Question Time - Is the COVID-19 crisis the judgement or intervention of God?
Frank Proudlock, Leicester, England
Is the COVID-19 crisis the judgement or intervention of God?
‘Unprecedented’ is a word that has been used frequently to describe the current COVID-19 crisis. Yet both the Black Death of the 14th century and so-called ‘Spanish’ flu of 1918, were considerably more potent pandemics than COVID-19 killing tens if not hundreds of millions of people. The events caused by the current crisis are rightly described as ‘unprecedented’, however, in that this tiny virus has almost brought our globally connected world of technology and enterprise to a grinding halt. This has caused many to ask whether what we are seeing unfold before our eyes is God’s judgement on today’s society.
We cannot state definitively what God is doing through this crisis since we only have a short-term and limited view of events. It is easy to be over simplistic. When the disciples saw a man afflicted by blindness, they asked the Lord Jesus, ‘Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?’ John 9. 2. Their superficial perspective prevented them from seeing that God had a deeper and long-term purpose for this man’s life. We also live in a world that is broken by sin. As a result, disease and death affect all our lives, to a lesser or greater degree. But is COVID-19 the general effects of sin on this world or is God working out a more specific purpose?
Is there any evidence from the scriptures that God directly intervenes in this world’s history? As far as the Old Testament is concerned, there is plenty of evidence. In the times of the judges and kings of Israel and Judah, we often read that God brought national disasters against them, such as droughts or invading forces, to chasten them. 1 However, we need to remember that, under the law, Israel was in a conditional covenant relationship with God. The consequences of disobeying God had been laid out from the beginning of that covenant, Deut. 28. 15-68. The sad fact was that those consequences outlined in Deuteronomy were recorded like a prophecy of events taking place in the history of Israel as they continued through centuries of disobedience.
What about this New Testament period? Do we have any evidence that God intervenes in the life of nations today? Perhaps the clearest evidence comes from Romans chapter 11, where Paul provides the illustration of the olive tree. The removal of natural branches from the tree is a sad picture of Israel nationally, rejecting the Lord Jesus and being set aside temporarily as a result. In their place, God is now able to graft in wild branches, in other words, Gentile nations, blessing them spiritually as they accept the gospel and the rule of God nationally, v. 17. But notice that the intervention of God on those Gentile nations was also possible because of their boasting, v. 19, and high mindedness, v. 20, leading to their removal. So, clearly, even today God can intervene in the life of nations. If, after being enlightened by the gospel and scriptures, nations turn away from God and resort to national pride and self-sufficiency, then we can expect God to intervene, based on the teaching of Romans chapter 11.
But the intervention of God can be for very different purposes. In Daniel chapter 4, we read of Nebuchadnezzar, a man full of pride. God stepped in and brought him low through mental illness with a ‘beast’s heart [being] . . .
given to him’, Dan. 4. 16. God in His mercy caused this man to appreciate his weakness so that he would come to the point where ‘he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men’, Dan. 5. 21. By contrast, God also intervened in the life of Belshazzar in the very next chapter for quite different reasons. Belshazzar, despite knowing the events which had afflicted Nebuchadnezzar, v. 22, refused to bow to God. God drew a line permitting the arrogance, irreverence and decadence of Belshazzar, and his empire, Babylon, to go no further.
In summary, we do not have the knowledge or insight to fully appreciate what God is doing through the COVID-19 crisis, but we can be confident that God is in absolute control of this world’s events. Ultimately, we are heading for a crisis that will exceed all others, of which the Lord Jesus spoke, ‘For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be’, Matt. 24. 21. God may be making the final preparations in setting the stage for these monumental events. Our responsibility is to be spiritually alert, to watch and be ready, as the Lord Jesus instructed us, ‘And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch’, Mark 13. 37.
1 For example, Judg. 6. 1; 2 Sam. 24. 11-15; 1 Kgs. 17. 1; 2 Kgs. 17. 5-18.