At the time of this writing, billions of people worldwide are huddled indoors, hoping and praying they will be lucky enough to avoid the encroaching coronavirus pandemic. In the United States, the death toll has surpassed 10 World Trade Centers. As an atheist, I’d expect this overwhelming display of natural evil would lead believers to question the absence of their loving, powerful God who could banish the virus with a thought, but during this time I’ve encountered many Christians who believe the exact opposite. They think God will ultimately use this virus to draw people closer to him, to make them realize how much they rely on him after all.
What kind of loving, all-powerful God uses suffering as a way to get through to people? This is a being who ostensibly has every means of communication at his disposal – including telepathy and visions – and from all these he chooses the method of pain.
Take myself as an example. I’ve read the Bible. I’ve prayed. I’ve spent years engaging with believers and considering arguments for God’s existence. I have already demonstrated, in my transition from belief to non-belief, a willingness to change my position based on reasoned evidence. There are a variety of suffering-free ways God could reveal himself to me. Knowing all this, why would God then decide to persuade me not by logic or answered prayer, but through a horrific disease?
Would God break us down just to build us back up again? As atheists point out ad nauseum, this is characteristic of abusive relationships. I understand that people will latch onto whatever reassurance they can get in a time of great upheaval, but I hope that, once we return to whatever “normal” turns out to be, these people will have the luxury of stepping back to consider if God has earned their trust.