NOTE: This is the announcement I made on my Facebook page just after posting this article. I think it is important to read before reading the article itself. Here it is: “For the past two weeks, I have been working on an article that I believe God put on my heart. It delves deeply into the question of where God is in the midst of our current, ever-increasing health plague. The article is not a short and easy read, but rather a somewhat lengthy and complex one. It could not be otherwise, given the gravity and complexity of the topic. Therefore, unless you are willing to pay the price of reading it carefully and prayerfully, please don’t even start. I don’t want to be misunderstood and/or misquoted. But I do urge you to read it with those parameters in mind. Thank you.”
No doubt this question is being asked by millions of people in our world at this very moment. When calamity strikes, we humans want answers. Some aim their pained questions toward their governmental authorities. “Why hasn’t the government done more?” Why didn’t the government act more decisively much sooner?” “Why isn’t the government doing more right now?” These are common questions and probably relevant questions, but I can’t answer any of them. I am addressing a much bigger and more important question in this article.
Is the Coronavirus COVID-19 a judgment of God or not? Many similar questions are being directed toward him, in the hearts if not outwardly, and most of us with a Christian orientation are definitely asking them. Some of our questions are asked in a way that calls God into question. “Why doesn’t God stop this awful pandemic when we pray?” “Why would God allow this kind of suffering to go on when he could stop it?” “Where is God in this pandemic?”
God’s Nature and Human Nature
None of these questions have simple answers. God is in this plague with us in more ways than we imagine. Those who belong to his family in Christ can rest assured that we have not been forgotten and God wants us to cast our burdens on him (1 Peter 5:7). Those who are not yet in his spiritual family are still loved by him deeply and he wants them to seek a relationship with him through Christ. At times like these, a good starting place is to consider the nature of God and the nature of human beings. God is good, loving, merciful, forgiving, just, powerful and many other things. Does he gain any pleasure in the suffering of his creation? No, none at all. Then why does he allow it? That is the age-old question, is it not?
After the calamity of September 11, 2001, commonly referred to as 9/11, a Boston church college student at Suffolk University reported that one of his professors made this statement: “This proves that God doesn’t exist.” The professor called attention to an age-old dilemma, which is stated in some way similar to this by atheists: “If there is a loving, all powerful God, he wouldn’t allow such things to happen. So, if he exists, he is either not loving or not all powerful. Therefore, the best case is that he simply does not exist.”
Well, God does exist, a topic we will deal with later in the article when examining a biblical text in some detail. And yes, he is all powerful and all loving at the same time. In his power, he created the universe and all that is in it, with mankind being the highest order of that creation. When he created humans, he gave them a gift having extraordinary potential – potential for good and potential for bad. That gift, of course, was the freedom of choice. The choices we can make may be good or bad. The choices made by terrorists on 9/11 were obviously horrendously bad ones. But for God to block choices like those would be to reduce us to robots and that he will not do. He created us to have fellowship with him in both time and eternity, and such fellowship must be based on choice. Otherwise it is not love.
Thus, we see that although God’s nature is righteous in every way, man’s nature includes the ability to choose to be like God or like Satan. Sadly, human nature is always going to tend strongly toward the negative unless we choose to seek God and imitate him. Those who make that choice will be blessed and those who don’t will fail to be blessed. Those are the basic ground rules involved in what it means to be human. God loves us and wants us to be blessed, but we cast the deciding vote in the matter.
Wait a Minute!
You may be saying “Wait a minute!” about now. What does our human freedom of choice have to do with a pandemic that is infecting hundreds of thousands of people and killing thousands as of today (March 29, 2020) – and spreading exponentially at this very moment? Perhaps not much, although refusals to make good choices like obeying “shelter in place” directives could be noted. The bigger picture of how natural calamity and human choice may be related is a complex topic, but the foundation must be laid regarding the nature of God and the nature of humans.
God created the world as a preparation for an eternity with him, and cause and effect are a part of our world. If there were no cause and effect operating in the physical world, it would be difficult to understand its operation in the spiritual world. At this point, we could address how we have damaged our environment to the extent that natural calamities are much more likely, but we will save that discussion for another day.
