God and Covid-19

In recent weeks we have seen many publications about the role of God in the current Covid-19 pandemic. Some say that we should not blame God, while others ae sure God is guilty for the Corona misery. Their argument usually is that, if God is omnipotent, he can ensure that disasters like the current pandemic do not happen. The very fact that he does not use his power to prevent such terrible things makes him guilty. And who would want to worship a God who has so much blood on his divine hands?

In recent weeks I have become more intensely acquainted with a different view of God’s omnipotence than is common in Protestant theology. At the request of the independent Adventist journal Spectrum, I wrote a review of a new book by Dr. Richard Rice that is to be published shortly. For many years Rice has served as a professor in the Divinity School of the Loma Linda University in the place with the same name in California. Rice is one of the best-known and most creative Adventist theologians of our time, and has also become widely known outside the Adventist Church. The Dutch Adventist church published two of his books, namely the dogmatic standard work The Reign of God, which provides an excellent overview of Christian doctrine, from an Adventist perspective, and the fascinating book about the importance of the church: Believing, Behaving, Belonging.

Richard Rice’s new book is entitled The Future of Open Theism: From Antecedents to Opportunities. In the first part of this book Rice gives an overview of some of the forerunners of the theological movement that is now usually referred to as Open Theism, and explains what this school of theology believes and what critics have brought against it. In the second part of the book Rice discusses the impact of Open Theism on a number of crucial Christian dogmas. You have to know some theological terminology to be able to enjoy the book. But for those who are theologically interested and have a good command of English, reading it is a recommended adventure for the mind and for the heart.

The defenders of Open Theism, of whom Richard Rice is one of the most important, say that God is not omniscient in the sense that most theologians think he is. God is omnipotent, but he cannot do some things when these things are contrary to logic. He cannot make a round square or a square circle. And so, God’s omniscience is also limited. It does not include the things he cannot possibly know, namely how our free decisions will turn out. In his unspeakable love, he has taken the risk of creating people with a genuinely free will. And (this is a key facet of Open Theism) man’s will is only truly free if the result of his decisions are not predetermined and therefore already known by God. Rice and other advocates of this view believe that this approach does most justice to the biblical image of God. God is not the unchanging God of classical theology. God can undergo profound changes in his interaction with us. He rejoices when we make the right decisions, but is sad when we choose the wrong options. God can regret certain things and sometimes he changes his plans or opinion. As a result, also things that have been prophesied may in the end turn out differently from what we would expect!

This is a very concise and over-simplified representation of Open Theism. I intend to read more about it in the near future and perhaps also discuss certain ideas (and pose my questions) directly with Rice. But based on this view of the being and character of God, we must conclude that God’s decision to give man a genuine free will has led to so many wrong human choices and has messed up so much in our world, that eventually wars and pandemics and other disasters have been the result. That’s the high price God paid when he decided in his love not to make robots but beings with a free will. But he doesn’t let his plans go completely awry. His original intentions for man and for the world will eventually be realized. In the meantime, God is intensely involved in everything that happens. He supports us and is close to us. And when we suffer, he suffers intensely with us. Also (and especially) in times of this world-wide Covid-19 pandemic!

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