The "Why" of COVID-19

Why is our world being ravaged by COVID-19? It's not a question that's easily answered. Lots of people are calling it a judgment from God, but what if the judgment isn't on those we might think?

Such a definition sounds decidedly negative, I know. But from a Biblical perspective, temporal judgments generally have positive elements in the form of lessons to be learned and grace to be received.

The Lesson

In Luke 13, Jesus explains that people were wrong to assume that certain tragedies - a bloodthirsty mass-murder and a deadly tower collapse - happened because the victims were more sinful than other members of the public. That, of course, doesn't mean that COVID-19 isn't a judgment; it does mean that it's wrong to suggest that those that die of it are succumbing because of their personal sin. On the contrary, COVID-19 will take lives indiscriminately. Murderers and rapists may well be taken, as may saints and philanthropists.

But the lesson of COVID-19 comes in the chorus of the passage. Twice, Jesus says to His listeners, 'unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.' The message of God to all of us through the Coronavirus is to repent of our sin and rebellion against God, and, in a 180 degree turn, to embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. He is calling us, both personally and corporately, to put Him first.

But, before I develop this further, it is a revealing exercise to examine why it is that we’re interested in the “why” question at all.

Science

From a purely scientific angle, the Telegraph recently suggested that this may have happened because of cross-contamination in a wet market in Wuhan which sold both live and dead animals (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/03/30/what-covid-19-coronavirus-pandemic-virus/). It's thought that the difficulties involved in maintaining suitable hygiene in such an environment allowed the virus to be transmitted from an animal (which had contracted it from a bat) to a human. And the rest is history in the making, or so we are led to believe. The Chinese government, it's only fair to say, deny this explanation and, for all we know, they may be right.

Philosophy

It's becoming increasingly evident, however, that, when a crisis brings much of the world into lock-down, people aren't satisfied with purely scientific answers. And that's not just because the science, in this case, is uncertain - even if we knew exactly where COVID-19 had come from and how it had developed, we would still be seeking deeper answers as to why this is happening. Scientific answers are helpful in such instances, but they aren't sufficient because man has metaphysical needs. In Biblical terms, God has set eternity in the heart of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and, as such, we have an intrinsic desire to know the unseen why as well as the observable how.

Herman Bavinck, in his Prolegomena, argued that

 the world of non-material things, the world of values, of good and evil, law and custom, religion and morality, of all that inspires love and hatred in our hearts, lifts us up and comforts us or crushes and grieves us, that whole magnificent invisible world is as much a reality to us as the "real world" that we perceive with our senses. Its impact on our lives and on the history of humankind is still much greater than that of the visible things about us.

As such, the whole scientific endeavour, pre-Enlightenment, accepted that natural science and philosophy had to go hand in hand. As spiritual beings, we bring our presuppositions, whether they be religious in the traditional sense or not, to the cold, hard evidence of science. We interpret the brute facts through the lens of our philosophy. Rationalists will deny this in theory, but not in practice.

This is all important simply because it explains why we are asking the why question. It helps us clarify why we look for deeper meaning at all, if the science is already giving us the facts. The reason is that we need a lens through which to view and analyse our facts, just as an eye needs a retina to see the world. That lens is our philosophy or our religion or our worldview.

Diverse Perspectives

This explains why people have reacted to the current crisis in the way that they have - with metaphysical questions as well as physical questions, with philosophy as well as science. It explains why, when people talk about why this is happening to us, they don't speak, particularly, of the negligence of the Chinese authorities (or any other authorities) but, rather, of a greater purpose in all of this, and a greater power behind it.

The fact that we are no longer a Christian country in any tangible sense - nor, arguably, have we been for over a century - is evidenced by the fact that the answers to the why question are generally vague and lacking in any substantial content. Bavinck observed that, though the mainstream scientific schools dismissed religion and spiritual knowledge out the front door - because, they argued, it was not empirical (observable) - it is 'again admitted through the back door, but now frequently in the form of superstition.'

