How should Christians respond to the COVID-19 pandemic? Some feel called, during a crisis like the one we’re in, to explain what’s happening. Why did God allow this? Others say, “This is a sign that Jesus is coming soon.” Still others are quick to point out that “we have turned our back on God, and He is punishing us for our sins.”
In times of disaster, Christians have often jumped to conclusions and speculated about the reason why a current crisis in the world is taking place. What might God be doing or saying in all this, and who is at fault for these great and terrible events? Is this pandemic God’s judgment against us? A punishment? A warning? A sign?
One could argue that this line of reasoning has a biblical precedent. Prophets from Moses to Malachi point to sin and the need for repentance as reasons behind various disasters. Much of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry involved his relentless prophesying of judgement, which was designed to lead the people of Judah to repentance.
In most of the ancient world, earthquakes, volcanoes, fires, plagues were associated with angry gods. And when we study the book of Job, we are cautioned not to attribute to God every calamity. We are warned not to blame the sins of people for the evils that come upon the world. Sometimes bad things happen because this planet is engaged in a cosmic conflict between good and evil.
It's tempting for Christians to spend most of their time speculating as to why this is happening, and trying to provide people around them with answers to such questions. Perhaps Christians should focus less on why this is happening, and more on what can be done to help those who are suffering.
When the disciples asked Jesus about a man who was born blind, their question was, “Rabi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). In hindsight, we all know they were asking the wrong question. Jesus’ answer seems to discourage questioning along these lines. Instead of addressing the why, He healed the man.
When the disciples in Antioch learned of “a great famine throughout all the world,” there is no indication that they began preaching that God’s judgments were coming upon the world. No looking round at the civic authorities in Syria, or rulers of the Roman Empire, to see who was mismanaging resources. Instead, we read that they sent relief to Judea. Each disciple gave “according to his ability” (Acts 11:27-30). Rather than a theological response, the early Christians had a pragmatic response.
In the first centuries of our era, when serious sickness would strike a town or city, those who were able fled for the hills. Jesus’ followers would stay and nurse people, often the very ones that persecuted them. They would often catch the disease and die. This was a powerful witness that would often lead many to accept Jesus.
Much of what we take for granted in social attitudes today was Christian innovation 2,000 years ago. Medicine and education were expensive, and the poor just had to suffer without. Society’s privileged elite did not feel like it was their duty to care for them. Jesus’ followers served in these areas unselfishly.
Now please don’t misunderstand me. I still believe that as Seventh-day Adventists, our unique calling is to tell the world the truth about God. We are still called to public proclamation of our special message. But in a crisis like the one we’re in, what better way to show the character of God to the world around us than to serve people’s felt needs.