Sunday, August 9, 2020


 I took the ABC's advice and started a podcast during the pandemic. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Wright's wrong: Christianity offers answers about the Coronavirus

I didn't think I'd be writing another Coronavirus and Christianity related article so soon after responding to the Christianity Today editorial. But now it's NT Wright's turn to be wrong. In this opinion piece in Time magazine Tom Wright correctly notes in the second half of the article that we should be lamenting seeing thousands die, economies disrupted and our lives curtailed by lock-downs. God in his wisdom included this genre in Scripture for exactly this type of situation. Nothing controversial there.

It's actually Wright's first observation (which the title of the article picks up on: 'Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It's Not Supposed To') that is highly problematic. Here's Wright making the salient observation in the third paragraph:
No doubt the usual silly suspects will tell us why God is doing this to us. A punishment? A warning? A sign? These are knee-jerk would-be Christian reactions in a culture which, generations back, embraced rationalism: everything must have an explanation.

He goes on to make another point contrasting Christian rationalists and romantics which is interesting but glosses over the bizarre claim that Scripture does not offer an explanation for the Coronavirus. Oh dear, where to begin. Firstly it seems odd to have to remind Wright that the Bible tells one big story, of which we are part. Not only are pandemics part of the historical narrative of the Biblical story they part of our current personal narrative. Secondly pandemics are part of God's judgement of sin. Each judgement in Scripture is a symbol both of how God deals with sin and what ultimately happens when we choose sin instead of God. Thirdly and most germaine to Wright's argument that Christianity doesn't offer an explanation is that the fact that the pandemic itself is a symbol. Judgments in Scripture are a symbol of what happens when we choose sin and sign to remind us that the world has been broken by our sin.

Tim Keller correctly notes that the causal link between judgement and sin is complex. Like Jesus observes it will rain on the righteous and the unrighteous, the pandemic strikes everyone. Proverbs reminds us a life directed towards God will, on the balance of things, be better on this side of Eternity than a life away from God. But Ecclesiastes reminds us that under the sun, the mist of this broken world clouds our vision. Sometimes we can see the clear correlation between sin and judgement, 'we reap what we sow', but at other times we'll have to wait until everything is revealed on Judgement Day. However this ambiguity doesn't remove the fact that overall on the largest scale, on the global scale, a pandemic is a symbol of God's judgment and a sign that the world is broken by sin. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Is the Coronavirus evil?

Harrell: The coronavirus is part of life in the world that God made

Daniel Harrell the new editor of Christianity Today wrote this disturbing editorial recently, where he argued that the coronavirus isn't evil but actually part of the way God made life. Harrell starts well with a quote from Karl Barth correctly noting that even bacterial illness is part of the Fall. But then he pivots and states that viruses are part of God's original good creation!
"God makes no mistakes, and bacteria and viruses indeed are mirabilis (from the Latin meaning remarkable, or even amazing or wondrous, adjectives frequently used to describe creation) and part of the plan from the start. Death itself is required for organic life to exist."
Harrell goes on to argue that God built viruses into the original creation as part of his plan to allow us freedom. However he buries the lede, it's not just that viruses are necessary part of creation, but part of the catalogue birds, water and atoms that God declares "very good" (Gen 2:31) on the sixth day. It's an editorial so Harrell probably doesn't have time to explain his strange and disturbing theodicy but let me explain a better way of understanding the question of how evil is the coronavirus.

Isham: The coronavirus is a part of the way sin breaks creation

Evil is a moral category - which encapsulates everything on the path to death, life without God.  Adam and Eve actualise this category when they eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It did not exist prior to their choice and for reasons which are opaque they choose evil instead of goodness. God then gives them over to this choice which is both an act of mercy and an act of punishment. Time to repent, but also time to see the growing horror, of life without God. This giving-over changes everything.

The entire structure of the Cosmos was altered by sin, this is why God tells Adam, that he'll live under a curse. The ground will produce "thorns and thistles" (3:18) because Adam choose death instead of life, so he'll live out the Serpent's words ("you will not surely die" 3:4) until the abyss consumes them both. God gives Adam and Eve over to the path they have chosen. Therefore the moral category of evil contains both aspects of sin: brokenness and corruption, the outworking of that original offence. You see this theme played out across Scripture and in Reformed theology which describes the gospel as Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration.

Harrell seeks to justify his argument by saying need you bacteria, carnivorous animals and entropy before the Fall otherwise Creation wouldn't function. ("But unless God’s creation defies every characteristic of biological reality, bacteria and viruses are not bitter fruits of the fall" - 3rd paragraph.) However he overlooks/ignores a crucial truth which is also a prominent trope in the world's of CS Lewis & Tolkien, the world has changed and then will change again in the future. When Adam and Eve are banished, the world changes, the diminishing ages in chapter five of Genesis, the radical washing of the flood in Genesis 6 to 8 signal that the almost magical nature of the world in Genesis 1-4 has been lost, that we live in a broken and different world, we live now in the age of sin. 

This way of thinking also helps us make sense of the Resurrection. The disciples eventually recognised Jesus after he rose from the dead, but his body had now been imbued with supernatural powers. Being the Son of God, he could change the universe into purple quarks with a word before or after his resurrection, so the ability to jump through walls is an indicator that while recognisably human his body has been re-made. He's still able to eat fish and carries the scars of death but his body is renewed in a dramatic way. If we belong to Jesus that will happen to us.

Our views compared

Not only does this view make better sense of the Scriptural data than Harrell's view, we are able to correctly view the coronavirus for what it is, evil rather than a some sort of educational process designed by God to make us more enlightened. (Eg "
Better to view creation not as something perfect gone awry, but as something begun as very good only not yet finished." 3rd paragraph) The basic plot of Bible and the gospel, is bad news a saviour and then good news. We live at nadir of that story, the coronavirus is a product of Adam's offence against God but Jesus will rescue us from it, either as a survivor or through the agony of death. Harrell's suggested story to explain the goodness of the coronavirus is bizarre, everything good, even things that appear bad and then everything getting better even when it looks worse followed by even better in an up-award trajectory.