It may be a cringe-worthy question, but people of faith tend to explore these queries when disaster strikes and the world is in upheaval. So with the global reach of the coronavirus, the question of whether the pandemic is “God’s judgment on a sinful and corrupt world” begs for some attention, and attention from one of the cooler heads in the Christian world.
Noted theologian and best-selling author Dr. Timothy Keller says the answer is nuanced. In other words, it’s both “Yes” and “No”.
According to the biblical narrative, there’s a brokenness in this world that’s existed since ancient times. Since the fall from Grace — the turning away from God in the Garden of Eden — all the bad stuff we encounter entered the world: disease, death, destruction, murder and a whole list of sins is the reality of the world we live in. But, says Keller, God is sovereign, which means he’s in control. And His greatest priority is our welfare. But disasters will happen.
“It’s just a way, I do think, for God to try to wake us up and to say, please make sure you’re right with me,” Keller explained. “Please think, think about, you know, where you are. So there’s a sense in which all these kinds of disasters are a judgment, but a judgment that’s not on the people who are suffering.”
Keller and his wife, Kathy, have written three small handbook guides: “On Birth,” “On Marriage” and “On Death.” These are events that give us the greatest joys in life and our deepest sorrows, he says. He explores more of the books’ contents on the Lighthouse Faith Podcast.
Keller says Jesus addressed the issue in the Bible, in the Gospel of Luke, about whether disasters are God’s judgment.
Jesus uses the example of a tower that had fallen and killed several people. He asks, “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Keller calls Jesus’ polemic here “a brilliant move”.
Jesus is telling us, “When people die in a disaster that does not mean because God is judging them. What He’s actually trying to do is show that they’re no worse than anybody else. … But what God is trying to do is trying to get our attention. And [that] these things do happen,” Keller says.
COVID-19 is the latest scourge to hit humanity, but there’s a pretty good chance it will not be the last. Medical scientists have in the past, and will now, use their God-given brains to help figure out a solution.
But the real question, Keller says, is not, “Is this God’s judgment?” But rather, “Is God to whom I look to and trust in when bad things happen?”