using that same bug to prick the conscience of a young zealous man whom He had decided to enrol into his work.

Ultimately, all things will be used by God for His purpose.

What do we do then in the meantime?

Seeing as only man can escape this bug in the present and we must encounter it’s presence in the world around us, what do we do? Peter the Apostle gives us a very direct response to this question.

Dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen and for him to come, try hard to live without sinning; and be at peace with everyone so that he will be pleased with you when he returns. And remember why he is waiting. He is giving us time to get his message of salvation out to others. 2 Pet 3:14-15a

Two things then; live sinless lives, and pursue God’s purpose of helping other men get rid of the bug (of sin) in their lives.

The way to think of the present condition requires that we use another analogy. Think of our current condition – mankind and the world, as people living in a great house. Every resident has two keys; one (which every other resident has a copy) to the main door and the second (which he has exclusively) to his private room.

Now, some residents are sons of the devil, and they by right grant him access into the great house. Now those other residents who are children of God are unable in an absolute sense to keep the devil from entering the great house because the keys are many, but they are able to stop him from getting into their private rooms which has only one key.

However, they have pretty regular encounters with the hoards of hell: as they go about their business in the great hallways of the house  and in its common areas, the devil often impacts them in those places.

What to do? Get more (as many as possible) of your neighbours to not share their key to the main door with the devil. How to do this? Get them to accept the terms of Christs salvation and have their bug fixed. As Peter wrote,”we are looking forward to God’s promise of new heavens and a new earth afterwards, where there will be only goodness.” 2 Peter 3:13. and the only thing that is keeping that day in abeyance is that “He is giving us time to get his message of salvation out to others” (2 Pet 3:15a).

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