Though autumn is largely a source of joy, it also brings a few drawbacks, namely colds and other “bugs.” Flu shot reminders sit next to Halloween displays and hand sanitizer is a must-have. In my own family, sickness arrived in the form of head colds, sore throats, pink eye, and, for one family member, a nasty stomach ailment. Things are yucky.
Disease and the suffering it produces often come up in problem-of-evil discussions. Why would an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God create even the potential for such distress in the lives of His creatures? It’s an issue that has troubled people for millennia and it’s a frequently cited reason for disbelief in God.
RTB scholars Fuz Rana and Jeff Zweerink tackle the topic of disease, specifically viruses, on a recent episode of I Didn’t Know That! A listener asks if viruses can be considered “God’s design or flawed design.” Fuz suggests that, even though viruses are destructive, they are still part of God’s good creation.
For example, viruses help keep plant and animal populations in check; ecosystems would collapse without them. This brought to my mind an episode of Planet Earth that documented the gruesome death of jungle ants via spore infestation. Initially it seemed like a cruel way to die, even for ants, but I later realized that the spores acted like a natural bug spray. Without them, the ants would go unchecked and destroy the sensitive jungle environment—thus, resulting in even more suffering.
Viruses can also influence global geological processes such as rain distribution by providing nucleation sites for rain water. They can even benefit humans on a more personal level. They mediate the bacteria populations in our gut and offer opportunities for potential medical breakthroughs. Fuz points out that viruses’ ability to transfer genetic material could facilitate gene replacement therapies. In fact, a few years ago Fuz reported on a successful attempt in France to use HIV-1 to treat a deadly disease in two young boys.
So, Fuz and Jeff conclude that it’s possible pathogenic viruses are part of God’s good design for creation, but that their negative impact on humans began only after the fall.
While I consider these explanations helpful on a logical level, it must be acknowledged that the issue of disease is still very difficult to deal with on an emotional level. Many people wonder why God couldn’t just create a disease-free environment. In Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, in a chapter titled “Why Not a Perfect Universe—Now?” RTB founder Hugh Ross (no stranger to disease-related suffering) suggests that God has good reasons for allowing suffering because He has purposes that extend beyond the present realm.
In Romans 8, the apostle Paul explains that when we put our hope in Christ “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” In other words, our troubles, including disease, need not be pointless. It’s always amazing to me when I see fellow Christians face illness with the courage and strength that come from faith in God. Just this week, my sister, the one who is suffering a debilitating stomach ailment far away from home (and from her family who longs to help her), told me,
God is teaching me in this stillness and as much as I hate it, I know I need it. I am frustrated because I don’t like being the weak one…but I know that’s something God will sift through me.
This isn’t an easy topic with a simple solution. Yet answers and comfort can be found in the God who offers us a future where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”