The tendency to look to the Ultimate when crises are overwhelming, makes sense. Especially since the Bible holds that God is sovereign, are we wrong in inferring that the COVID-19 pandemic is His judgment on individuals and a community?
We do have a sense of right and wrong embedded in our conscience and we put two and two together to look for divine intent in the face of inexplainable sorrow. Now this math is problematic as purely from an experience point of view, we do not always see the wicked perishing or the righteous prospering. So, to assume that people who go through intense agony or loss deserved such punishment and others who managed to escape the terror of the pandemic deserved a better deal in the providence of God, is terribly off the mark. In the biblical record, we find
Case 1 – When good things happen to bad people – addressed in Psalm 73. “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (v. 3)
Case 2 – When bad things happen to good people – the story of Job
So, in this fallen world not everyone who suffers is wicked, nor is everyone who flourishes an example of impeccable character.
Not only is the math inaccurate, even this theological assumption is on shaky ground.
God does not promise a trouble-free world for the Christ follower – not yet! At the climax of history, children of God would become like Him and will be with Him. “There will be no more sea (which represents chaos and calamity) … God Himself will wipe away every tear”. (Rev 21:1, 4). In the new heaven and new earth, not only would humanity be redeemed completely from sin and sinful nature, but the whole of creation would be redeemed to a perfect ecology, and micro-biology would no longer wreak havoc.
On blessing and suffering meted out to individuals, here is a clue from Jesus: “He [Heavenly Father] causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”. (Matt 5: 45) So, apparent blessing or the lack of it cannot be used as a yardstick to measure someone’s character.
In Luke 13, Jesus calls out a possible misinterpretation along the same lines.
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” There are more factors at play and it would be childish to go about pronouncing judgment on others standing on a moral high ground. (Cp. John 9: 2-3).
In this world good people suffer and go through unimaginable agony and sorrow. Job is a case in point and there are more examples in the second half of Hebrews chapter 11.
Now, Job’s friends operated with
(a) a retributive theology (what you sow, you will reap)
(b) God operates on a redemptive theology (what is messed up, He redeems) – “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities”. (Psalm 103: 10)
(c) In Eschatological view (at the climax of history), God’s judgment will be made complete. But the distinction is not between good people and bad people as much as it is those ‘made’ good and those who ‘stayed’ evil. In other words, the forgiven sinner and the defiant sinner.
A Sovereign God ordains life and purpose to all of His creatures and one might expect His justice and plans coming through in the various situations of life. But to assign divine judgment on suffering amounts to pride and callousness. Even if it were His judgment, how are we to claim that knowledge?
Doesn’t God intervene in the affairs of people? Does He not judge? Do our actions not have consequences? The answers to the above are in the affirmative. Where this perception errs is assuming that we know God’s ways for sure – which is a huge claim to make.
Job’s friends meant good. They were trying to defend God’s justice and hence suggested that Job must have faulted. However, we find that God is not impressed. In fact, He takes issue with them as He directs them to offer burnt offerings and to seek Job’s prayer. (Job 42: 7-9)
Notice, that the friends did extremely well –
when they visited him in his misfortune,
when they tore their robes and put ashes on,
when they mourned along with him, and
when they remained silent for 7 days and 7 nights. (Job 2: 11-13).
It was when they started theologizing with all good intent, that they were losing the plot.
In fact, Yahweh’s question to Job appears to be – would you even understand if I explained the big picture to you? (Job 38: 2-4) No wonder Job confessed: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. (Job 42: 3)
Silence then might be a virtue when one trusts in the Sovereign God rather than the storm. To Job, who lost his children to a great wind, God shows up in a whirlwind.
May God the Holy Spirit move in our nation, yes, to heal us of this deadly pandemic, and also to heal us of our spiritual malady. “When He (Holy Spirit) comes, He will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness and judgment”. (John 16: 8)
Is Corona a judgment of God? Perhaps Yes, but a judgment that is soaked in mercy.