Where is God in All This?
Let’s return to our question about where God is in all that we are experiencing right now. It is vital that we understand God’s place in this world and what occurs in it. In the broad sense, everything that happens does so with God’s knowledge and involvement. That involvement may take one of two forms: the direct or the indirect. Stated another way, he either causes something to happen or he allows it to happen. Nothing occurs without his permission, even the death of a little bird (Matthew 10:29). Further, God has both an ideal will and an allowed will. His ideal will is for us to seek him but his allowed will gives us the option of doing the very opposite.
Two passages in the Old Testament give us some insight into these two “wills” of God and how they work together. King David had a desire to number his fighting men, which was directly against the (ideal) will of God. In fact, David’s sin resulted in a plague that killed 70,000 Israelites. The motivation for his decision was attributed to both God and Satan. Read the following passages:
2 Samuel 24:1
Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”
1 Chronicles 21:1
Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.
Of course, those who reject the inspiration of the Bible try to discredit it in any way possible. Pointing out assumed contradictions is one of their favorite approaches, and this example is understandably a primary one they use. What do we Bible believers do with these two verses? Easy answer (at least for me) – Satan was the primary promoter of the decision and God allowed him to do it. In that sense, God is said to have done it because he is in control of the universe through both his direct agency and indirect agency. This particular example is one of the best showing the difference between ideal will and allowed will. His ideal will was that David not number the people; his allowed will was that he number them.
Here are another couple of passages from the Old Testament that make the same point.
I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.
Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? 38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?
We may find this concept confusing and maybe even distasteful, but we actually shouldn’t. The fact that God is ultimately in control of everything helps us to understand and accept passages like this one: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Reading the remainder of Romans 8 adds a great deal to the concept expressed in verse 28. God can not only use the bad things in his overall plan for humanity but can use them to bless his people spiritually.
Naturalistic Explanations Available
Whether God is directly causing the present health challenge or simply allowing it is honestly a matter of conjecture. I don’t pretend to know the answer. God gives us evidence, but not in an overwhelming way that all but forces us to a conclusion. He insists that our positive responses to him remain in the faith realm. For example, the creation itself can be explained in a totally naturalistic way (without a Creator). As ludicrous as that actually is, many very intelligent people, including some scientists, accept it as fact.
However, human reason alone, in looking at the creation, should come to another conclusion – one that has God in the center of it. That is the precise argument found in Romans 1, which we will examine further later. The Psalmist had it right when he wrote: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” In Psalm 19, the first six verses describe God’s general revelation through creation and the last eight verses describe his special revelation, Scripture. Thus, while God reveals himself and his spiritual truths, he does not do it in a way that overwhelms and forces conclusions.
And why is that important? It helps us weigh more carefully explanations that are simply naturalistic. They may be absolutely valid; possibly valid; or absolutely invalid. Sometimes the available evidence could be interpreted one way or the other, or possibly both ways in combination. As it relates to pandemics, human history is replete with them. I have a web page open as I write this, showing thirteen such pandemics that killed at least a million people, dating back to the Second Century AD. The greatest killer was the Black Death Bubonic Plague, dating between 1347 and 1351, which killed 200 million people (nearly half of Europe’s population). In the last century (the 1900’s), five pandemics are listed, with two of them being in the top five of the most deadly on record: the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919, killing 40-50 million, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which began around 1981 and continues, killing 25-35 million thus far. In our present century, this current Coronavirus outbreak is one of five pandemics listed.
So what is the bottom line of these facts and figures? Only that such health plagues infecting most of the world geographically have occurred throughout recorded history and may or may not be linked to a direct judgment of God. Only he knows. Even if they are not, surely God wants us to use all such calamities to motivate us to examine ourselves spiritually and to serve our fellow humans in their suffering. Don’t you expect that he wants us to take a much closer look at our morality and our materialism right now? Our early brothers and sisters in the third century were known for loving each other and serving those affected by a destructive plague in their day. Non-believers did the exact opposite. We currently need to heed the example of those early disciples. It is the way of Jesus.
