As covid-19 brings global chaos and uncertainty I’ve noticed a variety of posts from Christian’s claiming a variety of the following…
- God sent the virus as a judgement against the evils of the world
- God sent the virus to test us
- God said this would happen and is sign that we are in the last days and Jesus will return very soon
I don’t agree with these sentiments, it doesn’t fit with the God who we also say isn’t just loving, but is love itself.
From what I see most people sharing such ideas about God sending the virus seem to be saying it to spread fear. Fear to get people to turn to God, fear to get the followers of God to become more fervent in their praying and giving to the church and following the churches leaders. Even if you believe the sentiments above the response should not be to instil fear but to demonstrate love. If the virus is a judgement, love your neighbour. If the virus is a test, love your neighbour. If this is a sign of the end times, love your neighbour.
Love your neighbour doesn’t mean tell them you think they are wrong. It doesn’t mean preaching a message of condemnation or “I told you so” it means being compassionate, caring, forgiving and kind. Loving our neighbour means offering to pick up some shopping (if you are in a position to do so safely), giving them a call, chatting over the garden fence (if you are privileged enough to have a garden and a fence). Loving our neighbour also means staying home even if we are well and healthy, not thinking we know best, and being part of the effort to stop the spread. It may involve asking if there is anything our neighbours would like prayer for, but it is not a time to preach, it is a time to listen.
Now, why don’t I believe the sentiments given above?
The story of Noah (Genesis 6:1-9:27) tells us of a world of wickedness, other than one righteous man. God sends a flood and the whole world is destroyed, other than the righteous man and his family. This has been interpreted as historically accurate with the whole globe flooding; as only the known world at the time of flooding (still a big flood but contained to a region – after all it happened a few thousand years ago and until Aristotle (+/- 350 BC) people believed the world was flat); and, as a fictional story with a lesson to tell. Whatever interpretation you use the lesson is the same, destroying the earth other that a righteous few didn’t solve the problems. Time and again through history humans have managed to kill one another and destroy civilisations, natural disasters and deadly diseases have come and gone. The world is no more holy or righteous from these efforts. God knows this and demonstrates the futility of destruction. Despite being saved from the flood Noah goes on to become drunk (Genesis 9:20-21), still a common coping strategy after experiencing devastation. God however, promises never to destroy the earth even though he acknowledges “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth” (Genesis 8:21-22).
Moses was the Israelite boy saved from death (Exodus 2:1-10), who grew up in the household of his people’s enemy, murdered someone (Exodus 2:11-12), ran away (Exodus 2:15) and was then called by God to lead the Israelites to freedom from their oppressors (Exodus 3:7-10). He led them through all manner of trials and situations, and we are told the people were not always the most grateful. God provided Moses with what we know as the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), a wonderful summary of how to live well with one another and in relationship with God. These rules speak of honour, respect and community. A wider range of rules develop and are shared in the book of Leviticus, some of them appear strange and outdated to us now, but they are rules for living well with God, with one another and with the earth. The rules speak of how we are to conduct ourselves in worship, in the kitchen, in the bedroom, at work, caring for the sick. In other words the rules give guidance for all aspects of our lives and provide consequences for people who do not follow these rules in order that the wellbeing of the community is maintained. The Bible shows how the specifics of the rules change over time as the context changes, for example sacrifices move from the tabernacle to the Temple. Laws are really important, laws are still really important. I may not like all the laws of the country I live in but without them their would be anarchy. The laws of Moses teach us of the effect of our actions, even highlighting that if we don’t isolate when someone has a contagious disease many will suffer. The current virus, spread and results are no surprise to the scientific community (especially virologists), they have been predicting, waiting and preparing for this for years. The laws of science, and the engagements and connections in and between communities, forecast this set of events and they can also guide us in getting through it. The specifics of the laws of Moses are not all relevant in the 21st Century in all contexts and cultures of the world, but the heart behind the laws are and God looks at the heart.
The Book of Job tells the story of a man who is again said to be righteous and holy who God allows the Devil to test. Again, it is interpreted by some as an actual occurrence and others parable (a story with a meaning). The story tells of one calamity or disaster after another (the death of family, loss of wealth, etc.) and the interactions between Job, God and Job’s friend’s. Job’s friends try to give advice and words to Job to explain his predicament and what he must have done to receive such a fate and what he should do to improve his situation. What we discover is those who were quick to give their input and ideas are really quite unhelpful. Job is a man of integrity and rather than rushing to offer solutions or so-called wisdom he waited, he trusted on God. There are countless commentators on social media, TV and radio claiming they know God’s will in this time. If we are truly in the love and knowledge of God we won’t be quick to comment or claim anything. We won’t preach. We will listen. This is not a time for listening to and joining in with Christian propaganda, fear mongering, myths and half-truths, this is a time to listen. Listen to God. Read scripture, mediate on the words of God, deliberate on the Word of God that is Jesus.
Noah, Moses and Job all appear in the Hebrew scriptures, what Christian’s popularise as the Old Testament. I believe the God of the Hebrew scriptures is also the God of the New testament. The heart of God is portrayed throughout the Old Testament, not a heart of a destructive God (though I understand why and how the Bible is read this way) but a God who desires communion with those who God created, communion between the created beings, and communion between all created things. I understand that Jew’s hold these beliefs too. The difference for me is Jesus, not that he changes or disregards everything of the Hebrew scripture but that he is the ultimate fulfilment of them. Having demonstrated through the Israelites over the years shared in the Hebrew scriptures God demonstrates that death and destruction of others may provide a temporary solution to wiping out evil but within a very short time evil returns. In and through Jesus, God gives himself. God doesn’t need his wrath to be satisfied, he is not set upon burning up those who disobey his will or desire. God is love. In love God chooses to give himself. God demonstrates his love by pouring out himself as the ultimate demonstration of his desire for relationship. In Christ we are provided with the perfect image of how we are to live and die, pouring out ourselves not for the religious, political or economic institutions but for one another in love.
Scripture does not say
“For God so love the world that he gave sickness and disease”
“For God so love the world that he gave natural disasters”
“For God so love the world that he gave pious prophets, apostles and preachers”
“For God so love the world that he gave impossible tests and suffering”
No, the Bible says
“For God so love the world that he gave his one and only son” (John 3:16)
I believe in a God who is love. I believe in a God who desires for me and you to be loved. I believe in a God who desires the best for me and you, that is to become more like him; to be one who loves in the face of any situation all neighbours, regardless of what they believe or how they might treat me.
So love your neighbour. Pop a note through the door to say hello. Ask the kids to draw them a picture. Chat over the fence. Offer a listening ear. Speak out for them if they cannot speak out for themselves. Learn to be more like Jesus.