COVID-19 – Coronavirus
A Punishment of God?
In my last post, I concluded saying:
“I don’t believe that the coronavirus is a direct punishment of God on the world. But I do believe that it certainly is one of the consequences of our bad management of God’s creation...” (italics added)
Thinking about it afterwards, I asked myself: on what basis can I make such a claim? Am I right to say that?
So let’s ask the question: is the coronavirus God’s punishment on the world?
I guess that the majority among you would answer right away: “Of course not!”, but maybe some would say: “Well yes! For sure!”
Careful now: the opinion of the majority is not a warranty for truth!
In fact, maybe our first reaction simply gives us a clue as to our world view.
The Visible and the Invisible
The West flushed God away from its way of seeing and explaining the world, and turned instead to Science. According to that world view, whatever is visible and measurable is true and real. Everything else is fables and beliefs. (And we must note that we can see the coronavirus with an electronic micrograph [e.g. this NewScientist article]; therefore it is real!)
I grew up with that way of thinking. And to reconcile my faith in God with it, I made compartments in my head: there was the visible and material on one side, and the invisible and the spiritual on the other. I kept the interactions from one side to the other to a minimum because I had too much trouble rationally explaining the spiritual interventions in the material. I could not “see the invisible.”
When I lived in Africa for a few years, I came in contact with another world view. There, the visible and the invisible coexist in everyday life. People grow up explaining the world as constant interactions between the material and the spiritual. (I suspect that it’s probably the same in Asia and South America.)
Of course, that way of seeing life also has its abuses and perversions, for example, all sorts of superstitions. But in its favour it has the fact of being more sensitive to the invisible. Anyway, it’s what I need to personally counteract my rationalism.
And what’s the point with the matter that interests us? Simply this: if we believe that God is Creator of the world – of the visible as well as the invisible, the material as well as the spiritual – and that he is Sovereign over all things, we must accept the fact that he has the authority to act in that world as he pleases, in the material as well as in the spiritual. Therefore, it is possible that the coronavirus is a judgement of God.
Now let’s try to go a bit further with the matter by comparing the actual situation with an example from the Bible...
King David and the Census of Israel
I think that an event that happened at the end of King David’s reign is pertinent to the discussion. There are many things that I don’t understand about it, but here is what I retain...
Toward the end of his life, King David commanded a census of the people of Israel. That didn’t please God who decided to punish him: Gad the prophet was sent to the king with a message from the Lord...
“So Gad came to David and asked him, “Will you choose three years of famine throughout your land, three months of fleeing from your enemies, or three days of severe plague throughout your land? Think this over and decide what answer I should give the Lord who sent me.”
““I’m in a desperate situation!” David replied to Gad. “But let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great. Do not let me fall into human hands.”
“So the Lord sent a plague upon Israel that morning, and it lasted for three days. A total of 70,000 people died throughout the nation, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south. But as the angel was preparing to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented and said to the death angel, “Stop! That is enough!” At that moment the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
“When David saw the angel, he said to the Lord, “I am the one who has sinned and done wrong! But these people are as innocent as sheep—what have they done? Let your anger fall against me and my family.”” (1)
Some points to note:
- The three punishments put before David – famine, defeat before the enemy, or plague – are all “ordinary” phenomenons in the visible world, in the sense that at first, they don’t imply supernatural elements, and they were relatively common at the time. (2)
- Nevertheless, the punishment chosen – plague – was carried out by an angel of the Lord, a “supernatural” being who acted in the invisible world with very concrete consequences in the visible world.
- Moreover, the three-day deadline is certainly supernatural: anyone who knows a bit about epidemiology will agree that an epidemic doesn’t stop by itself after three days, at the peak of the propagation. (We just have to think of “the curve” for the COVID-19 propagation and of the statistics that the Public Health Department shares with the public everyday for the past few weeks now.)
What should we conclude regarding our initial question? On the one hand, we see that the coronavirus propagation follows a “natural” progression: even if it’s quite impressive in certain countries, we don’t talk of 70,000 people dying in three days, followed by a complete stop.
On the other hand, we must acknowledge that disease – whether it is a “plague” or the coronavirus – is one of the ways that God uses to punish his people according to the Bible.
However, with the situation that we are experiencing now, the coronavirus doesn’t affect only the “people of God”, no matter how we define it. There are certainly no statistics about that – it would not be “politically correct” - and I doubt that Jews or Christians are the only ones affected by the disease, or at the opposite are the only ones spared.
Moreover, we must note that the Biblical story that we study was part of God’s plan to raise the Messiah. We are now in a different “spiritual economy”, which brings us to speak about...
The Redemptive Work of the Lord Jesus-Christ
We celebrated Easter just a few days ago, which is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus after he died on the cross because of the sins of the world. What does this change to our initial question?
Well, we believe that our disobedience angers God. (3) In fact, the apostle Paul says:
“All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.” (4)
But the Lord Jesus took our sins upon himself and suffered God’s anger on our behalf by dying on the cross; he, a righteous one, for us sinners.
“But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.”
“For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”
“He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.” (5)
Therefore, those who believe in Jesus-Christ and in the work that he accomplished don’t have to suffer God’s anger anymore. The Lord Jesus gave them his righteousness.
“We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.” (6)
Therefore, the coronavirus is not a judgement of God to punish his people, because his people – those who believe in Jesus, the Church – don’t have to suffer his anger anymore.
However, God’s anger remains for some others...
“The Father loves his Son and has put everything into his hands. And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.” (7)
And so, that raises another question about COVID-19: how does it fit into our eschatology, our knowledge about the end times? But that is for another post...
I acknowledge that I haven’t done an exhaustive study of the matter. My text simply shows the point I’m at in my reflexion. However, I think that I can stand by my initial declaration with conviction: the coronavirus is not a punishment of God on the world.
Maybe some will say that my declaration is polite and diplomatic. Too polite?
Anyway, since I’m not a prophet, I will just continue my reflexion on the matter.
Sincerely in Jesus,
The Bellicose Monk
All Bible excerpts are from The Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013).
(1) Second book of Samuel, chapter 24, verses 13 to 17. If you want to read the whole passage, click here for 2 Samuel 24, or here for the parallel passage of 1 Chronicles 21.
(2) Moreover, “war, famine, and disease” later became a key phrase for the prophets. For examples, the Book of the prophet Jeremy, chapter 14, verse 12; chapter 15, verse 2; the Book of the prophet Ezekiel, chapter 5, verse 12; chapter 6, verse 12.
(3) For example, see the Letter from the apostle Paul to the Colossians, chapter 3, verses 5 and 6.
(4) Letter from the apostle Paul to the Ephesians, chapter 2, verse 3.
(5) Respectively, Book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 53, verses 5 and 6; Second letter from the apostle Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 21; and First letter from the apostle Peter, chapter 2, verse 24.
(6) Letter from the apostle Paul to the Romans, chapter 3, verses 22 to 24.
(7) Gospel according to the apostle John, chapter 3, verses 35 and 36.