Is God punishing our nation with the Coronavirus?
This is the kind of question people worry about whenever anything awful happens, particularly the kinds of things we have no control over. And sadly, we are starting to see pronouncements to this effect in the media.
But for those of us who know Jesus, we ought to be able to frame it better.
Often people who ask this question are thinking of general ideas about deities (yes, for example, the Greek and Roman gods were frequently punishing people) or about God as he is described in the Old Testament, in which nations sometimes were shown God’s wrath for their unjust behavior (or refusal to see Israel’s God as in charge, for example the ten plagues on Egypt).
But the new covenant in Jesus makes things different.
When Jesus came, he was initiating a new covenant with humanity from God, and it was not like the ‘first covenant’ with the children of Israel (the Old Testament).
First of all, Jesus was himself God, the Son who came to take on flesh. In Colossians, Paul writes of him as the “Image of the invisible God” – so what we want to know about God, we can see in Jesus. “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities….He is before all things, and in him all things hold together….God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (See Colossians 1:16-20)
Jesus came to show people what God was like, AND to show us more completely what it was God wanted from humans – that God wants relationship with us. People were meant for relationship with God, but that companionship was broken due to human “sin” – which comes from human refusal to trust God.
So, Jesus came to reconcile humans and God, by taking the consequences of human sin on himself: ”He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-15)
Jesus came to bear our sin because we could not. He came to reconcile humanity to God, because we were far away from God. He came to give us a new life, even a new identity, in him. He came to create a new family out of those who trust him from every “tribe, tongue and nation” on earth, making a new nation, the people of the new covenant, where God is king.
This is a personal invitation: we each are invited to meet God through Jesus, to put our trust in his love, to begin a new life in following Jesus. We are, when we do that, included in the new people of God. We are, the New Testament says, then made new, starting over again a new life in companionship with God. We are no longer estranged from him.
So what about the nations of the world?
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
God loves the world, and so he sent the world his Son, who took the punishment and consequences of the world’s rebellion against and resentment of God on himself, rescuing humanity from it all and setting us free to begin a new life in relationship with God, through Jesus, as part of his new nation (1 Peter 2:9), his new kingdom.
That’s the good news, and there is precious little in the New Testament about God punishing nations, in these days, for their sin – after all, if Jesus took our punishment on the cross, why would God be reserving a little bit for this group or that group? “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6)
And because God is calling together a new nation, in which he is king, and this is the covenant he is making with the people of all nations, we do not see him in the New Testament punishing nations (until we get to Revelation).
But, what then about the wrath of God?
That’s a big subject but the New Testament does point to a day when God will work his wrath on a world that continues to refuse him - the “final day,” the judgment day of God, described in Revelation.
Of course, that book is highly symbolic in its language and images, so we don’t have much to go on but for the description in chapter 20 of a judgment: “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books….then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. All whose names were not found written in the book of life were thrown into the lake of fire.”
This time of judgment is referred to several times in the New Testament by Jesus and others, but obliquely. All we know, is that there is a time when justice will be done for the injustices suffered in this world, when those who have been God’s enemies will be defeated (most of all, the devil!).
Importantly, that doesn’t indicate that Coronavirus, or earthquakes or hurricanes or tornadoes, are God’s judgment now on anyone. In fact, Jesus – talking about the coming of the end of the world – tells us not to be alarmed by such things (Matt 24). There is an end, but those things are not it. There is going to be judgment, but this isn’t it. And when others tried to get Jesus to say that someone’s ailment was God’s judgment on their sin, he refused to do it (see John 9).
Instead, two things:
First of all, there IS A SIGN to the world about God’s attitude about our sin and injustices. You know what it is? People who are made new in Christ; the church!
God has called us into new life in him, filled us with His Spirit, made us new and given us some commandments which have something in common: to love God, to love our neighbor, to love our enemies, and to love one another as Jesus loved us!
This is the sign to the world that God really did send Jesus (John 13:34-35), and the sign to the world that God loves US ALL, and that God calls others into the same new life we ourselves have received. To receive this new life is pictured in Revelation as having one’s name written in the Book of Life. To trust God in Jesus, is to escape judgment, because Jesus took that judgment on himself.
Set free, made alive, inhabited by God the Spirit, our role is to bring this good news everywhere we go, and to demonstrate it by the way we love.
We are to accept the blows of those who don’t understand, as Jesus did; we are to forgive those who sin against us, as Jesus did. We are to live in the hope of eternity, and live generously, as Jesus did. We are to bring healing and hope to the best of our Spirit-filled ability, as Jesus did.
This is the sign to the world that God is for real, and Jesus really showed us what God’s like.
It is NOT our job to go out to a frightened world and tell them they are under judgment for this sin or that sin, when they do not know God at all and have no real idea what we’re talking about. The fruit of this is, they write us off. Why wouldn’t they? We’d sound proud and hateful, almost like we enjoy the idea. It rarely brings anyone to find and trust Jesus.
(It’s interesting that those who do that, pick out the things that don’t involve them. High on the list are abortion and homosexuality. Why would God be visiting judgment on us for abortion, but seem not to care when we fail to manage the earth wisely he gave us stewardship over, or for failing to welcome refugees (both of these are in the Bible)? If God were going to visit a virus on us for sin, there is a very long list and it would capture all of us.)
Is God pained by our sin? Yes he is. Is God angry at the unjust ways humans treat each other? Yes, he is! But while he is “storing up his wrath for the day of judgment” (Romans 2:5), HE IS STILL pouring out grace on this world in Jesus, which is meant to be distributed by the followers of Jesus!
Is the Coronavirus God’s judgment on us?
No, death and separation from God are his judgment on us – the very things that Jesus conquered for us, and eliminated for us. “Very truly, I tell you” Jesus says in John 5, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life."
Coronavirus is just another part of this broken creation (another theological treatise to be written….), another danger in a world that death is part of, another sign that a separation has taken place.
And this time which is dominated by it? It is another time for the church to be the sign of life, however we may, in Christ.