Updated: May 6, 2020
The author Catherine Marshall was married to the Rev. Peter Marshall, chaplain of the U.S. Senate from 1947 to 1949 and also the pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. for over a decade. The reason his tenure as Senate Chaplain lasted only two years is that he suddenly had a heart attack and passed away at age 46.
His widow, Catherine, wrote the book A Man Called Peter about his incredible yet too-short life. The book was even made into a movie (of the same name) that was nominated for an Oscar in 1956.
But why does God allow things like heart attacks, car accidents, and deadly viruses like COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) to happen, when they cause such heartache to those of us who are left behind?
Jesus Answers with a Parable
As He often did, Jesus addressed this issue with a parable:
24 He presented another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat, and left. 26 When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared. 27 The landowner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from? ’
28 “ ‘An enemy did this,’ he told them.
“ ‘So, do you want us to go and pull them up? ’ the servants asked him
29 “ ‘No,’ he said. ‘When you pull up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them, but collect the wheat in my barn.’ ”
~ Matthew 13:24-30 (CSB)
…Jesus is saying that an “enemy” sowed the weeds, and the weeds are obviously the people who are rebels. That’s a difficult concept to grasp in today’s culture that celebrates diversity over individuality, which doesn’t recognize that rebellious lifestyles and decisions are actually wrong. Everyone is not rewarded the same way as everyone else, because the weeds will be “burned,” whereas the wheat will be gathered and brought into the landowner’s (God’s) barn (Heaven).
So, is He saying that some people are “weeds”? On the contrary. If the weeds are the rebels, they’re the people who have decided to rebel. Rebels can make the decision to start following the Lord; God’s followers can also break His heart and decide to be a rebel.
We don’t fully know how this works, but if this weren’t the case, then believers wouldn’t have to bother sharing the Gospel with others – because it would already be baked in the cake. Wheat would be wheat, chaff would be chaff. But the good news is that it’s not! There is hope even for rebels, so the chaff can be grafted onto the wheat.
Why Does God Sometimes Heal and Sometimes Not?
So, what does wheat vs. chaff have to do with the coronavirus? Because this virus was actually created, or at least spread, by man. People have been hurt or killed as a result of other people’s evil, rebellious actions. (One thing that stands out is that it has forced people around the world to stay at home for much of Lent.)
Catherine Marshall wrote in her book Something More that “God is a gentleman; He will never force Himself on anyone.” There is a degree to which He will not interfere, whether in healing or in punishing. It’s not always clear why some people are very obviously miraculously healed while others are not. However, it likely has to do with what He is accomplishing by the healing, because no one stays healed forever – everyone dies eventually. So the healing is a lesson for one or many people.
When we start to wonder why God doesn’t just shove His hand into Wuhan, China, so He can stop viruses like COVID-19 and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) from starting in the first place, we have to stop. He has already said that He will not burn up both the wheat and the chaff, and that is what He would be doing whether we accept it or not.
The Church in China is amazingly strong. Perhaps it’s also very strong in Wuhan. If it weren’t, He just might destroy the area in a Sodom-and-Gomorrah-style destruction of sulfur and fire (Genesis 19:24).
A quick Google search shows a number of Christian churches or organizations in Wuhan. He will not be pulling up the wheat with the chaff there anytime soon. As long as sulfur and fire don’t rain down onto Wuhan, we are called to pray for the people of Wuhan. Miracles do happen.