Deadly Viruses, a Good Creation and a Loving God

Since the beginning, humans have fought bitterly against the reality that no matter how healthy, wise or wealthy we are, our time on this earth is very short.

That being said, whether it be a personal tragedy or a global catastrophe, having faith in the promises and grace offered to us by Jesus Christ has given me the guidance, blessing and perspective to endure and understand crises.

I’d like to start by saying that the Genesis of the world as recorded by Moses, was said to be “good” and “very good”; God has never dictated that it was perfect. Why? Well because the prophet Samuel, for one, tells us that God cannot lie.

According to the esteemed gurus at Oxford:

  • Perfect: Adjective – Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.
  • Perfect: Verb – Make (something) completely free from faults or defects; make as good as possible.

We know that upon the creation of the world, God also created Lucifer, once the beautiful and favoured ‘morning star’, the leader of the angels.

When we read Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:13-17, although the passages address the ‘King of Babylon” and the “King of Tyre”, the “I will” statements in Isaiah and the “You” in Ezekiel are personifications of śāṭān, the Hebrew word for “accuser” who’s role is that of a prosecutor against humanity before God.

20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”

Romans 8:20-22

When we consider the Genesis of the world, it’s clear that humanity is not responsible for the creation of viruses.

[potentially destructive] natural events such as … cell mutations, and deadly viruses were an integral part of the creation before human beings showed up.”

“More specifically, God has created a dynamic world; earthquakes, volcanoes, glaciers, storms, bacteria, and viruses have their role to play in the world’s becoming…The potential for natural evil…was present from the beginning.”

Terence Fratheim, Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters 

In Genesis, we read that when the first human beings were created, they’re instructed to “subdue the earth” (Gen 1:28). In Hebrew, the word for “subdue” is “kavash“, but it’s more illustrative than its English equivalent.

The verb kavash literally means to place your foot on the neck of your conquered enemy signifying a submission of the enemy to his defeater. Figuratively this verb means to bring a people or nation into submission (Numbers 32:29). This word can also mean to bring into control (Mic 7:19). Incidentally, this is the same word we use today such as in ‘put the kavash on it’ meaning to make an end of something or to ‘subdue’ it.”

Jeff Benner, Ancient Hebrew Research Center, Definition of Hebrew Words: kavash

The use of kavash, illustrates that God’s good creation was not perfect before the Fall. If it had of been, there would’ve been no need for anyone to force it into submissions.

“In other words, when the creation is declared to be “good” or “very good” in Genesis 1, the implication of goodness appears not to mean “without any imperfection whatsoever” but more along the lines of “fit for purpose” despite the presence of yet-to-be subdued elements.

Bob Robinson, Where is the Living God in the Covid-19 Pandemic? Laidlaw College, May 3, 2020

I’ll never claim to fully understand these truths, I simply know that God made me, He loves me, Jesus paid the penalty for my sins, and that the close of my life on this earth is just the beginning.

As I believe every Word of Scripture, I’m not surprised by current “wars or the rumours of wars“, the famines, pestilences (fatal, contagious epidemics), or by natural disasters foretold by the apostle Matthew.

…there was a decay process that was part of the creation from the very beginning. … God didn’t just create single organisms in isolation. God created balanced ecological systems.

That suggests that viruses may exist, alongside other things like bacterial infections and predation, so that one population doesn’t overextend its ecological niche…

viruses are at the very foundation of life on Earth’s extremely fine-tuned ecological system where you have masters of reproduction [bacteria] … kept in check by things that can’t replicate on their own. It’s just amazing.

Dr. Anjeanette (AJ) Roberts, interviewed by Rebecca Randall, “Why Zika, and Other Viruses, Don’t Disprove God’s Goodness”, August 14 2018
Jules-Élie Delaunay's "Plague in Rome" (1869)
The Antonine Plague of 165 A.D.

Okay, here’re a few questions for you. If you were born immortal, would you look after yourself, care for others or the planet? Would you seek to understand God, His love, and treasure the great commission He’s given to us? Would you explore the world, try something new, make new friends? Or would you just say, “I’ll get around to it…one of these days…”?

The gift of mortality is the necessary divide between Creation and Creator, enabling us to appreciate the perfect and divine awesomeness of God.

There is no point in being a Christian unless we regard death as God’s greatest gift to us.

— Fr. Edward T. Oakes, SJ (1948 – 2013)

In the grand-scheme of things, each of us are given a mere handful of years to experience the glory of God as mortal beings. As explained by Dr. Roberts, although some of them can kill us, viruses are part and parcel of God’s Creation, life cannot exist without them. Biochemists and molecular biologists are continually discovering the good that viruses do.

The global paranoia and fear caused by the current pandemic (COVID-19) illustrates how far humanity has drifted from a close and trusting relationship with God, as well as knowledge of His infallible Word.

Similarly to what we see with the Tower of Babel, since our beginning, we continue to live our lives in the suicidal pursuit for personal happiness, prestige, comfort, significance; “to make a name for ourselves”…to be like God.

Without this “viral villain that we cannot see,” there would be no life as we know it. God makes no mistakes, and bacteria and viruses indeed are remarkable, or even unique or wondrous, and part of the plan from the start…deadly viruses relate both to a good creation and a loving God.”

Dr. AJ. Roberts

Instead of pointing fingers and blaming each other for this, that, and whatever, we need to step back and appreciate the truth: because of our inherited disobedience against God, we’re all dying. Yes, we’re saved by the grace of God through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, but our bodies are still going to die.

As we read in the book of Revelation written in the year ~96, the future judgement of this world’s inhabitants has never been hidden from us; ignorance is not an excuse.

