In a recent broadcast of The Lutheran Hour, Dr Michael Zeigler and Rev. Ryan Tinetti discuss how Christians should respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. They explained that in our response to this pandemic Christians can fall into two errors. We can say too much or we can also err by saying too little.
Saying too much is identifying a specific, God-related reason why this pandemic is happening. The example these theologians gave was rather funny: God sent this pandemic upon the world because of the introduction of blue M & M’s! It’s an extreme example but sadly that’s what Christians sometimes do. We claim to know the exact reason why God has brought a disaster upon us, in this case the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the basis of what God has told us in his Word, there are certainly a lot of sinful things going on in the world that would justify God reigning down any number of pandemics upon us. But often it’s going too far when we connect specific disasters with specific sins.
People look to Christians for guidance or reporters look to us for a story so it is tempting to say something, anything. But as Zeigler and Tinetti point out, the problem with connecting specific disasters to specific sins is that ultimately it undercuts the central message of Scripture; God’s Son, Jesus Christ, paid the full punishment for the sins of the entire world when he died for us all on the cross.
How could we ever think that our own suffering could pay for our sins when, in God’s view, only the innocent, suffering and death of his own dear Son on the cross is sufficient to atone for our sins?
On the flip side, when disasters strike Christians should not err by saying too little. This can be hard because almost all of us have experienced times when someone in the midst of a disaster will blame God for the disaster and fall from the faith. So the reasoning goes that if we don’t bring God into the discussion people won’t resort to blaming God for what’s happening. We are content with the view that this is just nature doing its thing, just germs and viruses doing what germs and viruses do.
When disaster strikes it needs to be said that this is a reminder that we all need to repent. Jesus speaks about this in Luke, chapter 13:
“There were some present at that very time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’” (Luke 13:1-5, ESV)
Notice Jesus does not say just the sinful people need to repent in the face of disaster; all people need to repent of their sins. But what is repentance?
Well, how can you tell if you have the COVID-19 virus? You start having symptoms. You call the doctor and discuss what’s going on. If need be she orders a test to determine whether or not you have the virus. Depending on the results you shelter at home to recover or head to the hospital for help.
Repentance is like dealing with the COVID-19 virus only in a spiritual sense. God’s Word says we have all tested positive for sin. We have not loved God with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition. The test results are in and there is no denying it. Sin is the world’s original and most deadly pandemic and we are all infected. It also very much likes to remain hidden from sight like a virus. Repentance brings sin out into the light so it can be dealt with.
The Good News is that the Bible-prescribed treatment is 100 percent effective for every sinner around the world. Jesus paid for all of our sins on the cross so that, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1, ESV) Jesus trains and sends out pastors and other believers to proclaim this message throughout the world so that more and more sinners can be free from condemnation in Christ Jesus. Jesus even forgives us when we say the wrong things in the midst of dealing with a disaster.
Another helpful insight that Zeigler and Tinetti use for understanding disasters is that of birth pains. Giving birth is undeniably painful. Yet since the earliest days of history, women have courageously endured birth pains because of the blessings that come when the pain is over; children to hold and love.
This is also a good way to look at the disasters. God promises that when the pain is gone, blessings will take their place: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5, ESV) We can’t answer the question why God does it this way. We trust him always to bring good from the evil.
One thing that I have discovered in going through this pandemic is that people need to talk. We need to process what’s going on and many of us are starved for human interaction. Saying that this pandemic is proof of God’s anger over a specific sin is saying too much. But let us not be silent either about our need to repent and the good that God is undoubtedly going to bring forth out of the pain of this pandemic.