It is incumbent upon followers of Jesus Christ to think, feel, and act Christianly—that is, like Christ—at all times. This includes how we think, feel, and act with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic that has radically changed life’s routines for millions, if not billions, over the course of this year. In the face of this upending of normalcy, John Piper’s Coronavirus and Christ asks, “Do we have a Rock under our feet? A Rock that cannot be shaken—ever?” (page 8).
The answer comes in Part 1, “The God Who Reigns Over the Coronavirus.” Piper’s thesis is that “the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus, yet doesn’t, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it” (pages 23, 38, 45, 50; emphasis in original). Piper is a well-known Calvinist, and this answer reflects his theological commitment to “all-pervasive sovereignty” or “meticulous sovereignty” (pages 40, 49). Piper writes:
So when I say that God’s sovereignty means that he can do, and in fact does do, all that he decisively wills to do, I mean there is no force outside himself that can thwart or frustrate his will. When he decides for a thing to happen, it happens. Or to put it another way, everything happens because God wills it to happen (page 39, emphasis in original).
Three pages late, Piper draws the logical conclusion from this view of sovereignty:
The coronavirus was sent, therefore, by God. This is not a season for sentimental views of God. It is a bitter season. And God ordained it. God governs it. He will end it. No part of it is outside his sway. Life and death are in his hand (page 42).
That being the case, in Part 2, “What Is God Doing Through the Coronavirus?” Piper turns to Scripture to identify six possible answers to God’s purpose in the pandemic. They are:
- God is giving the world in the coronavirus outbreak, as in all other calamities, a physical picture of the moral horror and ugliness of God-belittling sin (page 61, emphasis in original).
- Some people will be infected with the coronavirus as a specific judgment form God because of their sinful attitudes and actions (page 69).
- The coronavirus is a God-given wake-up call to be ready for the second coming of Christ (page 73).
- The coronavirus is God’s thunderclap call for all of us to repent and realign our lives with the infinite worth of Christ (page 77).
- The coronavirus is God’s call to his people to overcome self-pity and fear, and with courageous joy, to do the good works of love that glorify God (page 87).
- In the coronavirus God is loosening the roots of settled Christians, all over the world, to make them free for something new and radical and to send them with the gospel of Christ to the unreached peoples of the world (page 95).
I am not going to take the time to offer a detailed rebuttal of Piper’s thesis or the six possible answers outlined above. Instead, I would simply point to three lines of questions that Christian readers might ask in a critical reading of Coronavirus and Christ:
First, is Piper’s account of God’s meticulous sovereignty in fact the Bible’s own? I ask because the line of reasoning in these two sentences (quoted above) seems a non sequitur: “When he decides for a thing to happen, it happens. Or to put it another way, everything happens because God wills it to happen.” I agree that if God wills something to happen, it will happen. This doesn’t mean that everything that happens is God’s will, however.
Second, might it be better to interpret Piper’s six answers in terms of result rather than purpose? I acknowledge that the coronavirus can be the occasion for Christians to grow in Christ, manifesting as works of evangelism and compassionate service. I do not necessarily think, however, that we can confidently say that these are the reasons why God willed the coronavirus to happen.
Third, has Piper missed other lines of inquiry from Scripture? I would simply point out the way multiple ways the spread of COVID-19 has been exacerbated by bad policy decisions at all levels of government, and that the brunt of the disease has been felt by the elderly, the racial and ethnic minority, and the poor. Might thinking, feeling, and acting Christianly also entail engaging with these systemic issues?
John Piper, Coronavirus and Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020).
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