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There are many who would condemn a God who would allow something like Covid to run rampant through this world.
For them a God who allows this is not worthy of believing or following. Of course, this assumes that Covid is evil. However, we must take account of the possibility of human collusion since it seems likely that poor safety standards around wet markets in China allowed the virus to jump species and infect humans.
Even so, what God would allow such a thing? For centuries, this question has been raised as a general objection to belief in a good God. For centuries and, indeed, the earliest examples go back to the Bible itself where whole books of the OT are devoted to the question. The Book of Job, dating back to some time around the 6th century BC, examines the tragedy befalling a godly man, leading to his questioning of God.
Much depends on how one defines evil. This is not as easy as one would think. Many things which appear evil in one context appear good in another. Knives are very useful when preparing food but can be used to perform evil deeds. Bacteria which in one context deal with rotting organic matter releasing vital nutrients back into the ground to be used again by living plants are essential and good in this context, but destructive and "bad" when they invade a living person causing sickness and death. Viruses may appear to have no good purpose but even now scientists have begun to use the machinery of viruses to target and kill cancer cells, to treat a variety of genetic diseases as gene and cell therapy tools, or to serve as vaccines or vaccine delivery agents.
Perhaps the most obvious example is us! We who are capable of such good, and of producing such beauty are the same people who choose to make war with each other, and engage in other evil activities. Does a good God do away with us so as to wipe the slate clean of evil, or does God put up with a certain amount of evil in order to allow the good to prosper? It seems that the second option is the one God usually takes.
So what is a good God to do? Perhaps the better question is what do we do? For example, we deal with children we love and want the best for. Yet they do bad things and resist doing good things they don’t like, such as doing schoolwork or tidying up. Do we do away with them just because they engage in such activities? Of course not.
God is a God of renewal and repair and for that reason a certain amount of evil is tolerated. Not accepted. Not approved of. Not condoned. Simply tolerated. Why? Because the greater good is served by doing this. There is more to be gained by enduring evil than by trying to wipe it out. The idea that we can deal with evil by killing it or by using it against itself has long been known to be faulty (Two wrongs don’t make a right ...). Evil must be addressed but it must be addressed in a way which doesn’t extend the harm being done.
Philosophers and others have made out the problem of evil to be something black and white; something simple to solve — good God means no evil. Evil being present means no good God. We know from our own experience that evil is just not like that. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists in good and lovely others; in places which are otherwise beautiful and for this reason one cannot simply destroy everything that is tainted by its presence. Jesus knew this well and left us a parable to illustrate just this point. It goes like this ... Matthew 13: He told another story. "God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too.
"The farmhands came to the farmer and said, ‘Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these thistles come from?’
"He answered, ‘Some enemy did this.’ The farmhands asked, ‘Should we weed out the thistles?’ He said, ‘No, if you weed the thistles, you’ll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn’."
- Richard Dawson is minister at Leith Valley Presbyterian Church in Dunedin.