- WRESTLING with God in the Coronavirus
- God Can Handle Your CORONAVIRUS Anger
Self-isolated at home during the Coronavirus storm I have plenty of time to ponder what will come of this, one of the most profound events in my lifetime. I find the isolation difficult; I want to see my grandkids and be with my family.
It is also a time many of us wrestle with the difficult question, “Why does a good God allow this suffering, death and economic woe?” The question of suffering, as we are dealing with in the Coronavirus reality, is perhaps the hardest question a Christian will face.
As Hebrew scholar, social commentator and founder of Prager University Dennis Prager points out, both the theist and the atheist face profound questions. The believer in God wrestles with the question of evil, but atheists, who are also believers, have their own unanswered questions. They believe there is no God, a conclusion that triggers huge difficulties. Prager paraphrases Milton Steinberg, a Jewish rabbi and theologian:
[T]he believer has to account for the existence of unjust suffering; the atheist has to account for the existence of everything else—for the world, life, consciousness, beauty, love, art, music. It would seem the believer has the upper hand.
Yes, the theist needs to deal honestly with difficult questions. But so does any honest person of whatever persuasion. The atheist especially has a steep hill to climb. In fact, simply denying God does not eliminate the problematic question of suffering. Suffering and injustice are normal in a fallen world; the atheist must still address what suffering means in a world without purpose.
The big question about the Coronavirus
We are rational creatures, made in the image of God, made to think, reason, and ask questions. Yes, even the difficult questions of evil in the age of Wuhan. We can even ask God, “Why do you, a good God, allow suffering? It seems so unfair.”
The Coronavirus may be new, but the problem of evil is not. During my lifetime, I have read any number of books on the problem of evil. Many of them have given new insights. They have closed much of the gap for me, but not entirely. I have wrestled with the question of evil in the face of Stalin, Hitler and Mao, secular totalitarian regimes that are collectively responsible for well over 100,000,000 deaths. How can this be? I have literally stood in the killing fields of Pol Pot’s Cambodia and the places of genocide in Rwanda and asked, “Why, Lord?”
I cried out to God when my good friend David Tuttle suddenly died so young, depriving his family of a husband and father, depriving me of a dear friend.
I agonized looking into the coffin of my six-month-old grandson Alex. “God, why did you take this precious baby from us? You could have taken this old man’s life!” How could a good God allow this little boy to die and his parents and family suffer so profoundly? While my trust in God’s goodness has never faltered I have had serious questions for God in the face of suffering and evil.
Too often, when we are seeking to be godly men and women, we see these questions as a lack of faith, as doubting God and His goodness. Is it wrong to question God? Is it wrong to doubt? Is it wrong to reason with God?
Maybe not. Perhaps God has made us to engage with Himself, to grapple with Him.
God can handle your Coronavirus anger
In his commentary on Genesis, Dennis Prager points to a new reflection about the problem of evil: struggling with God!
It does not seem likely that the Creator of beings who care about good and evil does not Himself care about good and evil. It does not seem likely caring beings were created by an uncaring Creator. I believe the most intellectually honest response to all the unjust suffering in the world is not to deny God exists, but to be occasionally angry with God. That is, in fact, one of the reasons I believe in the God of the Bible—because the name of God’s People is “Israel,” which means “Struggle with God” (see the commentary to Genesis 32:29). The very Book that introduced God to humanity invites us to fight with and even get angry with that God.
I have read the narrative of Jacob wrestling with God and God changing his name. I had never thought of it in the way Prager is suggesting.
I know that God has made us free to say “no” to Him. This is unpacked in a post I wrote a few years ago, Freedom to Choose Hell, part 2. We were created as free moral creatures, to think, reason, and choose freely. We were not made as robots. We are truly free to say no to God! The question is, Do we reason from the knowledge of the Creator, or only from the knowledge of created things (Romans 1:21-23)?
God affirmed the reality of human freedom by the “two trees” – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of the cross of Christ.
Learn to struggle with God
Similarly we were meant to “struggle with God.” Jacob struggled with God all night and prevailed and God gave him a new name, the name which identifies the Hebrew people still today.
And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” Genesis 32:24-30
Jacob wrestled or grappled with a “man.” He persisted in the struggle until his adversary dislocated Jacob’s hip. Jacob continued to grapple until his opponent said “Let me go.” Still, Jacob kept up the struggle until the adversary agreed to bless him.
At daybreak, the adversary relented and blessed Jacob, changing his name to Israel. The Hebrew yiś·rā·ʾēl provides the new identity. Dennis Prager explains:
“Israel.” It means “struggle (yisra) with God (el).” That God would bestow this name on His People could only mean God assumes—even expects—those who believe in Him to struggle with Him.
What does this mean for us in the Coronavirus storm today?
– Darrow Miller
… to be continued
 Prager, Dennis. The Rational Bible: Genesis. Regnery Faith. Kindle Edition.