Is the coronavirus a plague from God? …or from the devil? …or just a coincidence? Does it signal the end of the world? Or, is it a wake-up call for this world? And for lost sinners to turn to Christ?
What is it? And who or what caused it? Really, we don’t know. We can’t say, for sure.
God tells us what we need to know, but he also leaves us to figure things out for ourselves based on the information he gives us. Jesus often did that when he spoke in parables.
So, what does the Bible tell us about situations like this coronavirus pandemic? We know that everyone eventually dies. Romans 5:12 tells us that “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
And we know that unexpected things happen to all of us. Ecclesiastes 9:11 says, “time and unpredictable events overtake” everyone. We also know that Satan the devil can cause illness. In Job 2:7 we read that “Satan … afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head.” But Satan can’t do things like that unless God steps back and allows him to.
Last month the news headlines were dominated by wildfires destroying miles and miles of woodland and countryside and killing a billion animals.
Then came the locust plagues with locusts by the billions sweeping across Africa, Asia and the Middle East, destroying crops and leaving people to starve. The locust plagues are still going on, but they’ve slipped from the headlines as the coronavirus now dominates the news.
There are also smaller news headlines that don’t get as much attention. One such headline asked, “Is God Angry with Mankind?” Another story in the Washington Post was titled, “This is not the end of the world, according to Christians who study the end of the world.” Another story out of Italy, which has been hit especially hard by the Coronavirus, features the Pope asking God ‘to stop the epidemic with “his hand.”’
The Bible will tell us whether God stops epidemics in answer to prayer. And it will tell us whether God sends epidemics. After King Solomon dedicated the Temple he built for the Lord in Jerusalem, God spoke to him. 2 Chronicles 7:13 tells us God said, “Whenever I hold back the rain or send locusts to eat up the crops or send an epidemic on my people, if they pray to me and repent and turn away from the evil they have been doing, then I will hear them in heaven, forgive their sins, and make their land prosperous again.”
So, God spoke of sending locusts and epidemics. And he said he would answer prayers for locusts and epidemics to stop if the nation of his people “pray to me and repent and turn away from the evil they have been doing.”
Many people become upset, even angry, at the suggestion that God sends locusts and epidemics. “God is love, so he doesn’t do such things,” they say.
But, even those who don’t read the Bible should be familiar with the story of the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt. The Exodus has been the topic of epic motion pictures as well as animated features. And these all depict the plagues that God sent on Egypt before Pharaoh finally let Moses’ people go.
The 8th plague God sent on Egypt was locusts that ate up their food crops. The 5th plague God sent was a disease killing their farm animals. And the 6th plague consisted of boils and sores covering everyone’s skin.
“Well, that was Egypt,” some people may say. “God wouldn’t send plagues like that on us!”
After they were freed from their slavery in Egypt, God told his Chosen People through Moses that they would be blessed if they obeyed his laws, but that they would be punished with disasters if they disobeyed. In Deuteronomy 28, beginning with Verse 15, God said,
“But if you do not obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands and laws I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and stay . . . The LORD will punish you with disease, fever, swelling, heat, lack of rain, plant diseases, and mildew until you die.”
And then in Verse 38 he continued, “You will plant much seed in your field, but your harvest will be small, because locusts will eat the crop.”
The nation of Israel did sin and Moses said at Numbers 16:46, “The Lord’s anger has already broken out and an epidemic has already begun.” And Verse 47 says that “the number of people who died was 14,700.”
Later, when Israelite men were committing sexual immorality with the women of the Midianites, Numbers chapter 25 tells us God sent an epidemic disease on them. When one of their leaders took drastic action to end that unfaithfulness, Numbers 25:8 tells us, “the epidemic that was destroying Israel was stopped, but it had already killed twenty-four thousand people.”
During the reign of King David, when he sinned against God, 1 Chronicles 21:14 says, “the Lord sent an epidemic on the people of Israel, and seventy thousand of them died.”
Again, centuries later when Israel turned away from God, God told his prophet Jeremiah at Jeremiah 24:10, “I will send war, hunger, and disease against them.”
These disasters were sent for a purpose. God’s purpose was to bring them to repentance — to cause them to change their hearts and minds, and turn back to God, so he could bless them. Like any good parent, he disciplines us for our own good. But, many people today will say, “Our God doesn’t act like that.” Probably they say that because they don’t read the Old Testament.
