Besides disrupting our lives, the current pandemic has brought several difficult questions to the surface. We’ve addressed some of them in the previous two articles. In this one we will address two more:
- Is God causing the coronavirus?
- Is God judging us through the coronavirus?
These are not easy questions, and one article can’t hope to do them justice, but we’ll do our best with the space restraints we have.
Is God causing the coronavirus?
Our reflexive response is No! God wouldn’t cause a virus that harms and kills people. We have a strong urge to get God off the hook for this. Surprisingly, it’s an urge God doesn’t share.
Scripture declares God’s sovereignty and lordship over all creation. God says to Moses, “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11). God speaks through Amos: “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it? (Amos 3:6). Through Isaiah God declares, “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7). Jeremiah writes, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lamentations 3:38). Micah announces, “Disaster has come down from the Lord to the gate of Jerusalem” (Micah 1:12). And upon losing his property and children, Job famously confessed, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
In many and various places, Scripture announces God’s lordship over wind, seas, snow, lightning, kings, nations, fish, worms, flies, gnats, frogs, locusts, quail, and disease. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from Him (Matthew 10:29).
Even Satan operates on a divine leash, being given only as much slack as God allows. God is, as the psalmist declares, “a great King over all the earth” (Psalm 47:2). And as Paul declares, God is “over all” (Ephesians 4:6). All. He is lord over all. Are we free to exempt the coronavirus?
Does this mean God has caused the coronavirus? Maybe. Perhaps it was Satan, but even then God is holding the leash (as we see with Job in Scripture). At the very least it means that it has not arisen outside of His lordship. And, despite what you might be tempted to think, this is good news. It means God isn’t playing catch-up. He’s not working from behind. This virus will yield to His will and God will work it for His good.
Might that involve human suffering? Yes. Might that involve great disruption to world economies? Yes. Might it upend our settled routines? Yes. Might it shatter some of our dreams? Yes. Might it take the lives of those we love or even our own life? Yes. Does any of this mean God’s lordship isn’t loving? No. If God could take the greatest evil (the execution of His Son) and use it to accomplish the greatest good (the redemption of the world), can He not exercise His loving lordship to accomplish His good purposes through the coronavirus? Yes. God is the Lord; there is no other. His lordship, though sometimes beyond our understanding, is loving. We need not fear. He, not the coronavirus, is reigning.
Is God judging us through the coronavirus?
This question moves beyond God’s agency (i.e. whether God is causing the coronavirus) to God’s purposes for the virus. There’s no doubt God has judged (i.e. condemned) through plagues, sulfur and fire, water, confused languages, pagan nations, and many, many more means, but every last one of these instances involved a clear word from the Lord. Do we have a clear word from the Lord as to His purposes for the coronavirus? No.
Can God judge individuals through disease? Yes. Acts 12 records the following: “Immediately an angel of the Lord struck [Herod Agrippa] down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last” (12:23). Do we have any such word from the Lord concerning any individual suffering under the coronavirus today? No.
Can God discipline and humble through disease or natural calamity or hardship? Yes. Paul writes about “a thorn… in the flesh,” “a messenger of Satan” sent by God to “harass” him (2 Corinthians 12:7). God took Zechariah’s voice for nine months when he doubted God’s promise to give Elizabeth and him their son John (Luke 1:20). And God struck Elisha’s servant Gehazi with leprosy for his covert money grab from Naaman (2 Kings 5:19-27). Do we have any such word from the Lord concerning any individual suffering under the coronavirus? No.
We must be careful not to speak where God has not spoken. Does this mean Scripture is silent on the matter? No. The Gospel of Luke records the following instructive account:
There were some… who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Jesus’ response is simultaneously brilliant and jarring. He is cautioning us against focusing on what God may or may not be doing in another’s life, whether He’s judging them or not. Instead, Jesus says, the focus in such scenarios (those senselessly murdered by Pilate, those victims of the falling tower, and those affected by the coronavirus today) is the same: ourselves. Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Jesus refuses to let us move the question away from ourselves, which is why His response is jarring. In effect, He’s saying, “What God is doing in other people’s life isn’t your concern; what He’s doing in yours is. Repent.” Scripture reminds us, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
What, then, is God’s message to you through the coronavirus? Repent. You cannot put this off. Your life may be upended at any time, something this virus has made explicitly clear and real. Believe the gospel. Believe that God has come to this earth in Christ to redeem and save it, to redeem and save you. Leave your idols. Leave your sin. They’re all death. Christ is life. Trust Him. Follow Him. No, it won’t ensure you a life free from suffering or even from contracting the coronavirus, but it will ensure you freedom from condemnation and the assurance of a life finally and fully liberated from sin and its death grip. Now is the time to hear God’s gracious call and to respond in faith. – Pastor Conner