Is God Punishing Us? · Heritage UMC

Is God Punishing Us?

Monday, March 23 2020 by Matt Horan

As is often the case when large scale disasters take place, a variety of people have claimed to have supernatural insights into the reasons why the COVID-19 Coronavirus is spreading around the world.

Of course, you’ve probably heard by now that this is a plague fortelling the Biblical end of the world. The book sales made possible by pointing out contemporary events and matching them up to elements in Daniel or Revelation are nothing to sneeze at. It’s good work if you can get it. Just ask the guys who wrote those Left Behind books. Cha-ching.

Of course, there are a couple problems you’ll run into if you choose to go this route. For one, with apologies to R.E.M., the big star of the “end of the world as we know it” is the “Antichrist,” who was a Roman Emperor back in the first century. That is, back when it only took two numbers to note what year it was. His future is, well, not in the future.

There are other holes that decent Biblical exegesis will poke in the practice of using the Bible as a secret decoder ring for predicting the end of the world, but there’s a bigger issue here. The biggest issue here is that it doesn’t matter when the world is going to end. If it’s ending tomorrow, you know what you should do today? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.

Conveniently, if the world isn’t going to end for another eleventy-billion years, you know what you should do today? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.

Another way we like to pass the time is to connect disasters to punishments deserved by those who would reject our Christian preferences. I’ve heard it as God’s judgement against our culture of celebrity worship, because all of our sports and entertainment venues are closing down. I’ve heard it as God’s judgement against the lack of prayer in school, because all of the schools are now closing. I’ve heard it as God’s judgement against the love of money, because the stock market has dropped so far. I’ve even seen it named as God’s way of seeing how much faith churches have–the ones that keep meeting and trust that he’ll protect them from the virus have great faith, while the ones who aren’t meeting together don’t have much at all.

It’s incumbent upon any of us to do some careful study, prayer, discernment, and conferencing with others if we’re going to make a claim to know what God is thinking. Even then, any pronouncement of our opinion should still leave room for the possibility that God’s thoughts may exceed ours. So to be fair, if you think God has sent us a plague to punish us for something, I can’t rule it out of the realm of possibility. That said, a move like that seems nothing like the God who was revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

As the world closed in around him his friends misunderstood and eventually abandoned him, people cried out for his crucifixion, the religious leaders of his day conspired to have him falsely accused and silenced, the government judged him, and the executioners tortured and killed him. Any of these could have been good reasons for a little fire and brimstone, but he didn’t do it. He didn’t call down plagues or other punishments or means of education to show them they were wrong. He loved them, served them, healed them, and forgave them. He even encouraged an actual revolutionary guilty of subversively plotting against the government–the crime for which he’d been falsely accused–who was being crucified with him, even though just moments before he’d had been mocking him like everyone else..

I say this not to claim that I have extra insights into what God is thinking and doing during the spread of this virus. I say it because while it’s true that Jesus sometimes told unpopular truths and called out selfish motives when he saw them, he said that people should know us by our love.

I have never seen these claims of supernatural reasons behind a disaster lead someone to Jesus. I’ve also never seen a competitive challenge to have more faith than somebody else lead people to develop the kind of faith that makes them more loving to God or their neighbor. We might feel better pointing out the things we think should be different, and even better by calling out those who we think are to blame, but I’ve just never seen it bear much fruit in the end.

What I do know is that God is constantly inviting us closer to him. When times are easy, the invitation to step closer is there. When times are hard, the invitation is there too. I don’t feel like the purpose of the Coronavirus is to punish us for idolizing fame or money. Frankly, those things have a way of punishing us all by themselves without any help from God. What is possible, however, is that we can make this a season full of purpose by hearing God’s invitation and responding to it, becoming more like Jesus in the process. If we look back at this crisis and discover that a lot of people became a lot more like Jesus as a result, we will have given it glorious purpose indeed.


Matt Horan
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Heritage is a United Methodist Church in Clearwater, FL with the goal of loving those around us, equipping leaders with roles that require their unique abilities, and inviting everyone into a life changing relationship with Jesus.

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