In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, in the 1980s and ’90s, my brothers and sisters on the “religious right” were screaming about how the disease was God’s judgment on the United States for its lack of faith, and abandonment of the principles that “made our country great.”
Now we have the COVID-19 pandemic. At this writing, more people have died because of coronavirus in the United States than Americans who died in the Vietnam war; more than all the civilians killed in the United Kingdom during the entire Second World War; all this in seven weeks, not eight or nine years. Yet, I’ve not heard anyone suggest that this plague is God’s “judgment.”
Maybe it’s because the deaths are not concentrated among people we don’t like (or understand).
So often we take Jesus’ and the Bible’s pronouncements as predictions rather than simple observations of reality. What is descriptive is not necessarily prescriptive. Too often (as Luther opined) we perceive Law as Gospel and Gospel as Law.
Maybe this plague is not a “judgment”, but rather a “dope slap.”
“I do not wish ill on any of the people I have made,” says the Lord; but, “the Lord chastises those He loves.” Every decent parent knows this. What the kids perceive as “punishments” are really our attempt to emphasize important lessons…though no one suggests that the consequences of actions are maliciously calculated. Our Father grieves every death.
As we have stayed home and practiced physical distancing, the amount of nitrogen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has declined. Our grandchildren can breath a year or two longer. “Do I have your attention?” says the Lord.
My wearing a mask and keeping some physical distance protects you, not me. Your wearing a mask protects me, and those who live near me. We are responsible for each other’s health. “Do I have your attention?” says the Lord.
However long this lasts (shorter rather than longer we pray), we may get through it together. I keep thinking about my parents, the “greatest generation” (the Great Depression and WWII). Despite political differences, we pulled in the same direction. We were all hoping, praying, working, doing what it took for a good outcome for us all.
That is God’s will: The best outcome for us all.
Pastor Doug Campbell
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, retired