Not Done Yet
This article could have ended with that last sentence. But we are not done with this serious subject just yet. How this present virus may relate to a direct judgment of God needs more examination. Here is what we can know for sure. God hates sin and God punishes sin. As Peter put it, God is very patient in his desire that people come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Thus, we cannot know exactly when that patience is going to reach its limit and bring about Divine judgment. That being said, one particular passage in the New Testament gives us very strong markers about when a nation is going to be severely punished by God. That passage invites a very close look and a very serious examination. Here is the opening verse of it:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
The wrath of God – what a beginning! Most people disdain any consideration of God’s wrath, including many professed Christians. However, the Bible is full of it, from Genesis to Revelation. God’s love is perfect, but so is his justice. At least five types of his wrath can be identified in Scripture.
Wrath in Five Forms
First, we have eternal wrath, the consequences of ending up in hell. The scariest part of this type is that most people on planet earth are going to experience it after they die. Matthew 7:13-14 could not be clearer in describing the “few” who find the narrow road leading to life and the “many” who follow the broad road leading to destruction. I’m sure Jesus must have spoken these words with a very heavy heart, but he said more about hell than the rest of the Bible combined.
Second, we have eschatological (end-time) wrath, that associated with the second coming of Jesus and the end of the world as we now know it. The Book of Revelation provides the most detail about this wrath, and although I thoroughly reject most popular interpretations of Revelation, we can all agree that God’s wrath is in the middle of whatever transpires. In any case, severe judgments come against the earth’s inhabitants in the end-time.
Third, we have consequential wrath, the cause and effect nature of life itself. We reap what we sow in the spiritual and behavioral realms. As creatures of choice, good choices bring good results and bad choices bring bad results. The plan of Satan is to keep us looking at short-term benefits rather than long-term ones. He works very much like our modern credit system – buy now and pay later. His vote is for us to sin now and pay later. God’s vote is for us to live in a way that ensures long-term benefits, so it is pay upfront and reap the rewards later.
Fourth, we have cataclysmic wrath, which includes both natural disasters and man-made ones. The calamitous events of 9/11 fall into this category as does COVID-19. Sin most likely has some relationship to all of it but figuring out exactly how is to entertain a question with an uncertain answer. After looking deeper into Romans 1, you may well end up believing that there is a connection. I’m inclined to think so myself, but as I said, the answer to how cataclysms relate to God’s direct judgment is uncertain.
Fifth, we have the wrath of abandonment, a wrath described in the remainder of Romans 1 following verse 18. God will abandon an individual, a group of individuals or a nation. The Old Testament warns those in living then that such will be the case unless repentance occurs and then describes multiple times when the warning is not heeded and judgment comes. Both the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah were eventually taken into captivity. The level of pain and suffering accompanying both events was almost unbelievable.
God’s Promise of Abandonment
Many examples of abandonment can be found in the Bible. If you want to study those examples further, look at Judges 10:11-14, Judges 16:18-21; Hosea 4:17-19 and Matthew 15:14. Without question, the most detailed treatment of this topic in the entire Bible is likely Proverbs 1:23-33. Read it carefully.
Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings. 24 But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, 25 since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke, 26 I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you – 27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. 28 Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, 29 since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD. 30 Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, 31 they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. 32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; 33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.
When I read this passage and others like it, I think back to the time of the great flood and Noah’s ark. I can imagine people screaming and begging to be let into the ark as the flood waters rose. I can picture mothers holding up their babies and small children, pleading with Noah to at least save the little ones. But it was all to no avail, for they had sinned away the day of grace. God had abandoned them to the consequences of their own sinful choices.
The Causes of Abandonment
Romans 1 describes the sad condition of the Gentile nations in the first century and says three times that he had given them over, or abandoned them. They had passed the point of no return and without genuine repentance, they would fall without remedy as individuals and as nations. None of the nations from that era remain. All have fallen and lie dead in the pages of history. The same is going to be true of every nation in existence today, including America. The question is not “if” – it is only “when.” We are clearly at or very near the point at which God abandons a nation, which will become obvious as we look at the text more closely. As a young preacher many years ago, I recall older preachers saying that if God didn’t punish America, he would owe an apology to Sodom and Gomorrah. They could not have imagined those decades ago how far our society has fallen, along with the multiplicity of nations we have influenced to do the same.
