With Covid-19 holding the world’s attention, many questions have surfaced in people’s minds. Most are good, legitimate questions that would otherwise be dismissed as too complicated to answer, too frightening to consider, or in some people’s thinking, too trivial to bother with. The topic of these questions is the divine judgment of a holy God on an already sin-cursed world. People are wanting to know: Did God send the Coronavirus into the world as a form of judgment on sin or did He simply allow it to happen? If He sent it, which particular sin resulted in His sending it? Is it a judgment upon one particular nation or is it judgment upon the entire world? Is it just a random sickness that has nothing to do with God’s judgment at all? These questions and many more have been asked over and over during the past few months and have increased especially in the last few weeks.
I do not have all the answers to all the questions that have been raised during this time. Nor does any other pastor / teacher / theologian / governing official. We cannot know everything that God is doing and for what reason(s) He is doing them. But we can know some things. In fact, we can be 100% certain about many things. The Bible is clear in many areas of how God deals with His creation and even gives us many examples to verify such eternal truths for us.
In a recent podcast, John Piper makes what I believe to be 4 very helpful observations about what is taking place in our world today with Covid-19. We would be wise to consider these things when struggling to understand our current crisis. Piper points out:
1. When sin entered the world, God ordained that all living things will die. Christians do not escape this decree.
2. God sometimes inflicts sickness on His people as a purifying and rescuing judgment.
3. God sometimes brings disease to those who reject Him.
4. All natural disasters are a thunder-clap of divine mercy in the midst of judgment, calling people everywhere to repent.
(I encourage everyone to listen to this brief podcast by Dr. Piper in its entirety. Click here to listen).
In broad terms, God’s judgment can be defined as judicial decrees of God (which is what judgments are) that are not necessarily directed at any one particular sinful act. Rather, it’s a divine decree against the presence of sin in creation as a whole. Examples of such judgments would include the flu, cancer, and other diseases. Also included in this category would be what we call natural disasters (hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, etc). Blood, sweat, disease, suffering, thistles and thorns (Gen. 3:14-19) are all the result of sin entering into the world. All of creation now groans in labor pangs awaiting its restoration at the return of Christ (Rom. 8:22). Death itself, common to all, is really and truly a judgment, whether one dies painfully or passes peacefully as if drifting off to sleep. The wages of sin is death. (Cf Romans 6:23; Psalm 90).
So, all general judgments are judgments on sin, but are not easily connected to individual acts of specific sin unless Scripture tells us otherwise. As Christians we do not adhere to karma or other teachings found in Eastern Mysticism. We do not believe there is a one-to-one correspondence between every pain or inconvenience in life. Sometimes tragedies occur and innocent civilians are killed, as in the Tower of Siloam incident. In examples like these God sovereignly superintends it as a warning to us all that “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). In other instances, people are born blind without any direct connection to anyone’s sin at all (John 9:2-3).
Specific judgments are different. This refers to specific judgments or actions on sinful individuals or groups imposed according to a particular violation of a direct command. A good example would be the horrific act of cannibalism that happened when Jerusalem was under siege in 586 B.C. (cf Jeremiah 19:9). God had warned the Israelites in Deuteronomy 28:47-51 that if they persisted in rebellion and idolatry they would fall to their enemies, and while desperately starving to death, they would be driven to eat their own children. This is exactly what happened and was a direct result of God’s judgment on His own people. Judgment like that is unique to a specific moment in time but is full of application for people of all generations. Another example would be that of the ancient city of Ninevah. After repenting under the preaching of Jonah and experiencing God’s gracious withholding of His judgment, the city returned to its wickedness about 100 years later and was destroyed by Babylon—another judgment from God. (The book of Nahum records for us God’s final warning of His certain judgment on that wicked city).
The truth today is that we simply do not have enough information to say for sure whether the current pandemic of the Coronavirus is a general or specific judgment. Either way, I believe it to be a judgment nonetheless; a judgment from the holy Creator of the universe on all of creation. There are consequences for all sin both world-wide as well as personal, and I believe that this tragedy is part of God’s judgment on a sin-cursed, fallen world. I also believe it is (as John Piper said) a “thunder-clap of divine mercy” calling people everywhere to repent.
The prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon, preached a sermon in 1866 (read here) while addressing the Cholera outbreak afflicting London at the time. In his sermon Spurgeon stated,
“We believe that God sends all pestilences, let them come how they may, and that He sends them with a purpose, let them be removed in whatever way they may; and we conceive that it is our business as ministers of God, to call the people’s attention to God in the disease, and teach them the lesson on which God would have them learn. I am not among those, as you know, who believe that every affliction is a judgment upon the particular person to whom it occurs. We perceive that in this world the best of men often endure the most of suffering, and that the worst of men frequently escape; and therefore we do not believe in judgments to particular persons except in the extraordinary cases; but we do nevertheless very firmly believe that there are national judgments, and that national sins provoke national chastisements.”
I believe this thought to be just as true for us today as we face a pandemic that is unprecedented in our generation at it’s current rate of devastation. Regardless of why this virus is among us, God is extending grace, mercy, and forgiveness to people throughout the world. Now is the time of salvation. Now is the time to prepare for eternity. Now is the time to turn to Him. God has brought the world to its knees through a virus that He could end with His slightest spoken word. May no one reading this fail to receive the wonderful salvation and forgiveness that Jesus Christ freely gives.
And what should be the response of God’s church all over the world? Prayers for mercy from God and a call for repentance from the world. Times such as these should drive us closer and closer to Christ as we draw closer and closer to His return. A response of repentant faith to Covid-19 is evidence you are growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”