As such, in our current crisis, superstitious answers are run of the mill. Some are citing 'Mother Earth' as the instigator of COVID-19, seeking revenge for our pollution of the world. Others base their theories on a westernised form of Karma, going about judging and avenging those who've done wrong. Those with a nominal Christian background are, while avoiding any uncomfortable details, suggesting that God is in control and, on a vague and ill-informed notion of providence, are confident that this means that all will be well and that no real harm will befall us. These things, we often hear, are sent to try us.

But who is trying us? Who is the God that some believe to be in control? Who is Mother Earth? Who or what is behind Karma? What basis do we have to say that everything will be fine in the end? By what law are we being judged? Tragically, many who are seeking deeper answers to our current crisis have precious little to base either their optimism or pessimism upon, because their philosophies are materially bankrupt. Their lack of content means they have no real answers to give.

'What saith the Scriptures?'

Unlike many other religions and worldviews, Christianity is a religion of content - sixty-six books full of it. Through men like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Malachi, Matthew, John, Paul and James, God is speaking into diverse historical and cultural contexts and is addressing varied issues and life-situations.

What does the Bible have to say about the outbreak of COVID-19? The Bible, of course, isn't updated every few minutes with the latest headlines, like BBC News. Its final book, chronologically, was probably penned at the end of the 1st century A.D. In one sense, then, the Bible doesn't mention the Coronavirus, but in another sense, by speaking into similar historical situations, it speaks into our own situation. The lessons learned are transferable and help us to answer our why questions.

Inevitably, there will be numerous and conflicting interpretations of the Biblical data in this regard. It is notoriously difficult - for both believer and non-believer - to approach the Bible without trying to make it say what we want it to say. As with any science, we bring our own background and worldview to the data at hand and use it as our lens. That is why some are shouting that this is the judgment that we all deserve and that the end is coming, while others appear to think that God is not the judgmental type.

Judgment in the Bible

Judgment is, perhaps unwittingly, the first explanation that the Bible-reading Christian mind thinks of in the face of worldwide catastrophe. It's, of course, not a popular subject but, regardless, from Genesis to Revelation, the theme of judgment is to the fore. The fact that God is, Himself, infinitely just requires it to be so. The judgment theme is brought to its consummation at the Last Judgment where

we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)

It's also beyond doubt, however, that God, at times, afflicts mankind with temporal judgments. The greatest the Bible records is the worldwide flood in the day of Noah. The reason given for it is that God

saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)

Similarly, but on a localised scale, Sodom was destroyed because 'their sin [was] very grievous.' (Genesis 18:20) Egyptian families lost their firstborn children because Pharaoh would not let Israel go; Joshua's army was defeated at Ai because Achan kept the spoil from Jericho; Judah was taken into Babylonian captivity because of sustained neglect of their covenant responsibilities before God. These are a small sample of God sending temporal judgments in the Old Testament.

Temporal judgments, however, are also prominent in the New Testament. In the Book of Acts, God smote Herod because, in his blasphemous pride, he 'gave not God the glory.' (Acts 12:23) Jesus' Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25) was, in part, fulfilled in the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. - a judgment upon Jewry for rejecting their Messiah. Paul warns the Church in Corinth against partaking of the Lord's Supper unworthily and, thereby, drinking judgment upon themselves. This is how he explains some of the illnesses and deaths in their congregation - as a judgment from God because of their sin. (1 Corinthians 11:29-32) When Christ addressed the Churches in Asia Minor in Revelation 2 and 3, some of the judgments that He threatened were, without doubt, temporal as well as eternal (e.g., Revelation 2:5, 16; 3:3, 10, 16).

The principle which is important to grasp is that sin is always judged and punished. That takes place, primarily, at the final judgment. However, the Biblical evidence shows that God's judgment sometimes protrudes into time. For Christians who have trusted their whole lives to Jesus Christ, their Saviour has stood in their place in the judgment and has borne their punishment on the cross. The fact that they will not be punished for their sin in eternity, however, is no guarantee that they won't be chastised for their sin or that of their Church, or caught up in the judgment of the world, in this life.

Is this a Judgment?

It is certainly possible, then, for God to send temporal judgments, even today - but are we right to suggest that this is one? COVID-19 certainly conforms to many of the norms of a judgment. It's hitting us where it hurts - socially, economically and physically. Many millions who won't get as much as a whiff of the virus itself will be devastated by its imminent impact on their finances, relationships and consciences.

