When wondering why God allows pandemics or other diseases, we can only find a reasonable answer if we know the nature of God’s love. Since God is pure love, everything He does is for a loving purpose looking to the eternal welfare of each person.
A literal reading of the Old Testament indicates that God sends plagues as a punishment, but it is not possible for a loving God to punish and condemn. Human disease comes from evil and hell, not from God. Even if God did punish people with disease, it would not be fair to punish people who are good and innocent, while cruel, hateful people remain in good health.
God’s true nature was revealed when He took on a human form as Jesus Christ. We don’t see Jesus sending curses or plagues on people, but rather having compassion and healing everyone who was sick. “All those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Jesus, and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them,” (Luke 4:40). God only heals, and never causes pain or disease.
Yet even though Jesus healed so many people, there are billions of sick people in the world today, many of them good people and even faithful Christians. God doesn’t wish sickness or pain on anyone, but He allows it because of the good that can come out of it.
Suffering can lead to happiness
Actually, Jesus never promised His followers that this world would be free from suffering. Quite the opposite — He said, “In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart! I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33). Paradoxically, suffering can be a path to happiness. “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you,” (Matthew 5:10-12).
Difficult times that test us make our faith and love stronger
Paul wrote, “We rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us,” (Romans 5:3-5). You see, suffering of good people is not a punishment from God because of our past, but rather a challenge to grow into a better future. God lets us suffer for what we can become, not because of what we have been.
Think of how good coaches will give challenging tasks to their athletes, pushing them to the limits of their strength and endurance, asking them to suffer the pain of giving their last ounce of effort. Then, if they do well, the coaches give even harder tasks, so that they can reach their full potential. The better the athletes become, the harder their trials are.
Jesus Himself overcame the most difficult trials, struggling against all of hell as He became stronger and more filled with Divine Love. In a parallel way each of us suffers as we struggle to overcome selfishness and despair to reach our full potential for wisdom and compassion.
The experience of pain helps us learn compassion
"To love is to experience another person’s happiness as if it were our own," (Divine Love and Wisdom 47). But if someone we love is suffering, then we feel their pain, too, as if it were our own. “Compassion” literally means “to suffer with.” So “pure love is pure compassion,” (Divine Providence 337).
Love itself turns into compassion and becomes compassion when anyone in need of help is regarded with love or good will. Consequently compassion is the expression of love towards those who are needy and miserable. (Secrets of Heaven 3063)
Through the experience of suffering, of ourselves and of those we love, we learn to have compassion. When a pandemic hits the whole human race, we find many people rising to a higher level of compassion as they see others’ misery.
Pandemics can unite us
When sickness strikes a few individuals, we may not know them or care for them, or we may assume that they somehow caused or deserved the illness, or we find other reasons to discount individual disease. A pandemic, on the other hand, affects people all over the globe. It does not respect political boundaries or parties, and has no prejudice about race or religion. We can see that we are all in the same boat, and that we must work together to overcome the disease. Nothing unites people as much as helping each other through challenging times.
We are always free. We can choose to let such crises divide us rather than unite us, but still God is giving us an opportunity to help each other and work for the common good rather than just thinking of ourselves. People struck with the illness learn how much they need others, and those who are healthy may be inspired to give help.
People help each other when God is working in them. “God loves every one of us but cannot directly benefit us; he can benefit us only indirectly through each other. For this reason he inspires us with his love,” (True Christianity 457).
Facing physical diseases can help us recover from spiritual diseases
“All evils are contagious. They are like a plague you become infected with just by breathing in and out,” (True Christianity 120). When love grows cold, “evils increase day by day, and insofar as they increase, one person infects another like a contagion,” (Secrets of Heaven 10134.9). When one person takes more than their share (for example, hoarding toilet paper), then others become afraid that they will not have enough: greed is contagious. Hatred and violence are contagious, too. People who have been hurt or abused tend to hurt and abuse others. Fear, too, spreads from person to person. These are spiritual pandemics that cause far more suffering and death than any virus.
When the Bible speaks of disease it is generally a symbol of spiritual disease or human evil, so these two are often mentioned together. David described the Lord as the One “Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases,” (Psalm 103:3). He said, “The Lord will strengthen him on his bed of illness. You will sustain him on his sickbed. I said, ‘Lord, be merciful to me. Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You,’” (Psalm 41:4). “There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your anger, nor any health in my bones because of my sin,” (Psalm 38:3; see also Jeremiah 30:12-13,15; 33:6, 8). “The sins that we retain when we do not practice repentance are like various diseases we suffer that are fatal unless we are given medicine that takes away what is causing harm,” (True Christianity 524).
Contagious evils can be mitigated just as viral diseases can. Think how much anger and personal violence would stop spreading if we stayed at least 6 feet away from people when angry, isolated ourselves when our emotional temperature is too high, and covered our mouths when hurtful words were about to escape.
Diseases can bring us closer to God
Earlier we saw that Divine Love is also Divine Compassion, that is, God feeling our pain. From Divine compassion, Jesus “bore our sicknesses, and he carried our pains,” (Isaiah 53:4). We can be close to God if we have love like His. Jesus said that there is no greater love than to lay down ones life for one’s friends, (John 15:13). During a pandemic, many doctors, nurses, support people, even grocers, have risked—and sometimes given—their lives to provide care for the ill. In doing so they display the “greatest love,” the kind of love that God has and that brings us close to Him.
At the same time, through disease we all learn that we are not God. Ultimately we can’t prevent death. We do all we can to mitigate the disease, yet it is also a time for surrender, for putting things in God’s hands. The experience of a pandemic can soften our hearts and open us to God, knowing that through the valley of the shadow of death we need fear no evil, because the Lord is with us, (Psalm 23:4).