Is the Pandemic Punishment?

The coronavirus is taking up most of the oxygen in the public discussion these days. There are drawbacks to this, of course. We can become fixated on it and scarcely think of anything else. There are also benefits. People being thinking comprehensively about it. And as a result, people have some good questions.

In this post, I’ll provide a brief pastoral answer to two of the most common questions I hear about the pandemic: Is it God’s punishment? How should we respond to it?

Is the Pandemic God’s Punishment?

Without nuance, yes, the pandemic is God’s punishment for human sin. But more needs to be said than this point. God created a good world without sin and death. There were not deadly viruses in Genesis 1 and 2. But as the story unfolds, Adam and Eve rebel against God’s Word and rule. Sin and death enter the world through their sin. And God’s judgment against sin is far-reaching. Spiritually speaking, they and all people born after them exist in a state of alienation from God (Eph. 2:1–3; Col. 1:21). This curse against sin is also seen in massively destructive events like floods, earthquakes, and tornados. We also feel it in deadly diseases like cancer and viruses like COVID–19. The creation groans under the weight of this curse (Rom. 8:20–22).

Is the pandemic God’s punishment? Yes, deadly viruses and all other expressions of this cursed world are expressions of God’s judgment against sin.

How Should We Respond to it?

But there is another level to the question. Is this specific pandemic God’s punishment against someone’s particular sin?

The answers to these specific “why” questions are not going to be found by us. They are locked away in the secret will of God. This is where we have to be careful and not cavalier. Without a specific word from God addressing the causation of this individual event, it’s unhelpful to speculate dogmatically. Instead, we need to be governed by firm biblical principles worked out in Scripture. 

The doctrine of God’s providence teaches that there are no accidents, nor are there maverick molecules, as R. C. Sproul says. God upholds and governs the world, even in its broken and cursed state. He’s in control and using all things to accomplish his purposes.

The mystery behind God’s providence reminds us that we don’t have access to the classified briefing of God’s secret will. We simply don’t have the security clearance for this level of intelligence.

But does this mean that this point can be of no further use to us?

No. On the contrary, the sovereign hand of God behind his all-wise providence should prompt us to thoughtful reflection. God’s providence should bring us to introspection, not indifference.

When God permits something to come to us in such a clear, undeniable way, our first thought shouldn’t be personal acquittal on the grounds of divine mystery but personal introspection on account of human depravity.

In other words, we should use this opportunity to examine ourselves before the Lord. We should consider if we individually, our families, our church, our communities, our nation, and so on, are doing anything that dishonors God.

God’s providence should bring us to introspection, not indifference.

One of the principles we can learn from Scripture is that God intends to use seasons like this to humble people. Amid the plagues upon Egypt, Moses and Aaron go before Pharaoh and ask him, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” (Ex. 10:3). The proper response to such things is humility. In the New Testament, Paul warns the proud Corinthians and explains that one of the reasons why many among them are suffering is because of rampant pride (1 Cor. 11:28–33).

While our individual sins may not be the primary cause of the pandemic, they’re connected to it. Therefore, it’s wise stewardship of the occasion to examine ourselves before the mirror of the Word of God and make necessary adjustments.

One blessing we enjoy when swishing around the bitter taste of the curse of sin in our mouths is our longing for its cure. Even as I write, I’m moved to deeper gratitude for Jesus Christ, who became a curse for sinners like you and me (Gal. 3:13). Jesus rescues alienated people, not only from the manifestations of sin’s curse but also from sin itself. This brings us to treasure Christ all the more. The bitterness of the curse of sin makes Christ, the remedy, all the sweeter.