Romans 1:19-20 make it clear that the existence of God is unmistakably shown through his creation. Only an idiot could believe that all that we see and are came about without a Creator. One of the most famous atheists of the last century, Anthony G.N. Flew (whom I once heard in debate with one of my graduate school professors), finally renounced his atheism after studying DNA structure in all of its intricacies. As multitudes have realized, something this complex could never have appeared without due cause and that Cause was God. The mathematical probabilities rule out any other possibilities.
Let’s look at the progression of sin into its final stages. Paul said three times that God gave the Gentiles over. Read carefully what the final stages were that brought about this abandonment.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Sinful desires led to sexual impurity (moral uncleanness) and to the degrading of their bodies with one another. The word for impurity is often used to denote lust and unchecked lust leads to physical actions. The Bible is clear about how sex is to be viewed and practiced. It is to be enjoyed only in a marriage relationship between a man and a woman. Premarital sex or extramarital sex is taught against in both the Old Testament and the New. But that is not what Paul witnessed in the first century.
Here is a further description of what he saw, in Ephesians 4:19: “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.” Peter wrote something quite similar in 2 Peter 2:14: “With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed – an accursed brood!” Note in both passages the connection between the lack of morality and the presence of materialism. More must be said about this oft-mentioned connection as we proceed.
Can anyone doubt that we live in a pornographic age? Adult film stars are treated with the same respect by entertainment media as are other entertainers. The statistics of the pornographic world are almost unbelievable. The age at which boys and girls first start looking at porn, the percentages of those in all age groups who indulge in it, and most shockingly, the percentages of professed Christians who frequent pornographic sites – all nearly unbelievable. I started looking up stats and just shut down the search engine. They are sickening. In addition, advertisements are filled with suggestive photos of women. If you use the internet, you cannot escape them. The only alternative is to avoid looking at those sidebars and popups, a near impossibility. Pornography alone should be enough to bring about the judgment of Almighty God!
And then we have the sexual revolution in its mature stages. That revolution began in the 1960s and has blossomed in almost every conceivable way. I remember the first time a couple came to me who were living together and asked me to perform their wedding. They were not in our church, in case you were wondering. They just saw our church building and came in with their request. I agreed to do the wedding on the condition that they would study the Bible with me. They did, but to no avail. In the course of the study, I asked what their parents thought about them living together without being married. They said that both sets of parents were fine with it, but were also happy to see them get married.
I remember watching a talk show in the airport while I was waiting for a flight some decades ago. The show had a live audience, as most such shows do. One of the persons being interviewed said that they believed that sex outside marriage was wrong, prompting the audience to hoot and holler for a long time. Since I didn’t then or now make a practice of watching such shows, that reaction was shocking to me. A person today will be mocked by most if they say they plan to wait for sex until married (think Tim Tebow). But dare they express a belief that premarital sex is actually sinful, they can count on getting an earful.
I know that I am entering politically incorrect territory here. I also know that I am entering very sensitive territory for some of my brothers and sisters in Christ, for two reasons. One, we heterosexual folks have friends inside and outside the church who are homosexually oriented and we don’t want to be offensive. I understand. I’m in that same boat with you. To make it perfectly clear, I am not addressing same sex attraction, but same sex actions. I have the utmost respect, love and appreciation for those like Guy Hammond (Strength in Weakness Ministries) who live righteously with same sex attraction. They don’t know how they got that attraction and wish they didn’t have it. I feel for them as they battle in a way that I can’t fully understand. I know about my temptations to lust, but the stigmas and shame attached to their desires are in another category altogether.