7When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come!” 8I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and the one who sat on it had the name Death, and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, and famine, and plague, and by the wild animals of the earth.”

Revelation 6:7-8

Now, just to be clear, I’m not saying that the end is nigh, nor am I saying it’s not, for “…about that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matthew 24:36).

All I’m saying is that our time to respond to the directions given to us from God with obedience, to grow our relationship with Him, and to teach others about the grace offered only through Jesus Christ is forever diminishing.

Dr. Roberts has illuminated that there are some ten nonillion (1 followed by 31 zeros) complex viruses living off animal, plant and human cells all over this little planet. As said above, not all of them are trying to kill us, but following the First Cholera Pandemic of 1817, the world has lived through eight pandemics.

Historically, Christians were no strangers to epidemics. Vivian Nutton, the esteemed historian of medicine, writes that from the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries, “A town would experience an epidemic of plague approximately every decade, and a serious devastation once in every generation.

”Disease outbreaks were part of the rhythm of life. Those outbreaks caused by bubonic plague were particularly dreadful, boasting a fatality rate of 60–90 percent (for COVID-19, it is “only” 1–3 percent).

Mirjam Schilling, Joel Gamble and Nathan Gamble, “Fear not, sneer not: A healthy Christian response to COVID-19,” ABC Religion and Ethics, Tue 17 Mar 2020

When they [Adam and Eve] fall, God basically says, “You’re out of here, and I’m posting an angel at the gate, and I don’t want you to eat of the Tree of Life—because you’d live forever.” What that suggests to me is that there was a decay process that was part of the creation from the very beginning.

…God didn’t just create single organisms in isolation. God created balanced ecological systems.

…That suggests that viruses may exist, alongside other things like bacterial infections and predation, so that one population doesn’t overextend its ecological niche.

Dr. AJ. Roberts

Without the ten nonillion “viral villain[s] that we cannot see,” there would be no life on this earth as we know it. God makes no mistakes; bacteria and viruses are a remarkable part of His “very good” Creation from the start. Moreover,

unless God’s creation defies every characteristic of biological reality, bacteria and viruses are not bitter fruits of the fall, but among the first fruits of good creation itself.”

Daniel Harrell, “Is the Coronavirus Evil?

If the world were perfect, God would’ve left it autonomous. Thankfully, that wasn’t His purpose. God made the world, its systems and everything in it (including viruses and bacteria) as a declaration of His glory and limitless love for us. God tells us through Isaiah:

6“I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’

And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’

Bring My sons from afar

And My daughters from the ends of the earth,

7Everyone who is called by My name,

And whom I have created for My glory,

Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.”

Isaiah 43:6-7

“…whom I have created for My glory”. Human beings aren’t on Earth to make a mark, to be remembered, or to enjoy ourselves. Our purpose is to love God, keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13) and love to each other as much as we love ourselves. Jesus has called each of his followers to

…present [their] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship”.

Romans 12:1

We’re here on earth to “make disciples of all nations“, we’re here to glorify God; everything that exists comes from God and depends on God.

Alongside bacterial control, Roberts points out a second reason for the emergence of some viruses: what she calls “our mismanagement of creation” whereby deadly viruses have been encountered in places where humans hadn’t been before and where we went for pretty ecologically destructive reasons with the result that these viruses were transmitted to humans.”

Why Zika, and Other Viruses, Don’t Disprove God’s Goodness, Rebecca Randall, August 14 2018

Humanities’ ignorant mismanagement of creation has, once again, been occurring since the beginning. Simply put, after God spoke the heavens and the earth into creation, there was no creature fit “to cultivate it and keep it”. As we see in Deuteronomy 6:4-7, Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:30-31 and Luke 10:27, humanities common purpose is that:

37 …‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 Upon these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 22:37-40

Loving God is more than praying, being good, going to church and singing Him songs. He’s our Father, He wants us to be like His Son; to be Christlike. This requires our absolute obedience, even unto death. I’ve just finished reading a page on “Christians and the Environment” by Geneva College in the USA,

God commissions us to rule over the creation in a way that sustains, protects, and enhances his works so that all creation may fulfill the purposes God intended for it. We must manage the environment not simply for our own benefit but for God′s glory.”

“Caring for the non-human parts of the creation and preserving the intricate interactions among them is an important part of seeking justice for God′s people.”

“We worship God the Creator more fully as we see His glory in his creation and as we participate in His work of sustaining and restoring proper relationships within the creation.”

Geneva College, Environmental Stewardship, “Christians and the Environment

The reality is,

[potentially destructive] natural events such as … cell mutations, and deadly viruses were an integral part of the creation before human beings showed up. More specifically, God has created a dynamic world; earthquakes, volcanoes, glaciers, storms, bacteria, and viruses have their role to play in the world’s becoming…The potential for natural evil…was present from the beginning.”

Terence Fratheim, Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters 

Like it or not, this world “lies in the power of the evil one [Satan]”. (1 John 5:19). We’re all dying and we’re going to continue to experience natural disasters, sickness and death throughout of short time on this earth. We know that God is just, He has never accepted or condoned the sin of His people; a price had to be paid.

In his first letter to the believers in Corinth (1st Corinthians), Paul explains God’s plan to resurrect all who belong to Christ. As believers/Christians, we have nothing to fear from sickness and death.

After been given some hyssop wine (hyssop was the plant used by the Israelites to brush lambs blood on the doorposts on the Passover during the Exodus) Jesus’ final words of “It is finished“, signify that the demands of God’s law had been met by his death; he was the perfect sacrifice. The strength and sting of death and sin have been extirpated. “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7).

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