There is also a popular notion today that it was only the God of the Old Testament who sent plagues and disasters, and that in the New Testament somehow a kind and gentle Jesus took the place of that harsh and mean Old Testament God.
But that notion is popular only among people who don’t actually read the New Testament. If they read it, they would realize that Jesus is just like his heavenly Father. At John 14:9 Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” And Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus is “the exact representation” of God the Father.
When he healed a man who had been unable to walk, Jesus also told him to stop sinning, or something worse may happen to him. John 5:14 says, “Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.’” That was a warning for his own good.
Decades later, when the resurrected and risen Christ sent a message to the Christian church in the ancient city of Thyatira he gave them a stern warning of the punishment he would send on church members who were behaving immorally. We find that in Revelation 2:21, where Jesus says about the self-proclaimed ‘prophetess’ who was spearheading the immoral element in the church,
“I have given her time to repent, but she is not willing to repent of her sexual immorality.
“Look! I am throwing her onto a bed of violent illness, and those who commit adultery with her into terrible suffering, unless they repent of her deeds.
“Furthermore, I will strike her followers with a deadly disease, and then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts. I will repay each one of you what your deeds deserve.”
If Jesus spoke those words from heaven about a church that tolerated sexual immorality back then, how would he feel today about churches that wink at fornication and even fly the rainbow flag?
At Romans 11:22 the Apostle Paul spoke of “the kindness and sternness of God” – kindness to those who repent of their sins and walk in God’s ways, but sternness to those who disregard God’s mercy and persist in wrongdoing.
So the revelation of God through Jesus Christ is consistent with the revelation of God in the Old Testament. He is a loving heavenly Father, but also an old-fashioned strict Father who corrects and disciplines people with the aim of bringing them to repentance. And he is a God who will ultimately punish with severity wrongdoers who reject his mercy.
The ‘Jesus’ of popular culture who loves and accepts everyone and everything, without a call to repent and without ever mentioning punishment — that is not the real Jesus — the Jesus of the Bible.
People who read the Bible from cover to cover find it to be consistent from cover to cover, because God does not change. In Chapter 3, Verse 6 of the book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, God tells the prophet, “I am the LORD, and I do not change.”
And in Hebrews 13:8 in the New Testament we are told, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Jesus is coming again. And he warned that there would be disasters in the days leading up to his return in power. At Luke 21:11 he said, “There will be terrible earthquakes, famines, and dreadful diseases in various places.”
Would these be naturally occurring events, or would God actually send some of the disasters in the final days of this world? The best answer is found in the New Testament’s last book, the Apocalypse or Revelation. It speaks plainly of God sending plagues or disasters upon this rebellious world. Revelation 15:1 says, “There were seven angels bringing seven disasters. These are the last disasters, because after them, God’s anger is finished.”
But Revelation 16: 9 says most people would refuse “to change their hearts and lives and give glory to God.”
These end times disasters serve as warning signs, for the purpose of alerting people to the approaching end, and to call them to repent and return to God.
But God knew ahead of time that most people would NOT see these things as warnings from God and so would refuse to listen. Revelation 9:20-21 says, “The other people who were not killed by these terrible disasters still did not change their hearts . . . and turn away from murder or evil magic, from their sexual sins or stealing.”
We don’t know if the terrible things happening now are part of the sign of Christ’s return. But, if they are, then we have reason to be glad. Jesus said at Luke 21:28, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
But, if today’s events are just a wake-up call before we reach that final stage, then we can pray that people who don’t know the Lord will come to their senses, repent, and turn to him for salvation.
Our heavenly Father has our eternal future in view. So, is the Coronavirus a plague from God? …or from the devil? …or just a coincidence? Does it signal the end of the world? Or, is it a wake-up call for this world? And for lost sinners to turn to Christ? Really, we don’t know. We can’t say, for sure.
But we can say for sure that people need to hear the Gospel. And we can hope that these troubling events in the world will bring people to their knees in prayer and will cause people to re-examine their lives, and to think about where they will spend eternity.
As we offer help and comfort to those who are in distress, we can remind them that this life isn’t all there is. As they face uncertainty about their future, we can tell them of the hope Jesus gives. We can share the promise of John 3:16 that encourages, “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.”
–David A. Reed is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church, 195 Whitman Street, New Bedford, MA. Learn more about the church at ImmanuelBaptistNB.org.