But are we ripe for judgment? Do we deserve this? Arguably, the world is no more sinful today than it ever was. Certainly, there's nothing new under the sun. Some of today's sins may not have been practised a thousand years ago, but their seed was certainly present and probably manifested in other ways. Some argue, not without grounds, that even the golden days of Christianity in Scotland, whenever they were, weren't golden days at all but were marred by many sins that today's Church would describe as heinous.

What makes 21st century Britain more worthy of judgment than 17th century or 19th century Britain? In a sense, that's the wrong question. God may have judged these generations with temporal judgments either long-forgotten or condemned to the pages of unread history. Or He may, in His divine wisdom, have chosen to reserve their judgment until they broached the realms of eternity.

The right question, I would suggest, is, are we worthy of judgment? Are Scotland, the UK, and western society worthy that God's displeasure be displayed against us? Arguably, yes.

The World

I'm not going to go into a detailed list of modern society's sin - I think they are quite obvious to anyone who knows anything, not even about the Bible, but about historical Christian values. It is clear that God's Word and authority have been expelled from the public sphere and are, therefore, militated against in public policy, whether that be in our schools, health service, or courts of law. The outworking of this is best recognised and confessed before God by those responsible.

The Church

It's uncomfortable to realise, however, that most Biblical judgments are exacted upon the Church. If we are to be honest (Pandemics can be good for honesty), we who should have known better, who had Bibles in our hands, who had God's praise on our lips, must confess that we've sinned against the God we professed to serve. We have minored on the majors and, at times, have majored overly on the minors. We have tried (unsuccessfully) to attract the world by becoming virtually indistinct from it. We have loved as they loved and hated as they hated.

We have become lazy in our Church-going and sporadic at our prayer meetings. We have squabbled amongst ourselves, severed as we saw fit, and held grudges against brothers and sisters, sometimes for decades. Privately, we have forgotten about the reality of who God is and have neglected the place of prayer. We have explained away His holiness, normalised His grace, side-lined His law and practised only those parts of His Word which we saw fit to practice.

It would be unwise to be dogmatic on the judgment question. What we cannot doubt is that God has, for one reason or another (or probably for countless reasons), allowed this virus to spread. The Coronavirus is part of the 'purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.' (Ephesians 1:11)

If we do accept that COVID-19 is a judgment, however, perhaps it's, primarily, not a judgment upon the sins of the world but a chastisement for the Church, that she might be tested in the fire, that what comes through might do so as tried gold. (Zechariah 13:9) It's easy to blame what's happening on the world. It's not as easy to point the finger at ourselves and bear the responsibility for the devastation.

Summary

On Sunday, I heard a minister say that, at the Last Judgment, there will be no arm of mercy extended to those who have lived in defiant unbelief. In this judgment, however, God graciously extends to us an arm and calls us to repent, lest we perish. That invitation to repent goes out to ministers and lay-people, saints and sinners, to Churches and parliaments.

 If, through asking the "why" questions of COVID-19, we see God's mercy towards us in judging us now and not later; and if, consequently, we re-order our priorities and set Him up as King in our hearts, we will have learned the lesson that He is teaching us and will be eternally grateful for that lesson, sore though it was.

A seasoned Christian said to me a few days ago, 'as for me, I can't put the reason for this judgment past myself.' If we all took that approach, perhaps we would better learn the lessons that God is teaching us.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

 


News: YouTube Sermons Update

During the current suspension of Church services, the decision has been taken to upload two new sermons to YouTube every Lord's Day (see https://kinlochfc.org/news-online-sermons-and-prayer-meetings/). A further decision has been taken to share the preaching between Rev Paul Murray and Rev Iain Murdo Campbell. As well as making the most efficient use of resources, this will also ensure that all in Kinloch are served by the channel every week. We would encourage all, regardless of denominational affiliation, to make use of both services.

An invitation will also be extended to those who attend the Church of Scotland to join our Zoom based on-line prayer meetings on Thursday evenings at 7.30pm. For information regarding set-up, please follow the link above.


