This is, word for word, a question a friend of mine sent me, that a friend had asked her. I answered quickly, but at the behest of my friend, have decided to write a blog about it. Because this, or some version of it, might be a question on quite a few people’s minds. In addition, in the midst of anxiety, frustration, despair and desperation, our emotions are heightened and we don’t know what to think. So it’s worth picking apart this question to get to grips with what is happening.
The first question we have to answer is could God send a pandemic. The answer of course is yes – he can do what he wants. He sent ten different plagues to Egypt (Exodus 7:14-11:10). The important point here though is why God did this. It was not random. God does this specifically for his great name, to create the exit for the Israelites that would bring them to the promised land and that every nation might know who he is. Just before the plague of hail, God tells Moses “I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Ex. 9:16) and later he says that “I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army [ie their destruction in the Red Sea] and the Egyptians will know that I am Lord.” (Ex. 14:4).
The plagues are about communicating. And in order to communicate, God has raised up a prophet (Moses) who can interpret the events for him.
At other times God sends disasters and plagues – The flood (Genesis 6-9), snakes to punish the Israelites in the wilderness (Numbers 21) and a plague on the Israelites (2 Samuel 24) to name but a few. But again, each time, there is a prophet to interpret the events – Noah, Moses and David.
God’s judgement has a consistent force but in the Old Testament, salvation came through repeated sacrifice and laws that nobody could live up to. The system was not flawed, but it was provisional while it pointed to something better.
Since the incarnation, things are different. God’s judgement remains the same. But with Jesus we have been saved completely. This was communicated to us via the prophets as they pointed forwards; and we heard it from Jesus himself and then from the apostles as they recalled and wrote down Jesus’ teaching. We have a saviour in Jesus who is superior in every way to all the prophets. No other prophets are needed. He is also the perfect sacrifice who’s blood pays for the sins of the elect. God’s redemptive work is complete in Jesus.
To suggest that natural disasters and pandemics are sent from God as judgement, is to say that God is doing something new in this post-incarnation era that he has not communicated to us in scripture. It is to say that Jesus is not enough.
Sending this (or any) pandemic as judgement would be inconsistent with what God has communicated to us, and accomplished in Jesus. God never kept his people guessing. The basis of our very faith is the certainty of our salvation in Jesus. If God were sending a pandemic as judgement on us, not only is it saying Jesus’ sacrifice was not enough to achieve resolution for judgement on sin, it means we can have no certainty or confidence in it – because we have no idea what God is doing. It would be some new plan. This again, is inconsistent with everything God tells us about himself and what he has done.
“In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things.” (Hebrews 1:2) and in Matthew 5:17, Jesus tells us “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus is the alpha and the omega (Revelation 1:8) – that means he is the beginning and the end – there is nothing to come after him.
Jesus is enough. Our salvation is certain.
There is another question though. Many of us still wrangle with why we are here at all. If not as judgement, why is God letting this happen? There are many things that happen as part of our fallen world. Bad things happen to good people. Disasters happen out of the blue. Wars occur and famine and poverty wipes out millions. We used to live in a perfect world – in the garden of Eden. But when sin entered the world, everything was tainted. Creation was subjected to frustration (Romans 8:20) and is groaning even now (8:22). The world no longer worked the way it was supposed to. It will not work the way it is supposed to until the new heaven and new earth – the new Eden.
Until then, we live in a world that is broken and painful. What that does mean though is that we need a saviour. These disasters serve to remind us that we have no control. The worry in our hearts points us to the one who is sure and can be our rock and our refuge. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” (Romans 8:28) Even if we don’t understand it. But what we can know also is this – we need a saviour. Jesus is enough. Our salvation is certain.