A question that I have received regularly, and one that has not had enough Biblically based discussion is whether or not Covid-19 is judgment sent by God. In our modern ears the thought of this question may seem preposterous, but if we root ourselves in the Bible and we look to the Scriptures to understand how God interacts with humanity and how God deals with sin in the world, the question is certainly appropriate. Further, because of what the Bible does say about God’s judgment, this is a question that every Christian should take the time to consider.
Natural Evil as God’s Judgment in General
In the world of theology we often talk about two kinds of evils, Moral Evil and Natural Evil. By moral evil I mean those choices we as humans make to actively disobey God’s good and righteous commands. By natural evil I mean those things in this world that are not necessarily directly attributed to individuals moral failures: blindness, deafness, sickness, plague, storms, etc. The biblical worldview holds that all evil, both moral and natural, is traced back to the moral failure of Adam. Natural evil was not present in the world God created until after the Fall. It was after the fall that death and decay were established as the new patterns of existence, that our daily labor became full of toil as the ground itself brought forth “thorns and thistles.” These “curses” were in fact God’s judgment upon Adam’s moral failure.
And so, even with only Genesis 1-3 to shape our theology we recognize that all natural evil is both a result of our moral failure as well as God’s judgment over our moral failure. Natural evil was and is a penal consequence of the fall. In Romans this idea is developed further by Paul:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”Romans 1:18 (ESV)
As Romans 1 develops what we discover is that God’s wrath over the sinful choices we make in our day to lives is revealed to us in the seeming natural way our lives work themselves out. Three times in Romans 1 we are told that, “God gave them up,” to the natural consequences of their sinful choices. In other words, God’s wrath is not just something that is applied to the unrepentant at some point after death. While that’s true, God’s wrath is also applied to us in this life through the seeming natural consequences of our sin. But in the midst of wrath God provides hope:
“…Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”Romans 2:4 (ESV)
Paul’s point is that whenever we experience natural evil such as Covid-19 as a consequence of living in a fallen world, there is both a suggestion of wrath and mercy present. Wrath because even natural evil, according to the Biblical worldview, is a consequence of man’s moral failure before a Holy God. And mercy because so long as today is called today, we have an opportunity to repent of our sin, and to trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness. CS Lewis says it so beautifully in The Problem of Pain:
“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”CS Lewis. The Problem of Pain.
And so in a very general sense, yes Covid-19 like all natural evil is judgment over sin and is God’s megaphone getting you to look up to the only one who can deliver you from the ultimate judgment, death.
Natural Evil as God’s Judgment in Particular
Now we get into more specifics. It is one thing to lump Covid-19 into all natural evil and understand natural evil as a consequence of sin, but is it going too far to say that Covid-19 is a very specific judgment from God against particular sins? This question is more complicated, but is worth asking. Is God punishing us?
On the one hand as we look back through Scripture God often uses both natural plagues and storms as well as war and chaos to bring about His judgments over nations. As examples we consider the entire population that was alive in Noah’s Day who were judged when God sent a flood in the Book of Genesis. Later, in Exodus God sent plagues which included hail and locusts and storms as judgment upon Egypt. All through the history of God’s people we discover that God raised up armies to bring about judgment on Israel as a result of their idolatry and unjust behavior.
“Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!…”Isaiah 10:5
In this passage woes against Israel are pronounced. God’s people failed to live as God intended. They oppressed people, they turned aside from caring for the needy, they perverted justices, robbed widows, and not only failed to care for the fatherless but preyed upon the fatherless. Such horror! Any right minded citizen looking objectively at a society like this would wonder where was God? When would he punish such behavior? The answer is that God has tremendous with sinners and gives opportunity after opportunity to turn and change our ways. And eventually, if repentance and change does not come, God brings judgment. In the case of Isaiah 10 and the people of God, God raised up the wicked King of Assyria, whom Isaiah 10:5 calls the “rod of God’s anger,” to bring about His judgment on Israel.
And so it is not out of God’s character to hold a rightful wrath against the horrors of sin. Nor is it out of His character to bring judgment against nations for sins like these. The question becomes, how can we know if Covid-19 is a particular judgment against particular sins? Well there are two answers to that question. The first is that without a prophet speaking directly on behalf of God, as we see the prophets in the Old Testament did, we must be very careful to say, “Thus says the Lord” on matters where we do not have clarity. I am hesitant towards anyone who too firmly gives a “yes” or a “no” to this question.
With humility however we can look into the Scriptures, see the patterns of God and His character, and ask if there are behaviors we have normalized in our society that could be cause for judgment from God? Remember – God’s judgment is aimed at producing repentance. And so if we begin to ask this question and we uncover areas of our society where we have drastically behaved wickedly before a Holy God, we should not miss the mercy of the moment and the opportunity to repent, to change our ways, to get right with God.
If we are honest, just looking at that Isaiah 10:5 passage above certainly feels like we are reading the daily news of our modern culture. The reality is that there are many areas of modern society globally that when considered through a Biblical lens, are ripe conditions for God’s judgment. A topic I have spoken on often is abortion. Biblically, as we would expect from a good and holy God, when a society normalizes the killing of children, it often is the last straw for the releasing of God’s wrath, and as global community we have been on a track of not only normalizing this behavior, but celebrating it even up through the third trimester. In Scripture God gives clear judgment on nations for this kind of behavior:
“Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place… and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind— therefore… I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem, and will cause their people to fall by the sword before their enemies…”Jeremiah 19:4-7
I am not saying with confidence that Covid-19 is judgment from God for particular sins of society. I am saying however that it very well could be and that we would do well as a society to reflect on what God is doing right now in our midst. This season of reflection and repentance must begin in the Church among the household of God. Every Christian ought to be moved to prayer and fasting, asking God to reveal areas where we need true reformation, areas where we have lacked the courage and the boldness of our forefathers, areas where we have become complacent in adopting idolatrous practices as normal functions of society. And we must must must look up to our Savior Jesus Christ, to His work on the cross where all our sin was paid. If a pandemic like this cannot get us to look up to the cross, I don’t know what will.
“Calamities are God’s previews of what sin deserves and will one day receive in judgment a thousand times worse. They are warnings. They are wake-up calls to see the moral horror and spiritual ugliness of sin against God. . . . Therefore, God is mercifully shouting to us in these days: Wake up! Sin against God is like this! It is horrible and ugly. And far more dangerous than the coronavirus.”John Piper. Coronavirus and Christ. 66-67.