Is God self-isolating during Covid-19?
AN internationally-renowned defender of Christianity, the Armagh-born Oxford University professor of mathematics John Lennox, has argued that belief in a sovereign and loving God helps to explain the "perplexing and unsettling" Covid-19 pandemic.
Professor Lennox, a sparring partner of prominent atheists including Richard Dawkins and Peter Singer, was moved to write Where is God in a Coronavirus World? to help people make sense of the profound issues raised as the virus has tightening its grip.
"It is hard to grasp that this pandemic has the potential to be the worst ever, and that all our current estimates of its impact are likely to fall far short of the reality," he says.
"Its scale and scope sound like something out of a dystopian movie. And yet it is really happening."
The 76-year-old apologist, regarded as a leading thinker on the interface between religion, philosophy and science, was so inspired by his task that he managed to write the book in just a week.
People more readily turned to God in the past when catastrophes - Spanish 'flu, World Wars - struck but we live in a more sceptical age.
"Nowadays, fewer and fewer people have any God-dimension whatsoever in their lives," writes Prof Lennox, whose previous books include Can Science Explain Everything?
"Since all over the world churches are being closed in order to limit the spread of the virus, many are asking where God is - that is, if he is there at all.
"Is he in inaccessible self-quarantine? Where or from whom can we get real solace or hope?"
Prof Lennox's logical approach is influenced by CS Lewis, the Belfast-born atheist-turned-Christian, who also wrote powerfully on the problems of pain and suffering; indeed, as a mathematics undergraduate at Cambridge University, Lennox would sneak out of his own classes to hear Lewis lecture.
Coronavirus, lockdown and periods of self-isolation mean that for many people, "the big questions of life are breaking through to the surface, demanding attention".
"Coronavirus confronts us all with the problem of pain and suffering," says Prof Lennox.
"This, for most of us, is one of life's hardest problems. Experience rightly makes us suspicious of simplistic answers and facile attempts to come to terms with it."
He said he wanted to avoid "those kinds of 'answers'" in his book.
His intention was "to think with you, as honestly as I can, through some of the ideas that have helped me to wrestle with these difficult questions as coronavirus has begun to change everything".
Throughout the book, Prof Lennox argues that Christianity offers hope amid coronavirus, and concludes by claiming that "only Jesus" can give "peace in a pandemic".