So why did John Lennox write a book about the problem of suffering when plenty have been written, and why is this one any different? Most books on this subject concentrate on the problem of moral evil whilst Lennox focuses on the problem of natural evil. Like John Piper in his book ‘Coronavirus and Christ’, Lennox sensitively and candidly recalls when he suffered a near fatal heart attack and his sister had lost her recently married daughter to a malignant brain tumour. He briefly outlines what it is like to feel vulnerable and to add perspective, briefly touches on plagues from the ancient world, the bubonic plague and then 19th and 20th century pandemics.
Lennox asks the question, can Atheism help? He then shows the inevitable conclusion in that if there is no God then where do the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ come from in the first place? DNA neither knows nor cares? He quotes Dawkins and later Dostoevsky, “If God does not exist, everything is permissible.” He then draws on Nietzsche who predicted that ‘the death of God’ would lead to the strong eliminating the weak though of course Nietzsche despised biblical morality. Removing God from the equation does not remove the pain or suffering and nor does it help. The real question is how can coronavirus be reconciled with a loving God?
In a most interesting way, Lennox widens our consideration of viruses and quotes a paper written about whether viruses are vital to our existence and relates that to how ecosystems continue functioning. There is an astonishing number of good viruses that perform beneficiary roles. The pages on that topic alone make this book worth reading and giving further thought too. Lennox then explains the biblical nature of humanity and expounds Genesis 3.
Lennox wisely counsels that a Christian is not someone who has solved the problem of pain but who has come to trust and love the God who Himself has suffered. The term ‘corona’ means ‘crown’ in Latin. Though it is so diminutive that it cannot be seen by the naked eye, it exercises power over humans. Lennox then helpfully reminds us of the crown of thorns that was placed on the head of the Prince of glory. This grounds us in the reality that the broken world we live in and the breakage between the Creator and the created world goes back to Eden. Remember that the ground was also cursed. This is an unavoidable fact and without this knowledge and a solid grounding in the opening chapters in Genesis and without the Saviour there would be no hope.
The closing chapter is entitled, ‘the difference God makes’. So can we respond? On a practical level it makes sense to take heed from the best medical advice available currently. Remember that the Israelites had definite guidelines concerning leprosy and isolation and that saved lives. Secondly, we would be wise to maintain perspective by being informed of how our predecessors dealt with these matters over the centuries and especially how believers responded during pandemics. Thirdly we would be better focusing on loving our neighbours rather than focusing on our problems. Lastly, we would do well to maintain an eternal perspective since the Lord knows the end from the beginning and will create a new heaven and a new earth.