In my relatively short life, I’ve witnessed some events that have had significant world-wide impact. Each time some calamity happened, whether a man-made evil like the terrorist attack on 9/11 in 2001 or a natural disaster like the tsunami in the northeast of Japan in 2011, it seems like the same question has been brought up in the minds of people. Once again the question is brought back as we live through COVID-19: “Who is responsible for this? Why is calamity happening?”
Some Wrong Ways of Thinking
How you answer the question reveals your belief about God and your view of the world in general. There are many wrong answers and wrong ways of thinking regarding God’s relationship with the world, but here are two that are more or less representative of all.
Some may talk about the great cosmic struggle between a good force (“God”) and an evil force (Satan) and imagine that bad things happen when the balance between the forces is tipped to the side of the evil. Sometimes well-meaning Christians can slip into this kind of thinking maybe because they feel compelled to protect their image of a good God. Nevertheless, such theology makes God infinitely smaller than He actually is. In such a view, the problems of life can easily be overwhelming when one’s the view of God is so small. Such a worldview may be true in the universe of Star Wars but thankfully NOT in this actual world created and sustained by the God of the Bible.
Join us as Dr. Yoh Shirato discusses who is responsible when calamities happen.
You may affirm that God is sovereign—but what do you mean? Do you mean that bad things unfortunately happen, but God is resourceful and able to turn the bad to good somehow? And maybe you should pray more so that more of the bad things won’t happen? You see, with this view of a finite god, you will soon be dismayed and lose faith all together because it sure doesn’t seem like the good is winning very often!
Others say that God has nothing to do with events in the world. It is unthinkable, they say, that God, the perfect being, can relate Himself to imperfect creatures, much less become one of them. Therefore, they conclude, everything that happens in the world has no explanation beyond what is explainable by natural science, laws of logic, or common sense. Then, when a disaster happens, it may simply be a natural phenomenon or a result of irresponsible actions of men—“what goes around comes around”—but God is never the cause. This is Deism. Although deists place great emphasis on the responsibility of individuals to be moral and hard-working (which are good character qualities), this quickly leads to practical atheism, as it makes God’s presence totally irrelevant to the world.
You may not claim to be a deist, but perhaps you feel that God is so far away, thinking that God has forgotten about you or that you are too small for God to care about you. Such a distanced God may be a deistic god, but is not the picture of the God of the Bible.
Biblical View of God
You might have heard, “God is great and God is good.” This simple little statement that every Sunday School child knows very well cannot get anymore profound in theology. Most erroneous ways of thinking about God come from either denying His greatness (like the Star-Wars theology) or His goodness (like Deism). If we are to think biblically about the pandemic, or whatever the situation we find ourselves in, it is imperative that we first understand these two fundamental truths about God.
When we say “God is great,” we are affirming that God is omnipotent and that He in control. By that we mean much more than that God is merely able to turn something bad to good because He is so powerful, wise, and resourceful. Rather, we affirm that God is sovereign and that means that God is ultimately responsible for all things that ever happen in the universe. The Bible is filled with testimonies to God’s sovereignty, and they are all majestic. Isaiah 46:9-10 is one of those passages:
“… I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure….”
As the Creator of all things, He has decreed all things that ever take place (“declaring the end from the beginning”). Nothing is too small for Him not to care, and nothing is too big for Him to manage. All is done according to His eternal counsel, and He does all things for His pleasure. And THAT is what it means to be God.
You might still say, “What about all the bad things happening in the world? Is God responsible for them, too?” The answer is emphatically, “Yes.” In Isaiah 45:7 God declares, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” Proverbs 16:4 also teaches this point: “The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.” He is sovereign and ultimately responsible even for bad things, and that, of course, includes COVID-19.
Isaiah 45:7 and Proverbs 16:4 need some clarification. The Hebrew word for “evil” (רַע [Ra’]) doesn’t mean “moral evil” but “calamity.” As we talk about God’s sovereignty, we must be very clear on one thing: God is not the author of sin, neither does He tempt or directly cause anyone to sin (James 1:13); therefore, God cannot be accused of being the cause of moral evil that happens. Even so, we do not shy away from affirming that God is ultimately responsible for allowing the evil people to do morally evil things. So then, whether this pandemic is natural or “plandemic” (as some conspiracy theorists say), we know that God is in control, and He is sovereignly executing His purpose.
But here is the difficult part. The all-wise God has many good reasons in what He does. We are, however, neither entitled nor capable to know all the reasons of His doings, and He is not obligated to let us know other than what He has revealed in the Bible. Just as it was with Job and his friends, we shouldn’t be conjecturing on things we don’t know or be dismayed and frustrated, but we must simply humble ourselves and trust God. But that is impossible if you do not know God’s goodness.
