Perhaps you have seen this or something similar as you are scrolling through social media.
The picture is using two verses (2 Chron. 7:13-14) to suggest that God has sent COVID-19 on us as a plague. The implication is that we cannot remove this plague except through some kind of repentance. I know that on the internet such pictures pass for solid Bible study, but I find three major objections to this use of of the Bible. The first reason such posts are poor theology is that it pits us against God, and science against theology in an unnatural way. If God has truly sent this plague, then there is nothing we can do to prevent it or minimize it. And if we can control the outbreak are we then stronger than God or violating God’s will? In other words if God sent the COVID-19 virus we should not be able to control it with our technology, since God is superior to us. And if we do slow the virus through natural methods, we are either showing ourselves superior to God or proving we are in rebellion against God. In other words if God sent this plague we are like Egypt’s magicians (Exodus 7ff) and our science is proving stronger than God. This is a problem.
It is easy to fall into that knee-jerk reaction of blaming/crediting God for natural disasters like pandemic or hurricanes. I think this response is so easy because it is the easiest answer to the question, “Why didn’t God prevent this from happening?” When we are confronted with death and destruction on a massive scale it is natural to ask why it seems that God is absent. The Christian response is, “God is not absent, God is working in our world”; and so we are left with Epicurus’ dilemma, “can god be good and all powerful and not protect people.” The result God is good and all powerful therefore this plague is good and God caused it. I will pick this up below, but let’s return to my objections.
Second, when the Bible presents a picture of God causing plague (i.e. 2 Samuel 24) God then raises up a prophet to address the leader and explain the situation and solution. If God truly caused such a plague where is the prophet speaking in the ear of global leaders the problem and solution. Yes we can all think of areas where American and global society has fallen short of God’s ideal, but what has suddenly changed for God to call down plague? And where is the prophet calling us to repentance? Lacking these important elements it is wrong to say God caused the plague.
Third, reading the entire section of 2 Chronicles we come across these verses
“If there is famine in the land, if there is plague, blight, mildew, locust, or caterpillar; if their enemies besiege them in any of the settlements of the lands; whatever suffering, whatever sickness there is; whatever prayer, whatever plea from any individual or from all your people Israel, all knowing their own suffering and their own sorrows so that they stretch out their hands toward this house; may you hear from heaven, your dwelling place, forgive, and render to all whose heart you know, according to all their ways, for only you know the human heart. Thus may they fear you and walk in your ways all the days that they live in the land that you gave to our ancestors." 2 Chronicles 6:28-31
Within the larger context of Solomon’s prayer we see that Solomon wants God to hear the people when they suffer for any reason and turn to God. in 1:13-14 God is shown as the active cause but this is due to God’s authority over the earth. In more modern ways of thinking we would use the word allow, as in “when I allow the heavens to be shut up…”. God is not causing plague, rather, God allows plague as part of the natural system which is distorted by human sin and corruption.
My response to this way of thinking is to point out it overlooks one key element of the Bible. God created humanity to help in cultivating and maintaining the world. This means God created us to help bring good out of the world, including ending and preventing natural disasters like plague. In other words it is much more true to say this plague was caused because humanity has invested far more time and resources into luxuriant living and war than into preventing epidemics like we now face. To answer the question, “why didn’t God stop this plague?” I respond because God is committed to working with us and through us, and not against us; and stopping such plagues actually works against us. God would be artificially preventing the consequences of our bad decisions. God has decided for good or ill to allow humanity some freedom in this world and must allow our decisions to reach fruition.
We have made it a higher priority to construct state-of-the-art entertainment facilities than to worry about the next natural disaster. We have turned a blind eye toward the health and well-being of the poor and marginalized and this is the result. God has not punished our sin by sending disaster, rather impact of our decisions is that we are not prepared to stop such naturally occurring dangers. We have put so much effort into pleasure that we have failed to, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28). COVID-19 is not a plague from God it is a result of humanity’s drive toward selfishness.
And yet, there is one saving grace to the spreading of 2 Chronicles 7:13-14. God will provide healing. If we repent– look at the ways we have failed to live out God’s plan for us– then God will provide healing. This does not mean God will magically end COVID-19; rather if we begin to address the deficiencies in society which led to this state, God will work with us to heal the wounds in society. Healing is far more than ridding us of the disease, healing is removing the wounds caused by the disease, the hatred, bitterness, and animosity caused by the current situation. Let us repent, and begin caring for creation and human society as God would care for these and begin to see the healing God wants to provide.