sábado, 15 de junio de 2024   inicia sesión o regístrate
Protestante Digital


The epidemic and God’s providence

Is the present pandemic simply God’s judgment to punish evil? Or does it, on the other hand, have nothing to do with God, because He can only show love?

FEATURE AUTOR 272/Berend_Coster TRADUCTOR Noemí Sánchez Read 06 DE JUNIO DE 2020 11:00 h
Photo: [link]Tam Wai[/link]. Unsplash (CC0).

How should we understand the epidemic of 2020?

It is true that it is a consequence of attitudes and cultural patterns of our time. The indiscriminate consumption of all types of meat in China, the warnings that had been denied or answered with oppression.

Also, our tireless mobility, together with mass meetings, tourism, commercial trips, international fairs, carnival celebrations, political demonstrations and many irresponsible actions.

Have I mentioned all the contributory factors? We have also heard that this pandemic is an opportunity that allows us to move towards a more sustainable organization of the planet, towards a more responsible individual behaviour.

Of course, all of the above comments have some truth to them. However, I ask again: How can we understand the pandemic that we are living, confined in our homes, perhaps suffering the illness around us or in ourselves?

How does God make sense of it? What does it have to do with our Creator? Is it God’s judgement or is there another explanation?


Different opinions

During this time of epidemic, I have heard a variety of opinions, including from Christians. It has been said that God intervenes in the world with judgement to punish evil, always with the aim to lead people to repentance and faith.

Others say that pain and suffering cannot come from God, because there is no room for judgment in God’s love. The first group stresses that everything that happens is a direct intervention of God’s sovereignty and justice.

The second group do not look for a divine explanation to our crisis or disasters, but understand them as a natural phenomenon or chance events that invite us to cry out to God and ask for mercy.

Both positions have always made me feel uncomfortable. It is true that the Bible talks about God’s sovereignty and His just judgement, because “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (Gen. 6:5).

Moreover, anyone who considers with concern the moral and spiritual state of the world, will also include him/herself. Am I, who blames others, not the same as them, with the same faults? I believe in God’s love and mercy as much as them. But, how can we understand both positions?

I propose five key points before I give my own conclusion.


Five points

1. How do we understand the word judgment?

What do we mean when we say that a disaster or an adversity is the result of judgment? I believe that the meaning of the word ‘judgment’ is: tribunal, punishment, retribution or penalty.

These are the meanings that we find in the Bible, but there is another one which may help us to understand it. Judgment in the Bible also means crisis. We find it in Isaiah 26:8-9, where the prophet says that God has made himself known through his judgment.

We can safely translate the text: through his crisis, and this matches our experience. When we feel that God does neither good nor bad (Zeph. 1:12), we forget Him and His will. However, when His judgment -the crisis- is manifested on the earth, we ask ourselves who He is and what He wants to teach us.

It turns out that, in the middle of a crisis, we learn to wait on Him. The crisis provides a time to reflect, to make new decisions, to sort out our lives. In many occasions, times of crisis have meant a return to God, individually or collectively.

Is the present epidemic a judgment from God? It is very likely to be a crisis, an adversity that affects the organization and systems of the world. As a crisis, it is a judgment in the general sense because it tests our way of life, manifesting our instability to the point of an unsustainable economic and sociable situation.

Is it also a moral and spiritual judgment? I am convinced that the structures of this world reflect a certain spiritual and moral pattern, but we must wait for the answer to this question till the end of this article.

2. We affirm that God is sovereign in the universe and in our lives

However, we must understand that He exercises this sovereignty in two different ways: 1) through His power over the whole of creation, the whole of history and over our lives, including our bodies, souls, minds and consciousness and 2) through His Word.

The first way He exercises sovereignty is through His power over providence. It is a universal and anonymous power over everything which is worked through material and natural things, rationality and morality, cause and effect.

Therefore, the power of God’s Word is shown through the explanations of His actions and the way providence works. It is through God’s Word that the powers seen in nature, in history and generally in our lives, stop being anonymous powers and become instruments of God’s personal government.

We have been forced to distinguish, more than other generations, between God’s general providence on one hand and His special government through His Word on the other hand.

The natural sciences such as medicine, social science, history and so on, demand that we acknowledge the chains of cause and effect. This is a distinction that the Bible does not make (see Amos 3:3-8).

We do see a difference between the Old and the New Testaments. In the Old Testament, God intervenes directly in the natural and historical disasters. In the New Testament, the events are more anonymous and inevitable.

In this way, Jesus talks about future disasters and catastrophes in Matthew 24:3-28 (see also Mark 13; Luke 21:7-24). The book of Revelation has the same perspective and it shows how God is above all things and governs everything.

