12 February 2021
Is the pandemic God’s judgment? That’s what some people are thinking, while others are asking if that’s what we think as Christians. Meanwhile, others think such talk is ridiculous, and they don’t want anything to do with anyone who may think like that.
It’s a sharper question for those of us who believe that all things are in God’s hands, that nothing happens outside his will. Why is God doing this? As usual the best thing we can do is turn to the Bible for an answer. And where better to turn than the words of Jesus himself?
In Luke chapter 13, we learn of an appalling event that some people tell Jesus about: some Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. It seems they were brutally murdered while worshipping. What’s important for us now is how Jesus answers: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered that way?” He knows it’s easy to think like that. It’s easy to think there’s something wrong with someone who suffers terribly, that they’re somehow getting what they deserve. But Jesus sets us right straight away when he says, “I tell you, no!” We’re not to think like that. The pandemic isn’t God’s judgment on those who’ve died or lost loved ones.
And Jesus has more to say: “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” So, Jesus is saying two important things to us here. One, don’t think that the pandemic is God’s judgement. Two, do think that God’s judgment is coming, and get ready for that by turning to him.
And Jesus goes on. What Pilate did was a terrible act of human evil. He goes on to mention another tragedy, this one a total accident. And as far as we know the pandemic was a terrible accident. “Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” Another tragedy, but the same question. And Jesus makes exactly the same points again, and in exactly the same words: “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
It seems to me we’re better at saying the first thing Jesus says here than we are at saying the second. We’re good at saying this isn’t God’s judgment. We’re not good at saying God’s judgment is coming and we need to repent. CS Lewis famously described our pains as “[God’s] megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” When something like the pandemic happens, God is asking us, “Are you listening? Will you repent?”
Father, we find it easier to judge others for their sins than we do to repent of our own sins. Give us grace to repent well. Amen.
Chris Hobbs, Senior Minister