What I do know is that the Bible condemns same sex actions. Homosexuality is sin and in the Romans text, seems to be a step deeper into the sin pit. This sin is called shameful and unnatural, ushering in what Paul called the “due penalty for their error.” Is that talking about HIV/AIDS, many people wonder? In spite of the fact that it began forty years ago and is still growing, it is already the fifth largest pandemic in history, having claimed upwards of 35 million lives. The homosexual roots and spread of this awful disease are well documented, although it can be contracted in other ways.
Those with same sex attraction have to control their actions if they want to please God, and many such as Guy are able to redirect their desires enough to enjoy successful marriages. They are my heroes. As I said earlier, they didn’t ask to be “gay,” as popular terminology styles it. But think about this: those who have sexual attractions toward children didn’t ask for their orientation either. Some with that malady are also avoiding ungodly sexual actions, although most perhaps aren’t. It just seems odd to me that we can show disgust and disdain toward those battling these desires and feel justified in doing so, and yet show compassion toward those with homosexual attractions.
In either case, the actions are sinful and pedophilia is also unlawful. Homosexual practices were for many years also unlawful in America, and still are in some countries. My point is that while unnatural desires put into practice are unquestionably sinful, the ones who are abstaining from actions because of their spiritual convictions need love too. The homosexual community appealed for toleration for decades and once they received it, they appeal for acceptance and finally, for approval and agreement. Those are different things. Christians should offer both toleration and love, toleration because we live in a country that grants the right of homosexual activity, and love because we are Christians. I cannot offer approval or agreement because God doesn’t, although he loves and longs for repentance on their parts. So do I and surely, so do you.
Every Kind of Wickedness
Sin is spiritual cancer. It does not lie dormant but rather grows and picks up speed as depravity increases. Let me drop in those last five verses again here:
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Most of these sins prompted by depraved minds (where logical thinking no longer functions) are self-explanatory. The Greek term translated in verse 31 as “no love” is a word meaning without family love, one of the most natural types of love imaginable. The nature of this sin provides some understanding of how millions and millions of abortions have been performed in recent years, a practice approved by a majority and viewed as murder by a minority (which includes me).
Another term is mentioned that we understand as far as its basic definition is concerned, but we have little understanding of the magnitude of this sin in God’s sight. That term is greed. We have already noted its inclusion along with sexual sins in Ephesians 4:19 and 2 Peter 2:14. One of the most striking usages of the word is found in 1 Corinthians 5 where Paul is commanding the church to withdraw fellowship from an immoral person. Note what he includes in the sin list requiring church discipline. “But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people” (1 Corinthians 5:11).
In our materialistic culture, we have become all but blind to this sin. We have ignored it, rationalized it and excused it, but rest assured that God has not. I have no doubts that our present health crisis has as one of its primary Divine purposes to force us to examine our materialistic greed. If you think I am overstating the magnitude of this sin, along with sexual immorality of all types, just listen to Jesus on the topic in a passage specifically dealing with our view and use of money. His words were directed toward respected religious leaders of that day.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” 14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.
Hello America! What are our two greatest concerns right now in our crisis? Health to the point of potential loss of life, and loss of money – the economy. I promise to write a separate article soon and post it on my website. Its title will be, “Greed and Its Root of Materialism.” Watch for it!
Verse 32 sheds some light on several important points. One, people know inherently the basic morality expected by God. Romans 2 describes this knowledge as a law of conscience. Yes, one’s conscience can be hardened by repeatedly refusing to heed it, but unless you are a psychopath, it is never disengaged entirely. In the deepest recesses of our hearts, we know something of our Creator’s expectations in the realm of basic morality.
Two, these sins deserve spiritual death. We sense that reality at a deep level. The fear of death is linked to this sense more than to simply a fear of the unknown. We somehow feel the realness of a Reckoning Day when we will meet God as the Judge of all mankind. This explains why Paul could in only a single sermon, speaking to idolaters who had no recognizable knowledge of the true God, yet speak of the Judgment Day (Acts 17:31). Humans instinctively know somewhere in the recesses of their soul that they will face their Creator. They were created in his likeness and that instinctiveness is evidently built-in to their very nature.
