I pose this question to test your theology. Warning: I’m not writing to those who seek a comfortable religion, but to put your faith through the fire, to refine it towards perfection. For example, if you’re offended by the question, please allow me to offend you further, by suggesting this may be due to having a religious spirit, one which is dogmatic and too prideful to even reflect on the possibility of having an imperfect understanding of God. If I’ve not offended you yet, don’t worry, I’ll get to you too. Such a sensitive topic exposes all sorts of emotional responses, that can be seated in incorrect theology. I strongly encourage you to consider my case and take the opportunity to examine your understanding of God.
The following answers suggest incorrect theology:
- I don’t know
I think that covers everyone, so, you’re all suitably offended now. Please allow me to explain. I pray that God would enlighten us through this revelation, to refine our theology – both yours and mine.
I don’t know
I think this is the worst answer. If you’ve not thought about this, you may be a lukewarm Christian, not caring to even consider the nature of God.
1 Peter 3:15 But dedicate your lives to Christ as Lord. Always be ready to defend your confidence ⌊in God⌋ when anyone asks you to explain it. However, make your defense with gentleness and respect.
I feel I’m already falling short, since my above statements are not exactly with gentleness, although I do mean this with respect, and intending to nurture, in you, a deeper relationship with God.
Anyways. According to this verse, we should always be ready to defend our confidence in God e.g. when someone asks, “Why is God allowing such suffering?” or if someone blames this pandemic on some other people-group.
If you can’t answer such questions, not only does this hinder those around you from understanding God, but your own foundations are weak and vulnerable to collapse, causing you to fall away from the faith.
To say that suffering is a direct consequence of one’s personal sin, is as incorrect as claiming that God sends suffering to test us.
The book of Job demonstrates how God allows Satan to bring suffering into our lives. This was not due to Job’s sin, but it did expose some wrong theology – whereby Job saw his suffering as coming from God, even though he respected God’s sovereignty to act as he pleases. In the end, Job was rebuked by God, then restored, then he forgave and restored his wayward self-righteous “friends”.
John 9:1 As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who had been born blind. 2His
disciples asked him, “Rabbi, why was this man born blind? Did he or his parents
3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. Instead, he was born blind so that God could show what he can do for him.
Here we see this attitude that suffering is due to personal sin; but this doesn’t add up with the fact that a baby is neither accountable for their sin, nor their parents’ sin. Jesus’ response is, that’s not important, instead, the demonstration of God’s power and love for all people is what’s important.
On the other hand, it is correct to say that suffering is generally due to sin.
Romans 8:18 I consider our present sufferings insignificant compared to the glory that will soon be revealed to us. 19All creation is eagerly waiting for God to reveal who his children are. 20Creation was subjected to frustration but not by its own choice. The one who subjected it to frustration did so in the hope 21that it would also be set free from slavery to decay in order to share the glorious freedom that the children of God will have. 22We know that all creation has been groaning with the pains of childbirth up to the present time.
The problem with this answer is that it leads to a judgemental spirit; that assumes that where there is suffering, it’s because they were bad. This pours condemnation upon the suffering. The consequence of this thinking is to leave people to suffer, and even heap condemnation upon suffering.
I often hear “God is Good. Suffering is Bad. Therefore, suffering is never from God.” I imagine Tarzan’s voice saying this. Yes, I mean such statements are just totally dumb and ignorant. If not, then it’s heretical; in total rejection of much of scripture. God destroyed Noah’s generation, Sodom and Gomorrah, killed David’s baby, and exiled the Jews, twice. “But that’s Old Testament.” That statement makes me really furious.
God’s not schizophrenic!!!
He’s the same God before and after Jesus’ death. To claim he suddenly got nice is an ancient heresy called Marcionism. In the New Testament, Jesus cursed the fig tree and drove out the money changers with a whip. In Acts 5, we read of how he struck Annias and Saphira dead for their deception. And in Acts 12:23 he struck Herod dead with worms for taking God’s glory for himself. The New Testament ends with the most horrible time of suffering the world has ever known, described in Revelation 5–18. But even then, it concludes with God’s restoration and a new, perfect space-time. This resolves his ultimate purpose behind the death and suffering of this world.
In the Old Testament, we see the same compassion found in the New Testament – as a foreknowledge of the work of the coming Messiah. God forgives every generation as they repeatedly rebel against him. And then when he judges Israel, it’s accompanied with the promises of their restoration under his great mercy.
The problem with this answer is the denial of God’s righteousness, and the law of sin and death. This attitude denies biblical history and its precedent for future judgement. Without God’s judgement, we need not fear him, who can destroy both body and soul.
Matthew 10:28 Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.
It is critical that as we teach God’s goodness and mercy, we balance that with our accountability toward him. Entry to Heaven is not automatic, but only to those who believe in him, and all that he is – that he will judge the world, but has provided the means to escape his wrath.
John 3:16 God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life. 17God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world. 18Those who believe in him won’t be condemned. But those who don’t believe are already condemned because they don’t believe in God’s only Son.
