Asking the Better Question

“Why is this pandemic happening?” Maybe you’ve asked this question. Maybe you’ve heard a number of people trying to answer. Me too.

Recently I read an article in which the author asserted that the present pandemic represents a judgment from God against the sins of the world. I also read a different article in which the author asserted that the present pandemic does not represent a judgment from God against the sins of the world. Both authors profess Christ. What is the average Christian to make of such stuff?

The Scripture helps us in a number of ways. First, it tells us that plagues and pestilences will continue to be a part of life until Jesus returns to renew the Creation. In Luke 21:11, as Jesus spoke to his disciples about the time between his first coming and second coming, he said: “There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences.” Christians ought therefore to be wary of anyone who identifies a particular disease as a particular judgment from God against a particular sin, for diseases are a part of the fallen world in which we live, and they will remain so until the return of Christ.

The Scripture cautions us, moreover, by revealing that we are not privy to God’s thoughts. We know about God exactly and only what he has chosen to reveal to us, and in his revelation of himself he has said in no uncertain terms: “[M]y thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). To speculate about God’s reasons for his providential actions is to pry into something he has not chosen to reveal. Even as Moses declared in Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Moses taught that you don’t need to speculate about what God has not revealed, but rather to obey what he has.

To assert, “This virus judges that sin,” is therefore unwise and unbiblical. God interprets his own providences in Scripture, and without his divine interpretation of any given event, man ought not to guess what God is thinking or to assign motives to his actions. You could easily find yourself to be lying about God.

But we can and should warn. Christians should see tragedies, natural disasters, and even pandemics, not only as an opportunity to express compassion, and to offer physical and emotional aid to those who suffer, but also to call men and women to repentance and faith in Christ. You may be thinking: “But isn’t that harsh? Isn’t using human suffering as an opportunity to tell people to repent callous?” No, because that is precisely what Jesus did.

In Luke 13 Jesus used a natural disaster—an earthquake that caused a tower to fall—in order to call men and women to repent. Jesus asked, “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?” And he answered, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

That doesn’t sound very compassionate, does it? Certainly Jesus protected those whom the tower crushed from character assassination. He made clear that the tower did not fall on them specifically as a punishment for their sin. Those who died were not morally worse than those who lived. But Jesus did use their tragic deaths in a way that we may find uncomfortable—to encourage others to repent. We tend to define compassion as care for a person’s physical and emotional needs, but Jesus’ compassion is more searching than ours. He loved grieving people enough to offend them by warning them that if they died in their sin a tragedy would befall them greater than that which befell those crushed under the tower. Jesus saw this very real human tragedy not merely as a chance to offer physical and emotional care, but also to offer a deeper, spiritual compassion—to exhort each of us to address our sin before a Holy God and be reconciled to him.

Are you still speculating about God’s providence? Or are you doing what Jesus commands? You may never know the reasons behind God’s actions, or why COVID-19 arrived when it did or for what purpose, but in the end what you do know is far better. You know your Heavenly Father’s character, for he has revealed it at the cross of Christ. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ’s death demonstrates God’s love toward sinners like you and me, and holds out the promise of salvation to all who will believe. While many are rightly seeking temporary physical safety from COVID-19, they are sadly neglecting the eternal physical and spiritual safety from sin and its consequences that the Lord is offering. But he is offering still. How will you respond?

“Why is this pandemic happening?” Maybe the better question is, “How should I respond to this pandemic?”

Because while providence is mysterious, salvation is not.

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