In the sometimes over-abundant discussion now taking place about the current Covid virus, one sometimes hears the assertion that God has sent Covid 19 as a judgment upon us for our sins to make us repent. What are we to make of this?
First of all, repentance is always a good idea. More than that, it is the usual lifestyle for Christians. Repentance is not something we just do once when we first become believers; it is something we always do as part of our walk with God. Every day we make an examination of conscience and repent of the sins we have committed during that day, confessing them to God and trusting in His mercy and forgiveness. Sometimes we make a thorough interior house-cleaning in the form of sacramental confession. But we are always striving to be repentant since, taught by the Lord’s Prayer, we realize that we every day need both our daily bread and the forgiveness of our daily trespasses.
We should do this whether or not we are sick with a virus or are in danger of such sickness. But—let’s be clear—we can only repent of the things we have actually done wrong. We sometimes talk about “national repentance” or repenting as a nation. That is not entirely misguided, but it can hide from us fact that repentance is always personal, and is always coupled with a determination to amend one’s life and not repeat the sin. I cannot repent (for example) of Canada’s sins against the unborn, for I did not sin against the unborn, and I cannot stop my country from performing abortions. I can denounce the sin, but I cannot repent of the sin, since one cannot repent of something which one has done not. So, one wonders about the notion that God sent the virus so that Christians will repent of their nation’s sins.
Of course it is possible that God has sent the Covid virus to afflict everyone so that the nation as a whole will turn back to God. But though this is possible, it is beyond demonstration.
God does send disasters upon the world as judgments for its sins. A deistic view of God denies such direct involvement in the earth. It imagines that God, having made the world, went on permanent sabbatical and now just sits back and watches the world He made, like a couch potato watching Netflix. But the Biblical view of God asserts that God is intimately involved in the affairs of the nations, that He judges one and rewards another. “Does evil befall a city unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6). God rules over the nations, lifting up and putting down, guiding everyone and working His will, bringing Israel out of Egypt, the Philistines out of Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir (Amos 9:7).
Yet the specific details of His workings are not revealed to us. We therefore cannot suppose that a tsunami means that those inundated were being judged for their sins, or that those suffering an earthquake were the targets of divine wrath for impenitent transgression. The Lord warned us against supposing that there was a one-to-one causal relationship connecting suffering and sin. In Luke 13:1-5, we see that certain people thought that the Galileans slaughtered by Pilate must have suffered this fate because of their sins. And the people of Jerusalem supposed that those killed when the tower of Siloam fell upon them suffered this disaster because they were worse than others. Our Lord contradicted such views, and said that those who suffered those disasters were no worse sinners than anyone else, so that one could not assert that all disasters were the result of particular sins. A particular disaster might be the result of a particular sin with a causal connection between sin and suffering, but in the absence of specific prophetic revelation, one cannot know. And prophets are not very plentiful—and are (may I opine) rarely found posting on Facebook.
We must therefore sit very lightly upon the causes of any particular disaster. The current crisis reminds us to repent of the sins we have committed, but this does not mean that our sins caused the crisis. And hopefully Christians would be repenting all the time regardless of such national disaster. We cannot know whether or not God has sent the Covid virus as a judgment. What we can know is that repentance is always timely, that godly obedience to secular authorities is always required, and that opportunities to help a needy neighbour will always find their reward. Let us not inquire into things beyond our reach. There is plenty for our hands to do already without such speculation. Let us not occupy ourselves with things too great and too marvellous for us (Psalm 131:1). Instead, let us get to work with calm and quiet souls.