I saw a post on Facebook quoting 2 Chronicles 7:13-14:
If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Above it, in big red letters was written “COVID-19”.
But is the Coronavirus a plague sent by God to punish the earth? Should we view it this way?
And more importantly, should we ever talk about it this way with people who ask or who we’re sharing the gospel with?
The danger of labelling specific things as “God’s judgment”
I remember in the 1980s when HIV-AIDS burst on the scene. At the time, influential evangelical pastor Jerry Falwell said in a very public way that this was God’s direct judgment against homosexuals and America.
He would later attempt to retract his words, or soften them somehow, but by then the damage was already done. The world, including many Christians, were understandably offended and outraged.
This is the kind of damage that can be done when Christians carelessly presume to interpret events of the day as “God’s judgment” against particular sins.
On the other hand, doesn’t the apostle Paul say that God’s wrath is being revealed precisely because of the kinds of sin we see running rampant throughout the world today (see Romans 1:18-34)?
If these things aren’t God’s judgment, then why are they happening?
The touchy subject of God’s judgment
As the impact of the Coronavirus continues to settle on the world, you may at some point face the issue of discussing God’s judgment:
- It may be kids: “Why did God send the Coronavirus?” “Is he angry at the world?” “Is this God’s punishment?”
- It may be skeptics who want to challenge your Christian faith: “Where’s your loving God now?”
- Or, it may be I-told-you-so Christians with an axe to grind: “You see! I told you what would happen if society kept going the way it’s going. God has finally had enough!”
Regardless of what scenario you may face, I pray that the Holy Spirit will give you the appropriate words to say. What will better allow him to do so, is if you equip yourself with the truth of God’s Word first.
So, here are three biblical principles to help you discuss or defend issues of God’s judgment raised by the Coronavirus.
Principle 1: Same God, different covenants
Some people say that the God of the Old Testament (OT) seems angry and cruel, while the God of the New Testament (NT) is kind and loving.
This idea isn’t new. Way back around the year 150 AD, a man named Marcion felt so strongly about this, that he denied the Old Testament altogether, and began a movement known as Marcionism.
The church rejected Marcionism for good reason:
- The consistent message of both the OT and NT is that there’s only one God (see Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:28-30).
- Jesus claimed to be the Messiah of God foretold by the OT (see Luke 24:27,44).
- He referred to the God of the OT as his own Father (see John 6:44-57; 8:54).
- He even claimed to be one with the God of the OT himself (see John 8:58).
The real issue between the OT vs. NT is not different “Gods”, but different covenants. A covenant is simply an agreement. God’s covenants are his agreements or promises about how he will deal with or relate to humanity.
Strictly speaking, God’s covenant in the OT was exclusively with the nation of Israel. It wasn’t that he had no interest in other people (see Jonah 4:11). It’s just that the path he chose to work out his plan of salvation for humanity was through the nation of Israel. See the post The Christian and Old Testament Law.
Summary of principle 1
Be cautious about drawing parallels between present day circumstances and Old Testament events. Although its implications were intended for all of humanity, God’s OT covenant was made particularly with the nation of Israel. Today, both Israel and the rest of humanity are under a new covenant which God has made through Jesus Christ (see Jeremiah 31; Hebrews 8:6-13).
Principle 2: God’s judgment is both “now” and “not yet”
God’s final judgment
The Bible teaches plainly that God’s final judgment will take place at the end of history. Jesus and the New Testament writers spoke of a “day of judgment” where every person will stand before God as judge and give an accounting for their lives (Matthew 12:36; Romans 14:10-12).
The “day of judgment” is the day when God will bring final punishment for sins and eternal life for those who place their trust in Jesus as Saviour. It’s also the day in which Satan and his demons will be cast into eternal punishment for their rebellion against God (Jude 1:6).
As a final and ultimate event, therefore, God’s judgment is still a future event. In this sense, past or contemporary events like the Coronavirus are obviously not a part of God’s final judgment.
God’s particular judgment
There are particular instances in the Bible where God sends his judgment on people for specific sins. Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) and King Herod (Acts 12:21-23) are two examples where God sends direct and immediate punishment for sin committed against him.
The only reason we know this, however, is because the Bible tells us. Were God to use the Coronavirus as judgment against someone in particular, we would have no way of knowing that.
God’s revealing judgment
In general, we do know that God is judging the world because of sin. Speaking about the present, Paul says, “the wrath of God is being revealed…” (Romans 1:18). We can see and experience it because God has “given over” humanity to its own “impurity” (vs. 24), “dishonorable passions” (vs. 26), and “depraved mind” (vs. 28). God is letting us “have it our way” and experience the logical consequences of life without him.