A Strange Day

Yesterday (Sunday 22nd March) was a strange day for Christians all over the country and much of the world. At a local level, apart from being closed for communion services in neighbouring parishes, it was, as far as I am aware, the first Lord's Day where there was no worship service held in Kinloch since the Church opened in 1881. There was a solemnity about the empty car park and the unlit Church building - a potent illustration of God's judgment. I hope to delve further into that in a future post.

For now, however, I want to consider another subject: why is it strange for a Christian not to be in Church on Sunday? Why does it bother us? Is Church really needful? You can, after all, be a Christian without going to Church. We have Bibles in our homes, good books on our shelves and sermons on our iPads. Indeed, I can think of some in our own district who are now sadly housebound and who haven't been out to Church in years and, yet, they are evidently Christians.

And, yet, though that be the case, there is an unease in the true Christian when he is unable to get to Church. Even those who are housebound feel this to an extent; they know a lack in their experience; a void which is very difficult, if not impossible, to fill. Why is this?

Obedience

I would argue that there are two particular reasons for it. First, we are very clearly commanded to gather together as believers. The author to the Hebrews said, 'let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.' (Hebrews 10:24-25) To assemble together as believers is a command and is, therefore, part of our obedience to God Himself. Jesus said, 'If you love me, keep my commandments.' Church-going is an expression of this love for Christ and His body, the Church. To purposely neglect Church services, therefore, is sinful. To have no Church to go to, as is our present situation, is not sinful, but it is certainly strange.

Family

But there is another reason why it is strange for a Christian not to go to Church, and that is the fact that humans are social beings - we yearn for company. God made us for companionship and that is why He called us to come together - for our own good. It was never good for man, or woman, to be alone. Isolation is sometimes necessary, but it is never natural. That is, primarily, why most people live in cities, towns and villages and not in isolation - not, simply, for the economic benefits but for the social benefits. Humans are also familial beings - we have a sense of belonging and are intimately tied to those who share our blood and our ancestry. By extension, we long for the company of those with whom we have common ground, who share our interests and our ambitions, our history and our purpose.

The Church is a family. This is an important concept to grasp in a society where the family unit has been denigrated and has, as a result, largely disintegrated. The Church has, in every generation, acted as a family structure. For some, it's the only real family that they have. The Psalmist could say, 'When my father and my mother forsake me, Then the LORD will take care of me.' (Psalm 27:10) When we lose our natural brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, the Church-family remains our family. It is an imperfect family, as is every family, because it is made up of sinners, but it is still precious and enormously important to the believer.

Adoption

It's important to realise that this isn't just a fuzzy, feel-good concept without any real substance. The Bible tells us that, if we believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, that God is our adoptive Father. The Westminster Divines, in writing the Shorter Catechism, described the benefits of Christianity as not just justification (being made right with God) and sanctification (being made holy before God), but also adoption (being made children of God).

This has great implications for the way that the Christian approaches God - he/she can now do so with boldness as well as reverence; indeed, he/she approaches God with a combination of both. But it also has implications for our attendance at Church services because, when we gather together to worship, we are gathering with others who have been adopted into God's family - we are meeting with those who are legally our brothers and sisters. In fact, according to Scripture, our family bonds aren't just legal, they are also organic - when we are 'born again,' God changes our nature by putting His Holy Spirit into us. Because He has done this in the life of every believer, every Christian has the same spiritual DNA. The result is that those who are your legal brothers and sisters in Christ through the judicial process of adoption are also your natural brothers and sisters in Christ because they are indwelt by the same Spirit of Christ.

Church

A Church service, then, is a family gathering. Here, spiritual brothers and sisters assemble to worship the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We may differ in many respects - in background, race, colour, wealth and privilege - but we are united in the one family, with all that that entails in terms of mutual love and privilege, by virtue of the fact that we are Christians.

As such, the Church has physically gathered in every generation. Old Testament believers went together to the temple. So, the Psalmist could say, 'I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.' (Psalm 122:1) Jesus, Himself, attended the synagogue which is, literally, the assembling together of people. The early Church 'continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.' (Acts 2:42) Fellowship, or togetherness, has ever been a central and much-loved part of Christianity.

