As COVID-19 continues its upward trend across the country, we continue to try to understand and manage this terrible virus. And many people, understandably, continue to wonder about God’s role in this painful, frightening crisis. What question in all of Christian theology has been more widely explored than this: what is God’s role in the pain and evil that we experience?
Well, there are some things we can say about the presence of pain and evil in our world. Most evil, most pain, most human suffering, comes from the abuse of our freedom. God has made us free, and we misuse our freedom to hurt each other. As for natural evil, natural disasters, there are certain laws that govern God’s good creation. For instance, the good law of gravity is what keeps us from floating off into space; but the same law of gravity means that if my child falls out of a tree, she might break a bone — or worse. Our human bodies allow us to experience the wonders of life in this world, but because they are alive, they are subject to disease, to viruses.
So there are some things we can say about pain and evil. But having said all of that, here’s the bottom line: I don’t know. I don’t know everything about human suffering, and I certainly don’t know everything about how God works. But I do know that I believe the New Testament when it says that we must not mistake the presence of evil and pain in our world for apathy on the part of God. To the contrary, the whole point of the gospel is that in Jesus Christ, God has entered into our world, into our experiences, into our suffering. When we hurt, God is with us — God walks with us to help us, to strengthen us, to give us peace.
On May 6, 2010, my wife, my son and I were on our way to Charleston to celebrate our daughter’s graduation from the Honors College at the College of Charleston. A child’s graduation from college is a huge event in the life of a family — and an event of great joy and celebration. As we were riding, my cellphone rang. The man on the other end said, “Is this Anthony Hopkins?” I thought, “Oh, this is a solicitor” — they always use my legal name. I said, “Yes.” But then the conversation turned. The man said, “Are you the brother of Kenneth Hopkins Jr.?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “I’m very sorry to have to call you, but I work with the Fulton County Coroner’s Office.” At that moment, I knew that my brother was dead — a pulmonary embolism, as it turned out. He rolled his trash can out to the end of the driveway and never made it back to his house. Kenny was 50 years old.
Kenny’s death, quite simply, is the greatest tragedy which has taken place among my family of origin. I don’t know why it happened, but I know that God did not let us take one step on that journey alone. God was there to sustain and strengthen me and my family; my younger brother and his family; and Kenny’s son, Matthew, who was only 13 when his father died. I don’t know everything about how God works, but I know that when we needed God most, God was most present with us.
If I had to choose only one moment from the life of Jesus to use for Christian instruction, it would be his prayer in Gethsemane. He says what we so often feel: “This situation is not playing out the way I want.” But in the end — by his words and by his actions — Jesus says, “Whatever happens, I trust God.”
This is the very essence of our faith: whatever happens, I trust God.