We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you a message from the emergency blogcast system. This is not a test. (I promise to get back to the series I had on the go at some point soon. But for now, this topic seemed timely and urgent.)
I’ve heard from too many people over the past few weeks to keep ignoring it: there is a wave of Christians, really more of a small ripple, like in butterscotch ripple ice cream, who seem to delight in promoting this hard season as an example of God’s wrath via a new plague. Except, this is more like stupid-unhelpful-biblically-confused-clichés-religious-people-say ripple ice cream, and it makes me yearn for plain vanilla.
So, I thought I’d jump on here and type out a quick Top Ten List of thoughts that come to my mind when I hear Christians point back to the plagues of Moses or some other biblical story or forward to the plagues of Revelation as evidence that COVID-19 was sent by God to punish sinners. (In keeping with what we talked about in our “Speaking of Jesus” series, I’m going to try to word most of these points in the form of a question.) God of course can do whatever God wants to do, but we misrepresent God when we don’t allow Jesus to help us discern what God wants to do.
Here we go…
#10. For those who point backwards to the Old Testament… Do you think what God did in that instance (i.e., using the ten plagues to deliver Israel out of Egypt) is how God always works? Can we make that conclusion? How often did God use marching in circles to tear down the walls of an enemy city? Or a bronze serpent to heal his people from snake bite? Just because God has done something one way in the past, do you think we can assume he will work the same way in the future? (And for those whose minds go to Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8 – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” – does this not refer to God’s character of mercy ultimately revealed in Jesus never changing, rather than the mechanisms God uses to express that character? It seems this same God has changed methods many times, from flood, to fire, to famine, to turning water into blood, to turning water into wine, and wooing us through the life and death and life again of Jesus.)
#9. On that note, what was God’s reaction to people who tried to idolize the way God worked in the past (e.g., the story of Nehushtan, the bronze serpent, in 2 Kings 18:4)? What is the lesson in this for us?
#8. What about the indiscriminate nature of COVID-19, especially killing the poor (who are in areas where they cannot get proper medical treatment, such as ventilators) and the elderly and infirm and the most vulnerable around the world far more than it kills the young, and rich, and strong, and privileged? Is that how God works? Is that what Jesus shows us about God? Since Jesus teaches that to see him is to see the one who sent him (John 12:45), shouldn’t the ministry of Jesus decisively influence our idea of how God works in this world?
#7. The Big Question: How does Jesus inform your opinion about this topic, and every topic? Jesus – the one who said he came, not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom (Mark 10:45). Jesus – who shows us that God is more willing to die for sinners than make sinners die (Luke 23:34). What about Jesus’ teaching that his Father’s desire is to universally bless all people, and to love everyone, including his enemies, even through the natural order of things (Matthew 5:43-48)? Bottom line: Do you keep Jesus in the centre of your interpretations of how God works in this world, remembering that no one has really seen God until Jesus (John 1:18)?
#6. What about Matthew 13:24-30 where Jesus points out that some things come from God but some things come from the Devil. (Who planted weeds among the wheat? “An enemy did this,” says Jesus.) Why are you not factoring in Jesus’ teaching in your discussion about the possibility of some things coming from God’s “enemy” and not just from God?
#5. What about the Bible’s overall teaching that WE were given responsibility to take care of the planet and we have blown it (Genesis 1-4). And now “all creation groans” (Rom 8). How does this factor into your thinking?
#4. Do you think we need to call these events God’s judgement in order to motivate our repentance? What if these events are simply the natural disasters that our lack of repentance manifests? Does God need to use COVID-19 – primarily killing poor, sick, and aged people – to conjure human repentance? Doesn’t the apostle Peter say God is “patient, not wanting anyone to perish” (2 Peter 3:9) and the apostle Paul say that it is “God’s kindness that leads you to repentance” (Romans 2:4) and the apostle James say that God is the source of “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17) and was this not the emphasis in early gospel preaching (Acts 14:17)? Does God not draw us through God’s care and creativity revealed through his CREATION (Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 1:20; Matthew 5:43-48; Acts 14:17), human CONSCIENCE, the law of God written upon every human heart (Romans 2:14-15), the Holy Spirit who softens hard hearts and provides CONVICTION to the world about sin (John 16:8), the teaching and example of CHRIST, in his life and his death, that draws all people to himself (John 12:32)? Is this not enough?
#3. What are the potential dangers of blaming God for things that we and/or Satan should take responsibility for? Let’s talk about the damage to truth and spiritual health that this kind of thinking can do.
#2. And for those who point forward and suggest this is the fulfillment of prophecy from Revelation about the four horsemen of the apocalypse (Revelation 6), I wonder why you think THIS generation is experiencing the unfolding of prophecy in a way that previous generations did not, when previous generations have suffered through more severe outbreaks (e.g., the Bubonic plagues of the Justinian pandemic of the 6th century, killing half of Europe’s population, and the Black Death of the 14th century killing over 100 million, or the Spanish flu from a century ago, killing over 50 million). Is it possible that we sometimes suffer from chronocentrism when reading Bible prophecy? That is, a kind of egocentricy that focuses on our time, our generation, our contemporary experience as THE time, THE generation that the the book of Revelation was really written for. Is some of our obsession with Bible prophecy and contemporary events just the Evangelical version of religious narcissism?
#1. I would like to leave #1 for you, the reader. How would you respond to some of the silly and damaging things Christians say during times of crisis? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Thank you for helping combat the spread of stupid cliché Christianity!
PS: When Jesus and his disciples came across a blind man in John 9, the disciples responded with the worst of religious impulses: they turned it into a discussion about the origin of evil, rather than opening their eyes to this opportunity to help. Jesus didn’t play their game, and we don’t need to play that game today. Let’s keep our eyes open to the ways Jesus is at work in this world, and join in every chance we get.