The events in themselves are described as inevitable and determined by intermediary forces. For example, the four horses in Revelation 6. The first horse is always hard to explain, but the following ones represent war, famine and death or epidemics- disasters that are happening now and will happen in the future.

How can we make sense, in the light of the coronavirus epidemic, of the distinction between God’s universal government and His rule through His Word?

Firstly, we must see it as a natural crisis, one of many epidemics suffered by humanity, just as other disasters. It does not differentiate between good or bad people, responsible or irresponsible. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45; see also Genesis 8:21).

We understand this crisis- or judgment- as explained and announced by God’s Word (Mark 24:7). God’s Word does differentiate between guilty and innocent or relatively innocent people (see 2 Samuel 24:17; Jonah 4:11; Luke 13:1-5).

It also talks about purpose, meaning, confidence and hope. Through God’s Word, I understand that everything that happens to me is not senseless or the result of chance, but it is the result of God’s fatherly council and will, such as blessing or discipline, warning or correction (Cat. De Heidelberg, Sunday 10).

God’s Word transforms a senseless, general and universal experience into a personal one. With God, a crisis, and adversity or an illness becomes a personal experience which is not only a judgment that leads us to repent, but also a blessing that, by grace, draws us near to God.

3. I have already suggested what I now make explicit: the epidemic happens in a sinful world. “The truth of the world is found in Genesis 3”, a quote, if I am right, by the polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski.

We live in a world cursed by sin and that forces us to say that providence is actually common grace. A grace that God grants His fallen creation and a grace that protects us from the final consequences of evil.

A grace which comes in the form of mitigating measures in the pandemic and in other adversities, such as the confinement until the epidemic is over, medical care and perhaps a vaccine in the future. In truth, the Lord keeps us from many sorrows (Psalm 107:1, 13,19,28).

The present crisis invites humanity to pray to God for protection, healing and salvation. It is precisely by doing this that we learn to wait for God in the road of His crisis, His judgment. We saw that in Isaiah 26:8-9.

4. Through God’s Word, we understand the epidemic to be both a judgment and a crisis, affecting the Christian people too. We have believed and trusted in God in times of prosperity and stability.

Now, and in all times of crisis, we must learn to trust in Him under different conditions. Is our faith in the Lord up to today’s challenge? Is our knowledge of God visible in our new circumstances? Are we willing to go through trials in order to learn new virtues, such as patience and perseverance (James 1:3)?

5. The most powerful contribution that the Christian faith can bring to the understanding of the epidemic is found in God’s suffering of our pain and suffering in His Son Jesus. The life of Jesus, God’s son, is an act of God’s solidarity with humanity, who is suffering the consequences of sin.

First of all it was a substitutionary atonement, because “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed “(Isaiah 53:4-5).

When we ask what the relationship of God with the suffering and pain in the world is, we must say that they are not alien to Christ. Man can challenge and accuse God in his desperation or hostility, but we then remember with reverence that, in Christ, God himself has already suffered for the sins of the world.

Being conscious of this profound truth encourages us to live our sufferings and pains with Him, following in his steps (Matthew 10:38; 1 Peter 2:21).



Should we then say that this pandemic we are living now is God’s judgment to punish evil? Or, on the other hand, should we say that it has nothing to do with God because He is only capable of showing love?

God’s relationship with the world is too complex to be explained in one sentence. The world is His creation and He governs it and nothing happens out of His control. However, it exists in sin, separated from God and not everything is a direct consequence of His will.

The crisis and disasters, the pain and the suffering are a consequence of the curse of sin on the earth (Genesis 3:17). At the same time, God is able to control and moderate sin and its curse, saving us from them and through them, thanks to His grace.

This means that the pandemic is a crisis and a judgment in the general sense, but also, at the same time, a warning that invites the world to recognise that the Lord is God and that we should look for His help to save us. We cannot live without Him.

When we acknowledge that God is in this plague, it represents both a personal judgment and a blessing. It is a judgment because it reveals our false priorities in this life; a blessing because we learn to trust, love and wait on Him again. Our understanding of who God is and our trust in Him are tested in every way.

The judgment that God executes in the world has fallen on Jesus, so we are saved from it. Providence and common grace save us many times from the consequences of sin, but the cross of Christ saves us from sin itself.

May we all seek refuge in Him by faith.

Berend Coster is the Dean of IBSTE International University of Theology in Castelldefels, and pastor of the Reformed Christian church in Mataró, Barcelona.




    Si quieres comentar o


ESTAS EN: - - - The epidemic and God’s providence
Síguenos en Ivoox
Síguenos en YouTube y en Vimeo

MIEMBRO DE: Evangelical European Alliance (EEA) y World Evangelical Alliance (WEA)

Las opiniones vertidas por nuestros colaboradores se realizan a nivel personal, pudiendo coincidir o no con la postura de la dirección de Protestante Digital.