May 6, 2020 in Diakonos
What a difference a month makes. In early March, our university was enjoying spring break and anticipating a return to our normal routine of classes and campus life. Little did we know how soon “normal” would screech to a halt. Now, two months later, we wonder if our lives will ever be normal again. For some, the COVID-19 global pandemic has just meant the inconvenience of shifting work to home and “sheltering in place.” For others, it has meant loss of income, illness or even the tragic loss of life to this deadly disease. At a time like this, we can’t help but ask why. Why COVID-19, and why now?
All around us people are anxious and fearful, and for good reason. They are looking for answers and for hope, and as followers of Jesus Christ, we can point them to truth. What is the truth about COVID-19? We know that COVID-19 is a disease (the name stands for “Corona Virus Disease, 2019”), and disease and death are results of the Fall of mankind. In the beginning, God warned Adam that disobedience to God’s command would bring death (Gen 2:17). After Adam sinned, God cursed the ground and promised Adam a life of toil and a return to the dust in death (3:17–19; 5:5). Because of sin, the world that God created to be “very good” (1:31) now “groans and suffers,” having been “subjected to futility” and the “bondage of decay” (Rom 8:20–22). Every illness, every death, every natural disaster, every tragic event in this world—COVID-19 included––is traceable to Adam’s first sin and the curse it brought upon the world. Adam’s sin has brought suffering and death to all people (see Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22a). In “normal” times we’d rather not think about death, even though on average 150,000 people in the world die every day. A global pandemic brings the reality of disease and death to all our attention. But why COVID-19, and why now?
People always want to know why, and some will fill the void and claim that COVID-19 is God’s particular judgment on particular countries or individuals because of their particular sins. It is true that God used plagues in the past to punish people for their sins (Num 16:41–50), and He will do so again in the future (Rev 16:1–21). Yet, apart from these divinely interpreted judgments in Scripture, the most we can say is that events like COVID-19 come because of the Fall. Furthermore, disastrous events serve as a wake-up call that unless people repent, they will likewise perish (Luke 13:1–5). God is sovereign over the world He created (Ps 115:3).
Yet God also loves the world that He made. He gave his only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus came as “one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness,” and on the cross “He lifted up our illnesses” and “carried our pain” (Isa 53:3–4). “He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; He endured punishment that made us well; because of His wounds we have been healed” (v. 5). Right before Jesus went to the cross to bear our sins, He assured his followers, “In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage—I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). Through our faith in Jesus we also conquer the world (1 John 5:4–5). “No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us!” (Rom 8:37).
This is the hope we have in Jesus, even in such a time as the COVID-19 pandemic. And this is the hope we offer to those around us who still lack faith. Why COVID-19? Because sin has consequences, and we are all fallen creatures living in a sin-sick world. Why now? Because now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2), and God’s offer of forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life through faith in his Son Jesus still stands. The blessed hope of believers is that God will one day “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist anymore—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist. And the one seated on the throne said: ‘Look! I am making all things new!’” (Rev 21:4–5). That is God’s message of hope for our sin-plagued world!