The consequence of this thinking is that we don’t need to seek God’s forgiveness, we already have it. While it’s good to pray that suffering will be taken away, even to proclaim and decree such in Jesus name, we could be doing such in defiance of God’s will. Taking this to the extreme, one might decree, “Satan, be bound and cast into Hell right now, in Jesus name, Amen.” That’s just not going to happen. God has his purpose in keeping Satan around. We have no authority to command otherwise. Likewise, if we were in Egypt during the ten plagues of the Exodus and commanded these to stop, that would be in direct defiance to what God was doing. Likewise, during the plagues of the future apocalypse.
Given all the above are wrong, I’m left with the answer, “Maybe”. Before we pray and decree in Jesus’ name, it’s important to seek God, that we act according to his will. We must not presume suffering is, or is not from God, but seek him in each case. Where there is suffering, we should humble ourselves and pray, seeking his purpose and will in each case. While the pandemic may not be of God, it presents numerous opportunities to show God’s love and compassion personally. God uses suffering to remove people’s dependence on the natural, and to seek him and his supernatural provision. I believe God is drawing many people to him. Sure, many are dying. But this looks worse from a natural perspective than an eternal one.
We’re not Miss Universe contestants, that we should pray “God take away this great evil and bring world peath”, but rather we should pray personally with those around us in their suffering, firstly, to bring comfort, then deliverance and salvation. If God just stops this plague, many people will not come to know him through this time of great suffering.
If this pandemic were from God
If this pandemic were from God, either:
- He’s pouring out his wrath on an evil world
- He’s giving us a wake-up call to seek him
I tend to the latter.
This is not the seven-year tribulation, because the Antichrist has not been revealed. Neither has the Restrainer been removed.
2 Thessalonians 2:6 You know what it is that now holds him back, so that he will be revealed when his time comes. 7The mystery of this sin is already at work. But it cannot work effectively until the person now holding it back gets out of the way. 8Then the man of sin will be revealed and the Lord Jesus will destroy him by what he says.
Daniel 9:27 He will confirm his promise with many for one set of seven time periods.
My best guess is we’re 50 years away from this, with many prophecies remaining to be fulfilled before then, particularly the battle of Gog of Magog in Ezekiel 38-39.
If this pandemic is not from God, then it’s just like all the other trouble the world has endured for the past 2000 years. This doesn’t look more significant than the world wars or the Spanish flu, and certainly not like the black death. It’s just nature doing its thing as it creaks and groans under the weight of the curse since Adam and Eve.
Many think that as we approach the tribulation, catastrophes will gradually increase, and evil will increase. But, so will the perfection of God’s people. It’s all about the harvest of the righteous – the destruction of the wicked is secondary. It certainly feels like there are more earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, civil unrest, global warming, locust swarms, pestilences. But maybe it’s just more reporting reaching our ears, combined with an ignorance of historical troubles. I’ve not seen convincing proof of any of these increasing beyond historical precedent.
I don’t see the world gradually degrading to the tribulation, but there will be a series of apocalyptic catastrophes, which will herald the approach of this time – like the birth pains before the real ones, where the mother’s muscles are just developing towards the real event. The Gog-Magog battle is one such event where the world will recognize God’s intervention.
Ezekiel 38:23 I will show my greatness and my holiness. I will reveal myself to many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord.’ ”
For those who believe Christians will be raptured out of this world before the tribulation, this is another catastrophic, world-changing event. Each of these is a wake-up call from God, calling people to seek him.
Why would God punish the world in this way?
Speculating on such things is dangerous, and must be taken lightly, as the inadequate ponderings of mortals second-guessing the infinite God.
If there were one sin I’d pick on, it would be abortion. This world-wide pandemic grieves the heart of God. It’s the sort of thing where God would step in to protect the innocent – like Noah’s flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. They weren’t destroyed merely because they were homosexual, but rather they were totally depraved sexually and judicially. They refused offering social welfare, and they hated strangers unto their torturously humiliating death, such as they intended on Lot’s visitors. The rampant blaming of gays tends to mask this very hatred for strangers.
Ezekiel 16:49 This is what your sister Sodom has done wrong. She and her daughters were proud that they had plenty of food and had peace and security. They didn’t help the poor and the needy. 50They were arrogant and did disgusting things in front of me. So I did away with them when I saw this.
That does sound like our world today, so there’s precedent that God might step in – not to punish the world, but to protect the innocent.
Whether this pandemic is from God, is not important, but rather that many people are turning to him through this. Rather than look for someone else to blame, we should look to ourselves. Rather than pray for world peace, we should pray intimately for our neighbour’s salvation.
2 Chronicles 7:13 I may shut
the sky so that there is no rain,
or command grasshoppers to devour the countryside,
or send an epidemic among my people.
14However, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves,
pray, search for me, and turn from their evil ways,
then I will hear ⌊their prayer⌋ from heaven, forgive their sins,
and heal their country.
15My eyes will be open,
and my ears will pay attention to those prayers at this place.
Pandemics are a time of great darkness for the world.
Matthew 5:14 “You are light for the world. A city cannot be hidden when it is located on a hill. 15No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket. Instead, everyone who lights a lamp puts it on a lamp stand. Then its light shines on everyone in the house. 16In the same way let your light shine in front of people. Then they will see the good that you do and praise your Father in heaven.
Pandemics are a time where the church stands up as the foundation of society when all other foundations are crumbling. This is a time of immense opportunity to do good to those around us, first naturally, then spiritually. This is a time to bring eternal hope when this temporal existence is hopeless.