Here is a little brainteaser: “Is it that God is good because He does good (to us)? or that everything He does is good because He is (absolutely) good?” We must be careful here. Our sense of “goodness” is often skewed because of our selfishness and lack of foresight; therefore, we should not attempt to measure God’s character by our limited understanding of what goodness is. To do so is to put “God in the dock,” making ourselves judge over God.
There are few things we must know in order to trust God for who He is. First, God is God: “It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves” (Psalm 100:3). As the Creator, He has the prerogative to define what good is (Genesis 1:31). Everything He does is good because He is the absolute standard of good.
Second, God is good to all. We wouldn’t know God’s goodness unless, of course, He revealed Himself to be good to us. God’s goodness is universal (Psalm 145:9 “The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works”) and is extended even to the wicked (Matthew 5:45 “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust”). He demonstrates the riches of His goodness in patiently waiting for sinners to repent (Romans 2:4). “The earth is full of the goodness of the LORD” (Psalm 33:5), and no one can legitimately accuse God for not revealing His goodness in tangible ways.
Third, God is especially good to His people. It is true that “God so loved the world,” but God’s love for His people is exclusive and personal. In 1 Timothy 4:10 Paul says, “… we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe [emphasis added].” He also says in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose [emphasis added].” God is good to His people, while knowing full well that we are weak and sinful. As the psalmist comforts himself with these words: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14). We would do well to read Psalm 23 again and again and be overwhelmed by the fact that God, the Creator of the universe, is mindful of our well-being.
Lastly, we must not forget that God’s goodness is not to pamper us, but it is for His own pleasure. Every benevolent act of God for His people—saving them out of Egypt (Psalm 106:8), providing security and guidance (Psalm 31:3), delivering them out of trouble (Psalm 109:21), withholding His wrath (Isaiah 48:9), forgiving them of their sins (Psalm 79:9), etc.—is done “for His name’s sake.” Just like the happiness and well-being of a child is a delight to the parents, so is God pleased in seeing His people enjoy His goodness.
As you face tough situations of the present and uncertainties of the future, it is so critical to heed God’s warning to Ahaz when Judah was shaken by the bad news of the fall of Samaria: “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (Isaiah 7:9 NIV). Whether your current situation is human-caused or a natural disaster, you must be fully resolved of this fact: God is Great and God is Good. He is sovereign over the behavior of each COVID-19 molecule, every decision of government officials, and what the post-pandemic world is going to be like. While fulfilling your responsibilities as good citizens, you must first humble yourselves and place your trust in Him, “Who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Ephesians 1:11).
 This question leads to an age-old philosophical problem of the existence of evil, which may be expressed in three statements: (1) God is almighty; (2) God is good; and (3) evil exists. Notice how difficult it is to embrace all three statements at the same time logically, and also notice the fallacies that are generated from embracing only two statements and denying the third: If (1) and (2) are true, then evil shouldn’t exist; if (1) and (3) are true, then God must not be good; if (2) and (3) are true, then God’s power to restrain evil must be limited. Despite the logical difficulty, Bible-believing Christians have always embraced all three statements with equal force by faith, much like the doctrine of Trinity—by trusting in God who is infinitely bigger than our mind can fathom.
 Deism was very popular among the social elites at the time of the Founding Fathers of the U.S.A., and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were two of the most well-known deists among the Fathers. Historians debate who among the Founding Fathers were actually deists. On Deism and the Founding Fathers, see, David L. Holmes, “The Founding Fathers, Deism, and Christianity,” ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, (https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Founding-Fathers-Deism-and-Christianity-1272214), accessed on May 7, 2020.
 Dr. Rolland McCune of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary affirms the absolute unconditionality of all-inclusive decree of God: “God’s decrees are not conditional in the sense that they are suspended on a pure contingency or some indecision somewhere else. . . . In fact, if even just one event is left indeterminate—one speck of cosmic dust or raindrop or snowflake—all future events will be left in greater or lesser degrees of indetermination” (A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity [Detroit: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2008], 1:320).
 Read Job chs. 1-2 where God allows Satan to devastate Job’s life by both natural and human means.
 The answer is, as you see, “Yes.”
 The phrase “God in the dock” is borrowed from C. S. Lewis’ God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics.
 God can be glorified in both judgment and salvation. I take God’s pleasure to be the positive side of His glory manifested in His goodness, as in Ephesians 1:5-6, “5Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6To the praise of the glory of his grace.”