As the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in the United States surpasses 1 million, pastor J.D. Greear weighed in on the question of whether Christians should view the pandemic as evidence of a specific judgment from God.
In a recent episode of his “Ask Me Anything” podcast, Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, first acknowledged that, like other natural diseases and disasters, the coronavirus is a consequence of living in a fallen world.
Additionally, the pastor noted that in both the Old and New Testaments, Scripture clearly says that sometimes God uses disease or death as a specific punishment for sin —whether of individuals or societies as a whole. He referenced Acts 12:23, John 5:14, 1 Corinthians 11:30, and the entire book of Revelation.
“There are times when sickness and death is a specific judgment on sin,” he said. “But that is a level of interpretation about an event that the Bible does not encourage us to exercise in specific situations.”
“In fact, more often than not … [Jesus] is pointing people away from that conclusion,” he said. “He infrequently ties a sickness to something ... it’s not wise for us to say, ‘This is happening because of this.”
Greear said that in the Old Testament, Job's friends blamed his extraordinary suffering as the punishment of God for sin. However, God called Job’s friends wicked for saying his suffering was judgment, even calling them stupid for doing so.
“It’s not for me to know,” he said. “I think this is especially problematic to do right now with the coronavirus. Perhaps there are some situations out there where God is individually giving a specific punishment, but I think in general this is a call to the whole world to wake up.”
“We see now that there are some communities in our own country that are suffering more, and perhaps that’s because of unjust situations they’ve been put in,” Greear continued. “So to turn around and say, ‘You’re suffering more because of your sins,' when it’s actually because of the sins of others that they’re suffering, that would seem especially grievous.”
Still, the pastor said that when he is sick or suffering, the first question he asks is, “Is God trying to get my attention about something?”
“I do believe that if there is something, like a good Heavenly Father, God will let me know quickly,” he said. “If He doesn’t reveal anything, then I assume it’s suffering like Job was suffering.”
Greear concluded by citing Luke 13 where a tower falls and kills 18 people. Somebody asks Jesus, “Was this because these 18 people were more wicked than the rest?” Jesus says no, but, “…unless you repent, you will all perish.”
“You need to be asking what the implications are for you,” he stressed. “What is God trying to say to me? He’s using this, and He’s using it to say sin is serious, and you’ve got to wake up to the severity of sin and the urgency of salvation.”
More than 1 million cases of coronavirus have been reported in the U.S., and more than 30 million Americans have filed initial unemployment claims since mid-March, according to the Labor Department.
In recent weeks, a number of prominent pastors and Christian leaders have weighed in on what God is saying to the world amid the pandemic.
“God’s message to the world during times like this always is, ‘You’re not really in charge,” Tim Keller, the retired pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, told The Christian Post. “You may think you are going to get ready for the next one, but you never will. The world isn’t under your control; it’s under my control. You need to turn to me. You are not sufficient to run your own life. You need my wisdom and you need my help.’”
“In every disaster, whether it’s 9/11 or COVID-19, God is saying to people, ‘Eventually, I’m going to put an end to all of this. But for the time being, this world is broken, and every time you think you don’t need me and that you can get on top of it, something like this will come along to remind you that, no, you do need me,’” he continued.
Prominent pastor and televangelist David Jeremiah reiterated that God might be using COVID-19 to remind people of their reliance on Him.
He told CP: “We are a great country, there's no question about it. We have the greatest economy in the history of the world. We are a nation of self-made people, according to them. If we’re not careful, we can begin to think we are the master of our own souls, in charge of our own fate.”
God, he said, “sometimes just reaches down to remind us, ‘You think you've got this thing under control, but I can take a germ you can’t even see and bring it to your knees.’”