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Why does God allow Corona Virus?

by Fr. Anthony Corcoran, SJ

This is a question that not only unbelievers ask, perhaps with great skepticism, but one which we who believe in God might be asking ourselves and one another too.

“Why does God allow Corona virus?” Is really only the most recent form of the question that people throughout all generations have repeatedly posed, and that emerges from the confusion that comes from thinking about a God Who is at one time all powerful and all loving—and yet, Who allows suffering and evil to exist in the world… and, perhaps even more confusing, Who sometimes allows the most innocent ones to become the victims of these terrible realities.   

Times of epidemic, like times of war and other tragic periods in human history, humble all—powerful and weak, young and old, brilliant and simple, believers and unbelievers….

I think that it is helpful to reflect on a few aspects of the way that God is…that is, the way in which He acts and creates and saves…when we are confronted with this question about the reality of suffering and evil.

First, we must admit that because we are not God, our ability to comprehend such mystery as the existence of suffering and evil (and these are and will ultimately remain, for us, mysteries) is limited.  It is often said that the Corona virus that is currently wreaking havoc on so many aspects of lives and society—although so incredibly miniscule as to be invisible—is humbling all in the world.  No president or scientist or person of power and fame—or armies of the world–are able to control this disease (and, when this particular disease is reigned in through vaccine, please God, in the near future–the next disease or episode of suffering)….  All suffering remains, at least in the short term, a mystery. Can we reconcile ourselves to living in this temporary lack of clarity, or resolution—even while at the same time endeavoring to find meaning?  The level of our spiritual and emotional health, in fact, depends on this ability to continue to search.  Trying to force over-simple resolutions or clarity is a temptation that can only lead to worsening a bad situation. (In religion, we call this tendency “fundamentalism.” Perhaps in politics it is called populism, or Marxism, or fascism, or some other “ism.”) 

For those who limit their belief to the material…in what can be seen or controlled…a mystery is unacceptable, even in the short term, because it seems unnerving or overwhelming.  For those who believe in something greater and deeper that enriches and gives meaning to the material, mystery is always an entrance into something more profound. Good science, like solid religion, searches for the meaning and context of that which is now a mystery…. Science and religion work together to serve humans when they search for light in darkness and when they take the power of nature seriously, while realizing the inevitability of and beauty (and value) of mystery.  Presumptuous science and superstitious religion promises that its followers can fully master the world around them and can live without this reality, that is, without mystery and the unresolved….

Secondly, we believers know from countless centuries of experience, that God is not—cannot be the source of evil.  Evil is the absence of God, as darkness is the absence of light. 

God allows both evil and the suffering that it causes—as well as suffering that emerges not from evil itself but rather, as in the case of this disease, from the vibrant forces of nature.  God allows evil to coexist, for now, as the Gospel from last week showed us, because it grows among that which is good, and because there is always the chance that what grows next to evil in the beginning will, in fact, turn out to be good.  God allows suffering because He allows  nature to run its course; nature’s beginning and its end ever tend to greater life. 

In the face of suffering, it is extremely useful to repeat the conviction: This is not the final word for God and for those with God…. As a spiritual writer rightfully claimed, “God does not have crises.”  Christ continually re-finds, recreates His Church. With and in Christ, all becomes an opportunity for members of His Church—the joyful as well as the challenges of life. Only Christ has the final word. 

Christ told His followers, “By your endurance you will gain your lives.”  If God allows suffering, then He realizes that not only can we endure this episode but, indeed, that it can somehow ultimately have a meaning that we may or may not see at this time—if we trust in Him and allow Him to work through our suffering…that is, through something that He may not have desired but can and will work though….  

Believing in God and serving Him does not exempt us from suffering; however, it gives meaning to this temporary episode of suffering. 

What could the meaning of Corona virus be?  Indeed, it is worth considering this question from different angles.  Rather than falling into one of two extremes…one extreme that would deny that suffering or evil do exist and will exist and that their consequences are as serious as they are (in fact, this extreme was probably more appealing before the appearance of this disease)—or, the other extreme—which would surrender the strength and dignity of our hope before the power of evil and suffering and forget that even these events are only passing moments in human history—it is much more useful to concentrate on the question that we pose….

As logical as it is to demand from God an answer as to why He allows Corona virus, or any suffering, it is much more reasonable and, therefore, useful to search deeper….

In fact, God does not feel obliged to account before us, especially for something that He Himself does not desire.  We might provide a long list of rational explanations—either theological or philosophical or other—as to why God permits Corona virus and suffering and evil, but these “reasons” will ultimately fail to touch and satisfy the deepest level of our lives unless they point to the mystery of Who and how God is and acts….How He creates and loves, and saves.

Good science and authentic religion are never stopped by a lack of insight in the short term. One might say that, on the contrary, these are precisely the moments that inflame the more profound insight and inspiration….

This is such a moment for us believers,

Greater insight and inspiration will come from each of us asking God, with trust, questions such as the following: 

“God, where are you in this period of suffering?(!)” 

“Lord, loving God, to what are you calling us through this episode of Corona virus?”

By your endurance, you will gain your lives!

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