I have met some who, for differing reasons, have missed family gatherings - weddings, anniversaries, birthdays etc. - and have been grieved by their absence. Their absence, I'm sure was also grieved by others. So it ought to be with Church. It is painful for us to be separated from the physical fellowship of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yesterday felt strange because it was strange. Indeed, it was an unnatural thing to be separated from the Lord's people on the Lord's Day. Some have felt this strangeness before, when locked in due to illness or some other factor. But, now, every true Christian whose Church has been compelled to shut its doors is in the same boat. If we did not sympathise with the housebound Christian before, we are learning that sympathy now, the hard way.

Some of us have, undoubtedly, leaned too heavily on Church services to prop up our Christianity, and not heavily enough on God Himself. As such, this trial - and a trial it is - will shatter some Christian professions which were no more than professions. God forbid that that would be true of us.

Our hope is that, as our props are taken away, we might taste the sweetness of greater reliance on the Saviour Himself. If, by God's grace, we come through the trial with our profession intact and our garments unstained, we will hopefully have learned by sore experience the preciousness of physical fellowship with God's people and will ensure that our Church attendance is no longer characterised by laxity as, perhaps, it has been hitherto.

Duty

It is important for us, however, to do our duty in the strange situation in which we find ourselves. Our physical Church services have been suspended, but the Church is still active and can never be suspended. Personally, we ought to be searching the Scriptures, listening to (or watching) and worshipfully participating in services online, pleading with God in prayer, and seeking to read God's providence and be students of it.

Corporately, we ought to keep in touch with one another through phone or other technologies and ensuring that we are encouraging one another, strengthening the weak hands and confirming the feeble knees. It is our duty to 'Bear one another's burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ.' (Galatians 6:2)

Finally, it is our duty to speak into a Christ-less world. People's worlds are crumbling around them and many are beginning to see the uncertainty and emptiness of all that they have believed in and relied on. That is not the case with the Christian. The foundation of God stands sure; He is our rock and He has not changed. We still have a hope. See, then, that you are bold in witnessing for Him and that you are 'ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you for a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.' (1 Peter 3:15) Our Church services have ceased for a time and that is strange, but the work of the Church goes on.


News: Online Sermons and Prayer Meetings

When we endure trials, it is important that we count our blessings and see the good in the midst of the bad. One of the blessings in the midst of the solemn closure of our Churches is that this has happened in 2020 and not in 1920 or even 1990. This is a blessing because, today, we have access to new technology which, although it can never replace our physical services, can help to lessen the blow of their absence. As a Kirk Session, we are looking to utilise that technology to bring people sermons in their homes and to enable us, as a congregation, to pray together.

Online Audio Sermons

The first thing we have done is put old sermons online using SoundCloud. The plan is to upload three sermons a week. They can be accessed through the following link: https://soundcloud.com/user-840266334

That link can also be accessed via the sermons page of this site.

Online Video Sermons

Secondly, we intend to upload newly recorded video sermons to YouTube which will become available each Lord's Day at the normal times of worship - 12 noon and 6pm. We strongly encourage you to tune in to these sermons while the Church doors are closed. They can be accessed through the following link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChGoIUwsugoPdp3LtQgWygA/videos

Again, this can also be accessed via the sermons page.

Online Prayer Meetings

Finally, we intend to hold online prayer meetings on Thursday evenings at 7.30pm through Zoom. This video conferencing technology will enable us to continue to pray together through this situation and give many some much needed contact. We encourage you to sign up through the following link: https://zoom.us/signup. If you are using a phone or tablet, type 'Zoom' into your app store and download the app as well. Once you launch the app, you need to log in with your account details. You do that by selecting zoom.us in the menu at the top of the screen and choosing log in. Once you've entered your log in details you're ready to start making contacts. Select 'contacts" at the top of the application and you'll notice a small + button towards the left of the app, click this button and select "add a contact". Once you've done that enter admin@kinlochfc.org as the contact you want and hit send. We'll take care of the rest. From then on you will automatically be added to meetings when they're held and will get a notification from the app when they start.

We are very mindful that these means are no replacement for the norm. However, we hope that they will be of great benefit to us while we are unable to continue as normal.