Judgment, Testing, or Neither

April 19, 2020

          It is has been over a month now since I was last able to preach a sermon in church, to a congregation gathered together in the pews, because of the restrictions put in place by both the government and the church leaders in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.  During this past month I am quite certain many have wondered why God has allowed this virus to strike fear into the hearts of many, as it continues to cause illness, death, loss of income, and loss of freedom for people around the globe.

          Let’s take a look at three possibilities…  First, there is that of judgment.  Throughout the Bible, God has punished individuals, cities, countries, and even the whole world after they refused to repent of their abominations and live in accordance with divine law. 

          The first instance is that of Cain, to whom the Lord said after he murdered his brother, Abel, “What have you done?... The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield its produce to you. You will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” (Genesis 4:10-12).  And God sent Cain away to live in the land of Nod. 

          And then back in the days of Noah, when “The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.”  (Genesis 6:1), the world had 200 years to repent as Noah was building the ark.  But they would not.  And finally, “When everything was ready, the LORD said to Noah, ‘Go into the boat with all your family, for among all the people of the earth, I can see that you alone are righteous.’” (Genesis7:1).  And God wiped out all human life from the earth with a flood, except for Noah and his family.  But we know that it did not take long for evil to gain a foothold in the world once again. 

          After Jacob and his sons settled in Egypt and succeeding generations became populous, Egypt’s pharaoh worried they would take over the land, and so he enslaved them all.  So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. “They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor.  They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands.”  (Exodus 1:11,14).  Pharaoh even ordered the Egyptian midwives to kill all Hebrew male babies as they were born.  But God had mercy on his people and sent a deliverer named Moses, who warned Pharaoh about the plagues that were to come.  And once they did, God protected those who loved him and put their faith in him, and the plagues harmed only the Egyptians who were abusing God’s people.  Pharaoh’s heart was so hardened, that it wasn’t until the tenth plague, in which his firstborn son died, that he finally released the Israelites from their bonds. 

          Then as the Israelites crossed the wilderness en route to the promised land of Canaan, under Moses’ leadership, they fell into the sin of idolatry.  While Moses’ was atop Mount Sinai receiving the 10 commandments from God, they built a golden calf and worshipped it.  And they eventually revolted altogether and wanted to elect a new leader who would take them back to Egypt.  They complained against the Lord and actually began thinking they had things better back in Egypt, even threatening to stone Joshua and Caleb to death.  At that point God had had enough and wanted to destroy them.  He said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? Will they never believe me, even after all the miraculous signs I have done among them? I will disown them and destroy them with a plague.”  (Numbers 14:11-12).  But Moses intervened and prayed for them.   Because of his pleading, the Lord relented in sending a plague but swore that none of the adults of that generation would enter the promised land.  Only their children would be able to.

          At this point some of you might be thinking, “Yes, but all of these examples are in the Old Testament.  God is different in the New Testament.  The New Testament is all about love!”  While it is the love of God that sent His Son to die for our sins, and forgives all who put their faith in his death and resurrection for their salvation, that does that mean that God turns a blind eye to unrepentant sin today.  For example, in the fifth chapter of Acts… “there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest.  Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!’  As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died. Everyone who heard about it was terrified. Then some young men got up, wrapped him in a sheet, and took him out and buried him.  About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  Peter asked her, ‘Was this the price you and your husband received for your land?’  ‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘that was the price.’  And Peter said, ‘How could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord like this? The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door, and they will carry you out, too.’  Instantly, she fell to the floor and died. When the young men came in and saw that she was dead, they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.” (vs. 1-10).

          And what of those that make a mockery of the Lord’s Supper?  The Apostle Paul warned the church in Corinth who were doing just that when he wrote, “So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup.  For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself.  That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.  But if we would examine ourselves, we would not be judged by God in this way.  Yet when we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned along with the world.”  (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).

          And anyone who has ever read the Book of Revelation knows that in the end times, severe judgments will fall upon the earth before Christ returns. 

          But also remember that God’s promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 still holds, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

          However, not all plagues, natural disasters, and the like are judgments.  The second possibility is that of testing.  There are times when God will test his people to see who truly loves him and whose faith will weather the storm.   And the Lord even says we should be joyful during these times!  The apostle James wrote, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”  (James 1:2-4).  James also urges us to pray for wisdom in such situations, saying, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”  (vs. 5-8).

          There is also a third possibility.   We live in a fallen world, one that has been corrupted by sin, and neither it nor our human bodies have yet been redeemed.  Our spirits have through Jesus Christ, but we still await the final redemption as the apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8 that “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.  For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.  Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.  For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.  We were given this hope when we were saved.  If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it.  But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.”  (vs. 18-25).   Indeed, our bodies are still subject to sickness, pain, sorrow, and death while we live in this world.  But we must always remember that God has promised an eternity free from all of these to those who love him.  (Revelation 21:4). 

          So is the COVID-19 virus a judgment sent from God, a time of testing for his people, or just the result of living in a fallen world?  Or perhaps a combination of all three?  No matter the answer, how we respond is important.  We must not allow our faith to waver or our love for him to fade, for God has promised us that he “causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”  (Romans 8:28).  So keep on believing, cling to God and His Word, pray without ceasing, love the Lord and love one another.  For if we do, our church will emerge renewed, strengthened, and confirmed in our faith and mission, so we will be able to shine our light even brighter in the darkness that surrounds us.  Amen.