COVID-19, at least temporarily, has upended the entirety of not just Western but global society. Nearly every nation on the planet has at least one positive case of the coronavirus, and the world’s response has been telling.
The mass media has engaged in its usual fear mongering, wherein they have published worst-case scenario after worst-case scenario headline, even though the much softer truth lies within the third paragraph of the article. The stock market has tanked because investors freaked out. The government has shown ineptitude at federal, state, and local levels. Florida’s beaches were still crowded until a day or two ago (Insert “Florida man” headline here). College kids are still partying for spring break, and unbelievers have shown the way they see the world to be abysmally hopeless.
People have panicked and turned to their functional gods of government and good times, which have failed them, perpetuating the vicious cycle caused when our idols show themselves to be deaf and dumb. In most of the world’s eyes, God either doesn’t care or is too small to account for this virus. To some, God isn’t there in the first place; the virus is simply the product of evolution and the meat sacks known as homo sapiens are doomed to social isolation or face eradication for the foreseeable future.
On the other side of the same unbelieving coin, we have prosperity teachers making a mockery of Christianity by claiming “authority” over the virus and telling it that it’s illegal. We’ve seen false prophets falsely prophecy that the virus would basically evaporate in just a few days, and we’ve seen hucksters touch TV cameras with mineral oil on their hands, claiming that it would release healing and shields of protection because God either doesn’t or can’t send sickness. This is all Satan’s work, they claim.
The truth is that God not only created COVID-19; he also holds every individual virus’s molecules together by the word of his power. He’s sovereign over wherever it goes and uses it to his glory and the good of his people. He is directing all of the events throughout the course of human history in order glorify himself through the redemption of a particular people, the Church.
Of course, that still hasn’t proven that God’s will is to ever make people sick or otherwise cause them harm. That answer, according to Scripture, is a resounding “yes.” I’ll start my argument in Deuteronomy 28:21-22, in which God lays out how he will curse Israel if they violate the covenant.
“The LORD will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. The LORD will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish.”
Even one of the American church’s favorite verses, 2 Chronicles 7:14, supports this claim when put in its proper context. By itself, it reads, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” However, what many neglect is that literally the verse before talks about God sending pestilence. God brought disease upon even Israel, his covenant people.
One more example from the Old Testament, as many claim that disease is wrought by the unilateral workings of Satan.
The first chunk of the book of Job involves Satan accusing Job, a righteous man, of only following God because of his unbelievably good life. In those days, livestock was basically currency (Or toilet paper by today’s standards) and children were basically hired hands in an agrarian society, and Job had loads of both. Satan requests to harm Job in various ways, and God allows it. Don’t miss that. Satan had to get permission from God to do anything to anyone. Christianity is not dualistic, where God and Satan are equals or even quasi-equals. Instead, the book of Job portrays Satan as something closer to a mean mutt on a leash, which God can jerk back at any time. There is only one Sovereign. If God doesn’t will that Satan tempt or harm someone, it doesn’t happen, period.
Now, lest one say, “That’s in the Old Testament and doesn’t apply today,” never mind the questionable hermeneutic, Jesus Christ himself would like a word with you from Revelation 2 and his letter to the church at Thyatira.
“I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.”
We see here that bad theology hurts people, because people act upon what they’ve been taught, and God takes what people teach about him deadly seriously, even to the point of throwing this false prophet onto a sick bed and killing her children. The truth of God is simply not to be trifled with, and he will judge those who twist it.
But if all we have are blunt facts, we’re left with absolutely no hope. There must be a reason behind it.
The first reason is that the creation groans because of our sin. When we fell in Adam, creation then had to put up with our depravity until the Kingdom comes in its fullness. Sickness is part of God’s curse on the world, and while it would be inappropriate to single out a particular sin or three that God is judging humanity for, we can accurately say that God sent COVID-19 as part of the curse.
The second is illustrated beautifully by Jesus in Luke 13.
There were some present at that very time who told him 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 makes it clear that people don’t get swept up in war crimes, sickness, etc., because they didn’t have enough faith or necessarily because they sinned. He points us instead to the fact that we’re all headed toward an even worse end unless we repent from our sin and toward God. Don’t fear the virus that can kill the body, but fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Sickness, natural disasters, and the like are reminders from God, meant to point us back to himself. In a sense, they are kindnesses, grace shown to rebellious people. God isn’t callous toward his creations; even within his command to repent is the demonstration of how powerless we truly are and how much we need him.
In this time, therefore, Christians must not water down the Gospel with presentations of, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” That won’t cut it and honestly never has. We must instead give a robust presentation of the Gospel which exposes us in our sinful depravity and God’s just wrath for it, which then perfectly segues into God’s grace presented in his Son, who both fulfilled God’s requirements and provided the perfect sacrifice to pay our due penalty, and who was then raised from the dead for our justification. We are then saved only by God’s unmerited favor through the vehicle of trusting in what Christ has done, and only in what Christ has done. Our own good deeds, no matter how many COVID-19 GoFundMes we support, won’t save us.
Within the Christian life, God has promised that he will never leave us nor forsake us, so the Christian can rest in the assurance that whatever we are going through, God is there in our midst. He has promised that his word bears fruit wherever it goes and doesn’t return to him without accomplishing what he set out to do.
As Christians, we must remember that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus Christ. This means he is Lord over the coronavirus. He is Lord over who gets infected and who is immune. He has called us to live wisely, so wash your hands and don’t lick doorknobs, and we can show the rest of the 7.7 billion people in the world what true hope looks like.