I didn't think I'd be writing another Coronavirus and Christianity related article so soon after responding to the Christianity Today editorial. But now it's NT Wright's turn to be wrong. In this opinion piece in Time magazine Tom Wright correctly notes in the second half of the article that we should be lamenting seeing thousands die, economies disrupted and our lives curtailed by lock-downs. God in his wisdom included this genre in Scripture for exactly this type of situation. Nothing controversial there.
It's actually Wright's first observation (which the title of the article picks up on: 'Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It's Not Supposed To') that is highly problematic. Here's Wright making the salient observation in the third paragraph:
No doubt the usual silly suspects will tell us why God is doing this to us. A punishment? A warning? A sign? These are knee-jerk would-be Christian reactions in a culture which, generations back, embraced rationalism: everything must have an explanation.
He goes on to make another point contrasting Christian rationalists and romantics which is interesting but glosses over the bizarre claim that Scripture does not offer an explanation for the Coronavirus. Oh dear, where to begin. Firstly it seems odd to have to remind Wright that the Bible tells one big story, of which we are part. Not only are pandemics part of the historical narrative of the Biblical story they part of our current personal narrative. Secondly pandemics are part of God's judgement of sin. Each judgement in Scripture is a symbol both of how God deals with sin and what ultimately happens when we choose sin instead of God. Thirdly and most germaine to Wright's argument that Christianity doesn't offer an explanation is that the fact that the pandemic itself is a symbol. Judgments in Scripture are a symbol of what happens when we choose sin and sign to remind us that the world has been broken by our sin.
Tim Keller correctly notes that the causal link between judgement and sin is complex. Like Jesus observes it will rain on the righteous and the unrighteous, the pandemic strikes everyone. Proverbs reminds us a life directed towards God will, on the balance of things, be better on this side of Eternity than a life away from God. But Ecclesiastes reminds us that under the sun, the mist of this broken world clouds our vision. Sometimes we can see the clear correlation between sin and judgement, 'we reap what we sow', but at other times we'll have to wait until everything is revealed on Judgement Day. However this ambiguity doesn't remove the fact that overall on the largest scale, on the global scale, a pandemic is a symbol of God's judgment and a sign that the world is broken by sin.