Pop star Justin Bieber invited his 130 million Instagram followers to his church’s online broadcast. Churches are using drive-in theaters as a way to offer worship services in time for Easter.
And a public art nonprofit in Georgia is delivering yard signs that read, “EVERYTHING WILL BE OK.” Profits will be used to support local artists and art teachers.
The pandemic has been dominating our world long enough for certain faith questions to become common. Let’s take time this morning to address them from the word of God.
Is this the end of the world?
“In around 2020, a severe pneumonia-like illness will spread throughout the globe, attacking the lungs and the bronchial tubes and resisting all known treatments.” This is a prediction made in 2008 by a woman named Sylvia Browne in her book End of Days: Predictions and Prophecies About the End of the World.
Her prediction faded from public memory and she died in 2013. But the coronavirus pandemic has brought her book new attention; it shot up to No. 2 on Amazon’s nonfiction chart and was selling for hundreds of dollars.
Is this the end of the world?
Revelation 6 describes the “four horsemen of the apocalypse,” the fourth of which was “given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth” (v. 8, italics added). Jesus spoke of a day when “there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences” (Luke 21:11, italics added).
But he also stated, “You do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42). In fact, he will come “at an hour you do not expect” (v. 44).
In other words, if this were the end of the world, it would already be the end of the world. And as horrific as coronavirus is, historians have been reminding us that humans have faced similar but far worse pandemics in the past.
Is this the judgment of God?
Let’s ask a related question: If the coronavirus pandemic is not the end of the world, is it nonetheless the judgment of God on the world?
The Lord clearly uses nature to bring judgment against sin. Remember the “sulfur and fire” that rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24) and the plagues God sent in response to Pharaoh’s refusal to free his people.
But biblical judgments are preceded by prophetic warnings, as with Moses before Pharaoh and the prophets before the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles. And they are sent in response to specific sins, as with Pharaoh’s pride and the idolatry of the Jewish people. I am not aware of any prophetic warnings before the coronavirus pandemic started in China or particular sins that produced it. (For more, see my white paper, Where Is God When Pandemics Strike? A biblical and practical response.)
Why did God allow the pandemic?
If the pandemic is not God’s specific judgment, why did he allow it?
Scripture teaches that our world is fallen as a result of human sin (Genesis 3:16–19; Romans 8:22). Diseases and disasters are natural consequences of this Fall. If God miraculously prevented coronavirus, he would have to counteract every consequence of the Fall. But if there are no consequences to human freedom, God is not just and we are not truly free.
God does, however, sometimes intervene miraculously in our fallen world. Jesus saved Peter on the stormy Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:31). He healed lepers and raised the dead. He taught us to pray for what we need in faith that our Father hears us and does what is best (cf. Matthew 7:7–11).
While I do not know why God allows all that he does, I am convinced that he redeems all he allows. We can ask him for such redemption, knowing that he suffers with us (Isaiah 43:2) and loves us unconditionally (John 17:23).
What do I do with my doubts?
Tragedies such as the coronavirus pandemic cause many of us to struggle on some level spiritually. When God doesn’t answer our prayers as we want him to, as with the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” it’s natural to be frustrated (2 Corinthians 12:8). Even Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
In days when our faith seems weak, we can ask God to help us. For example, we can say to our Father what a struggling father said to his Son: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). We can ask God for the faith to have faith. (For more, see my sermon from last Sunday, “Dealing with doubts: Coronavirus and my favorite prayer in Scripture.”)
What do I do now?
Jesus knows what it is to feel temptation (Hebrews 4:15), weariness (John 4:6), thirst (John 19:28), rejection (Matthew 27:22), and horrific pain (Matthew 27:26). What’s more, he not only empathizes with us but has the ability to heal us (Matthew 4:23), forgive us (Luke 23:34), and sustain us with his enduring presence (Matthew 28:20).
As a result, here’s the most relevant coronavirus faith question I can ask: Will you bring your questions and struggles to Jesus?
His invitation is clear and life-changing: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
How close are you to the “throne of grace” today?