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.