So is it from God or the Devil?

This virus, and our government’s response, has managed to do what Hitler attempted and failed- closing the churches in one fell swoop. The North Koreans would have developed nasty viruses in their laboratories years ago had they known how successful an enterprise it would be. I say this with no smugness- I finally succumbed to pressure last night when the church in Leeds at which I was preaching cancelled its service. I had resolved to use them as a gauge, and within six hours of the call, my own morose email went out. Although I was taken aback by the alacrity and enthusiasm with which some churches bolted their doors, and the glee with which certain pastors explained how they would ‘be doing church differently’ from now on, it cannot be said that Christians are a disobedient people.

So is the devil behind it? He hates the gospel and rages when it is faithfully proclaimed. He previously inspired princes and rulers to burn preachers at stakes; others had ears and tongues bored with irons. The message of freedom and hope is detested by the dukes of darkness and oppression. They desire every church to close. Or perhaps they are content for apostate, gospel-denying pulpits to remain open as these prove just as useful a gag to gospel truth.  

So the hypothesis goes that Satan created a virus with the intention of closing churches, restricting preaching and generally harming the race of creature God especially loves. In scripture, Satan certainly afflicted Job with sores and boils.

In the Job narrative, however, Satan sought God’s authorisation to act. This permission was granted, that Job’s faith might be tested and his understanding of God clarified. I’m not currently aware of any other occasion when Satan inflicts illness, except in the mad ravings of hyper-charismatic preachers who, naturally enough, have the powers to reverse it.

Instead, there are many other occasions when plague/pestilence/disease is sent directly from God. In Thursday’s Bible study, we concluded Exodus 32 with

So the Lord plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made.

God chastised his wayward people by ‘plaguing them’. In the book’s earlier section, God inflicts illness and death on the stubborn Egyptians for failing to release his Covenant people. Later, in Leviticus 26, we read:

14 ‘But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, 15 and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, 16 I also will do this to you: I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you shall reign over you, and you shall flee when no one pursues you.

Illness if often used by the Lord in the Old Testament to rebuke, chasten and punish. This theme diminishes in the New Testament, where God no longer presides over a physical nation of believers and non-believers, but has a believing people made up from all nations. Yet the concept is found within the New Testament, also. In 1 Corinthians 11, referring to that church’s disgraceful communion practices, the apostle writes:

For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.

Divine infliction of illness is not the passage’s main thrust, so this fleeting reference has little elaboration. From it, however, we can deduce that God’s previous willingness to inflict sickness before Christ does not cease in the Church Age.

Yet this virus does not particularly affect the church. If the government is correct, most pastors’ energetic closures have actually protected the Christian community, reducing its exposure. The virus is a world-wide pandemic; its victims are not drawn from sections of the population well known for their wickedness or godlessness. I believe the virus ‘comes’ from God rather than the devil, but this leaves three further possibilities:

It is divine judgement on a wicked world.

More Christians are persecuted in the twenty-first-century than in any other time in history, according to Open Doors. In our nation, we destroy hundreds of children daily so than their mothers can ‘get on with their lives’. We seek to abolish the God-given roles of male and female. Many hate or ignore the loving Creator whose world they gladly inhabit. We spend more money on weaponry and bombs than we do on alleviating starvation. Need I go on? We are as ripe for judgement as any generation.

It is an end-time judgement on a wicked world

This is like the above, but there is a sense of finality. When the Lord Jesus talked of the world’s end in Matthew 24, He said

And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.

In Revelation 6, Death and Hades, riding a pale horse, are sent forth to kill a quarter of the world’s population. The Daily Express is already quoting American televangelists who are making this claim. Plagues and pandemics have always been with us; perhaps their intensity and frequency will indicate whether they are part of the apocalyptic climax. If some world leader surfaces, offering salvation from the virus, and is consequently celebrated and idolised by the masses, I'll opt for this one. Until then, I suspect it's the next possibility. 

The Fall

Alternatively, and less excitingly, it may just be a general judgement, a consequence of the Fall. When Adam and Eve fell in Genesis 3 (and we with them) the earth was cursed:

“Cursed is the ground for your sake;

In toil you shall eat of it

All the days of your life.

Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,

And you shall eat the herb of the field.

In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread

Till you return to the ground,

For out of it you were taken;

For dust you are,

And to dust you shall return.”

From this curse came harmful bacteria, diseases, cancers and viruses. The gorgeous planet lavished with life in Genesis 1 becomes laced with death in chapter 3. Viruses are now ‘natural’ and will from time to time appear, just as tumours, diabetes and arthritis have done.

Whatever the origins of Covid-19, God’s justice remains intact while it rages and claims its victims. We believers should live wisely and die faithfully. Unbelievers should seek the Lord while He may be found, and call on Him while He is near.

[Sickness is] to make us think, to remind us that we have a soul as well as a body – an immortal soul, a soul that will live forever in happiness or in misery – and that if this soul is not saved we had better never have been born.

-J.C. Ryle, Christ in the Sick Room

Image by Syaibatul Hamdi from Pixabay