John C. Lennox, Where is God in a Coronavirus World? Denmark: The Good Book Company, 2020. 76pp.
John C. Lennox is the Professor of Mathematics, University of Oxford; Emeritus Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College; and Associate Fellow of the said Business School. He holds doctorates in mathematics, science and philosophy/theology. Outside of his many articles and writings within the field of mathematics, he has written most extensively on the relationship between science, religion, and ethics. His debates with Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens and many other scientists and authors are well worth watching. He speaks Russian, French, English and German and speaks extensively around the world in his areas of expertise.
Any potential reader who begins by reading a short biographical sketch of Professor Lennox (such as the one above), might be initially tempted to write off any book by such an author as likely being too academic and boring to wade through. Yet, here is where a resume can be deceiving. Anyone who views one of Dr. Lennox’s debates or meets him in person will quickly find a kind, genial and friendly individual who can communicate some of the most difficult theological, philosophical and scientific truths in simple and picturesque language. God has given him that wonderful gift of knowing his subject matter extensively, from decades of immersion in the subject, and also the experience of having discerned how to helpfully and attractively communicate to many diverse audiences.
In this recent booklet, he invites the reader to “view the book like this: I am sitting with you in a coffee shop (if only we could!), and you have asked me the question on the book cover. I put down my coffee cup and attempt to give you an honest answer. What follows is what I would try to say to convey some comfort, support and hope” (pg. 5). This stated goal is an accurate summation of the tone and content of this book. Bringing his typical clarity to the situation, Dr. Lennox grounds the current situation in a proper historical context and then enlightens the reader by bringing Scriptures and philosophical questions to bear on the topic.
From a historical perspective, the reader will be helped to understand that our current situation is not new territory. For the Christian reader, they will be encouraged to see how Christians have acted in previous situations. For the nonChristian reader, they may have their assumptions of human progress and goodness challenged when they see how many episodes in history have experienced something similar. But all readers will hopefully be encouraged when they realize that compared to many ancient plagues, the severity of this one is much less.
Dr. Lennox then makes the observation that while pandemics are not new, our ability to handle them mentally, socially and spiritually has diminished. He points out that very few world leaders have called for prayer or a turning to God for help in the current situation. This is evidence of the obvious shift that has taken place since the last pandemic (the Spanish Flu in 1918) over 100 years ago (pg. 12). The problem, Dr. Lennox explains, is that we no longer possess the capability of making sense of such occurrences because we have rejected the only sufficient basis, the Bible, from which to make sense of them.
This change in fundamental thinking and worldview is helpfully described and illustrated. From a Christian perspective, Dr. Lennox likens it to a beautiful and ornate cathedral that has been partially bombed or destroyed. The beauty is still there but also the destruction (pg. 16). This is a bit like the world in which we live. A discussion and contrast between natural and moral evil is then considered (pgs. 16-20). This section, and the resulting New Testament passages cited, will be both clarifying and hope-giving for the reader.
The critics of Christianity, suggesting God does not exist because of situations like Coronavirus, are taken to task. Dr. Lennox considers the dire implications of there being no God in such a situation, clearly showing that such a conclusion is unwarranted and leaves a person much worse off. He states: “Removing God from the equation does not remove the pain and suffering. It leaves them untouched. But removing God does remove something else—namely, any kind of ultimate hope” (pg. 37). Rather, he shows that Christianity provides the only robust worldview that can begin to make sense of such a situation and that also offers sufficient hope through such a situation. Dr. Lennox is very clear to explain, however, that no system gives us an answer to every “why” question we might have, but in Christianity, we have a God who was willing to come and suffer Himself with humanity in order to restore humanity and reconcile them with their Creator.
Perhaps most surprising for the reader will be chapter 4. In this chapter, Dr. Lennox explains that both viruses and earthquakes (natural phenomenon) are required for life on earth. The vast majority of viruses and results of earthquakes are good, in a big-picture sense, for life on earth. Without them, we could not survive. But unfortunately, a small proportion of viruses are extremely detrimental to human existence as are certain outcomes of earthquakes. Through this brief explanation, the reader is shown that merely wishing that viruses did not exist would have terrible ramifications. The reader is encouraged to consider such things as viruses in a much better context through this chapter.
The definition of a Christian in his final chapter is helpful: “Therefore, a Christian is not so much a person who has solved the problem of pain, suffering and the coronavirus, but one who has come to love and trust a God who has himself suffered” (pg. 53). He then finishes the book with some helpful advice as to how to respond to the present situation. Although the current situation seems to be ever-changing, this book is built on sound principles and theological/philosophical consideration that will be applicable to all current and future pandemics or natural disasters. This book provides much needed clarity and calm hope during a tumultuous time. Its easily readable style and brevity make it ideal for the current situation.