The worldwide pandemic cannot be ignored. The global nature and the fast spread should give us cause to sit up and listen to what is God saying to the world, but more importantly to His Church at this time.
Many Christians have brought their presuppositions of God as love as evidence for their belief that He cannot be responsible for such suffering in the world. They say God hates suffering, preferring to blame human actions or Satan for the complete upheaval we see all around us, but in doing so they paint a picture of a God who is taken off guard by a rogue humanity or a surprise attack on His world. Their God becomes limited by the actions of humans and Satan, a God who follows behind and must somehow turn all evil intentions into good.
By focusing on the positive ideal of spreading love and kindness, and highlighting the command to ‘love thy neighbour’ as being put into practise by staying home or giving your neighbour some toilet roll, they reinforce their proclamation that God loves you, just as you are. As God’s body on earth, it is good for us to care for the physical needs of those around us. If we fail, however, to read the signs with a biblical perspective, we are in danger of failing to provide for the spiritual needs of a world crying out for hope and salvation.
This is where the watered down gospel of acceptance, tolerance and unconditional love has failed us. Scripture shows us that Satan himself can do nothing without the permission of God (Job 1:12, 2: 4-8, Luke 22:31). In the book of Revelation, it is Jesus who opens the seven seal, orders the blowing of the seven trumpets and orders the pouring out of the seven bowls of God's wrath. Because God is sovereign over all things and knows the end from the beginning, He is the one who allows events like this to happen. Even so, the idea today that God allows suffering is unwelcome. So how do we view the situation today in light of God's word?
The plagues we read of in Scripture are sent from God in judgement for sin. This doesn't sit well with the tolerant and loving God we have been preaching for the past 50 years. But as Scripture highlights, God's is the active agent in plagues, which are an expression of His judgement.
Let's briefly look at some of these examples. In Exodus 32:35, God sends a plague on Israel for her sin of idolatry, having made a golden calf to worship while Moses was meeting with the true God. In Numbers 16:46-49 we see God send a plague on Israel for her rebellion, and in Numbers 25:9 God sends another plague because of Israel's sexual immorality. In fact, in the 7 major plagues of the Bible, God is always the one bringing plague as a warning and judgement for the sins of nations. More importantly for us to notice is that 5/7 times the plague is directed as judgement against God's own people.
This is made clear when God lays out His blessings and curses within the covenant with Israel. As a result of disobedience and rebellion against God and His laws, God promises plague amongst His people (Deuteronomy 28:21-22, Ezekiel 14:19-21). The key here is to recognise that these are a consequence of the unfaithfulness of His people. These curses laid out as warnings for Israel continue to serve as warnings for God's covenant people today, calling us to examine ourselves and repent of our sin.
At this time, an important passage to examine is 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, which says,
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague 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 sins and will heal their land.
Some have tried to argue that due to context, this verse does not apply to us today. But this was for God's covenant people Israel, and we have been grafted in! Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfil it, which means that the blessings and curses from obedience or disobedience remain for those who are called by His name.
In the passage, we see that drought, locusts and plague are sent by God to call people to repent and sincerely seek Him. In the first three months of 2020, the world has seen the wildfires of Australia from months of sever drought, hundreds of billions of locusts infesting East Africa and South Asia, and now the coronavirus epidemic cover the globe. Rather than encouraging each other to stay isolated for the sake of our neighbours, these signs should make us stop and examine ourselves, for God does not unleash plagues of judgement without cause.
A Rebellious People
Throughout the Bible, God calls His covenant people to be holy- set apart- for Him. Where is the evidence of that in the Western Church today? Within the Church, culture has seeped in so that Sunday services have become just another social club, where we catch up with friends, sing some catchy songs with little theological depth and listen to a self-help talk, where our membership bears no relevance for the rest of our weeks.
In our dealings with the rest of society, we are guilty of bending to society's expectations until we have watered down God's word to a simple 'God made you special, and He loves you very much,' with no confrontation of sin or call for people to repent and believe in Jesus alone. In trying to avoid the oppressive, patriarchal label secular society placed on the Church, we have failed to speak out whilst society normalised sexual immorality, making idols of ourselves and our bodies. We have remained silent as 200,000 children a year are murdered in the UK. Where were we as the government implemented laws to tear apart God's design for the family through loose divorce laws, civil partnerships, and same-sex adoption and marriage?
Though the Church has not been active in much of the implementation of these things (although some branches have been keen to show society how 'woke' they are by introducing same-sex marriage, or transgender liturgy), I think the words of Bonhoeffer are challenging for us now,
'Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.'
The silence of the church in Bonhoeffer's day lead to the Second World War and the evil of the holocaust. Ours, as I have said, has already led to a greater holocaust within the wombs of women. What more might happen if we remain silent?
The message of 2 Chronicles 7 is that the Church must search and recognise her failure to be the holy people, a light to the nations. The turmoil and plague we see in the world should bring God's people to her knees in repentance. Yes, this is an opportunity for the Church to show compassion, but God also uses it to wake us up from our spiritual slumber, to confess of our own sin, and to call the world to repent and believe in Jesus. And if we do so, God promises to bring healing and restoration.
Where were we during the legislation of sin, through the mainstreaming of evil? We will be held responsible for what we have allowed.