In addition, Paul says that the rest of Creation has been “subjected to futility” and is in “slavery to corruption” because of humanity’s sin (see Romans 8:20-22). Things like disease and natural disaster are included in this “revealing” of God’s judgment.
Thankfully, he has not completely “handed us over” to our sin. God’s judgment coincides with his redeeming grace. He restrains our sin from completely destroying us (see Proverbs 16:1,9; 2 Thessalonians 2:7), sends blessing on both the righteous and wicked (see Matthew 5:45), and continues to call sinners to repent and find salvation in Christ.
Summary of principle 2
Avoid referring to events like the Coronavirus as “God’s judgment”. Because God’s judgment is both “now” and “not yet”. As we’ve discussed, we can’t be clear in what way the Coronavirus is God’s judgment without presuming to know the mind of God. Best to not say more than Scripture allows.
Here are a few suggestions of what you could say about the Coronavirus:
- “It’s another sign that our world is broken because of sin.”
- “The Coronavirus is a good reminder that God’s judgment is coming, and we need saving.”
- “The pandemic is an example of how mankind’s sin has corrupted God’s good Creation.”
Principle 3: Don’t discuss judgment without grace
The apostle Peter had this to say about God’s judgment:
The Lord is not slow about his promise [i.e. to judge the world], as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
Peter was answering Christians who wondered why God’s day of judgment was taking so long to arrive. His answer was that God was being patient to deliver final judgment, in order to allow time for more people to be saved.
In short, we are living in a period of grace.
Since the garden of Eden until today, God has been holding back his judgment against our sin. This is so that we’d have opportunity to receive his free gift of salvation through faith in Jesus, his Son.
This means the entire history of the world has been a simultaneous display of both God’s judgment and grace. Take a look throughout the Bible and you’ll see this “two-pronged” storyline of judgment and grace. Here are just a few examples:
- The Fall (Genesis 3) – God supplies Adam and Eve with animal skin coverings (grace) as they’re banished from his presence in the garden (judgment).
- The Flood (Genesis 6) – God spares Noah and family in the ark (grace), while bringing judgment upon the earth through the flood.
- Israel’s Exile to Babylon (Ezekiel 11:14-17) – God sends Babylon to destroy Jerusalem and exile the Jews (judgment). But he promises to be with them in exile, preserve a remnant, and restore them to the land in time (grace).
- The Cross of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21) – Here’s the ultimate display of God’s judgment and grace. God pours out the full force of his judgment for sin upon Jesus ending in his death. Yet, this very display of God’s judgment is the greatest display of his grace in that Jesus, God’s Son, was taking our place.
This means that the only reason we’re even able to see or perceive God’s judgment is because of his grace. Recognizing God’s judgment and its effects on this world is only possible because God is by his grace withholding the full and final force of his judgment against us.
We are only conscious of God’s judgment because of God’s grace.
Summary of principle 3
Never discuss God’s judgment without discussing God’s grace. Whatever eternal purpose God may have for allowing the Coronavirus, the only reason we’re alive to talk about it is because God is graciously preserving our lives.
This means that every conversation that arises because of the Coronavirus to talk about God’s judgment is an opportunity to talk about his grace. It’s a moment in time that the writer of Hebrews referred to as “today” (Hebrews 3:13-15).
In this moment, there’s still opportunity for people to be warned about God’s coming judgment and enter into his rest that he supplied through Christ Jesus.
As the effect of the Coronavirus continues to unfold, people will feel the weight of its impact more and more. That means few people will think and talk about it as some theoretical topic of speculation. They’ll feel it right where they live.
As a result, calling God and his ways into question may become an increasingly common response. Therefore, how important it will be, that we chose our words carefully.
One of the keys to doing so is to think through these things in the light of God’s truth, which shows that we can’t escape the uncomfortable subject of God’s judgment. But we must never forget to marry it with the truth of God’s grace.
 Billy Press, “The sad legacy of Jerry Falwell”, The Mildford Daily News, May 18, 2007. [Accessed online March 23, 2020 at https://web.archive.org/web/20070928110421/http://www.milforddailynews.com/opinion/x1987843539]
 Jesus himself refers to a “day of judgment”, seen as a future event when God will pronounce his final judgment on human sin (Matthew 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:36, 41,42; Luke 10:14; 11:31,32)