Three, since in their depravity they continue to violate their consciences, they cheer on others doing the same. They want to believe that there will be safety in numbers. If “everyone is doing it,” surely they won’t be held accountable. The people of Noah’s day might well shed some light on that one. The majority is always wrong when it comes to following God’s righteousness and might (numbers) doesn’t make right. So, in looking at this principle, is America fully here? One example should suffice to provide the answer.
Bill Clinton was impeached while serving as our president back in December of 1998. Despite the fact that he was only the second President in U.S. history to be impeached by the House of Representatives, President Bill Clinton received a 73% job approval rating from the American public after his impeachment. This was the highest rating of his administration, and one of the higher job approval ratings given any president since the mid-1960s. He was clearly guilty of sexual immorality in the White House itself, using what the MeToo Movement would now call his power of position and authority to take advantage of a young woman. While sincere Christians were shocked and outraged, most Americans were anything but. Why? The answer is in Romans 1:32.
Scientific Evidence for the Fall of Nations
When I was a young minister, I heard two striking statements a number of times that stayed in my memory banks. One I’ve already mentioned, that if God doesn’t punish America, he will owe an apology to Sodom and Gomorrah. We will classify that one under the heading of preacher talk for now. The second statement was about a very in-depth study done by a scientist who studied ancient civilizations. I remembered his name and his bottom-line conclusions as they related to sexual immorality. Through the years, I tried to research that study but for whatever reason, couldn’t locate it. Recently, a post on Facebook helped me to find it. Essentially, the findings tracked almost exactly what a Bible student would expect.
The study was entitled “Sex and Culture,” written after a lifetime of research by Oxford social anthropologist J.D. Unwin. The 600+ page book is, in Unwin’s words, only a “summary” of his research. He stated that seven volumes would be required to lay it all out. His writings suggest he was a rationalist and not a religious person, believing that science is our ultimate tool of inquiry. Unwin published his findings in 1936, long before the sexual revolution occurred in the West.
The article I read which summarized his findings was entitled, “Why Sexual Morality May be Far More Important than You Ever Thought,” written by Kirk Durston and posted on his blogsite. I will be using significant quotes from that article, which is based on Unwin’s research conclusions. Basically, Unwin’s findings showed that when strict prenuptial chastity was abandoned, absolute monogamy, deism, and rational thinking disappeared within three generations of the change in sexual freedom.
Let’s unpack each of these concepts. The abandonment of prenuptial chastity would include premarital sex and living together without being married at all. Absolute monogamy gave way to what is termed modified monogamy. Durston’s comments about that are as follows:
Common-law relationships are becoming the norm. Although divorce occurred prior to the 1970’s, the mainstream of our culture still maintained the view that marriage should be for life, and common-law relationships were regarded with some distaste. That has clearly changed. Those who actually practice life-long commitments in marriage have become the minority, with couples born prior to the sexual revolution much more likely to maintain a life-long commitment in marriage.
In describing the loss of deism, or belief in God, he had this to say:
Prior to the 1960’s, a combination of rationalism and a belief in God was the norm for mainstream culture. Not only has belief in God greatly decreased since the 1960’s, but there has been a trend to remove the concept of God from government, the educational system, and the public forum. Those who still believe in God sense a strong societal pressure to keep deistic beliefs private.
Finally, his comments about the disappearance of rational thinking describe what we call Postmodern thinking, clearly the prevailing type of thinking in our younger generations.
The swiftness with which rational thinking declined after the 1970’s is astounding. In its place arose post-modernism, characterized by “skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism” and “a general suspicion of reason.” But it gets worse … post-modernism is giving way to “post-truth”. In direct contrast to rational thinking, a post-truth culture abandons “shared objective standards for truth” and instead, stands on appeals to feelings and emotions, and what one wants to believe. People can now “identify” themselves as something which flat-out contradicts science and rational thinking and, in many cases, receive the full support and backing of governments and educational systems. Not only do people feel they have a right to believe what they want, but any challenge to that belief, even if supported by truth and logic, is unacceptable and offensive.
The statements I recall hearing as a young man about Unwin’s conclusions often included a comment about homosexuality. It went something like this: “When any nation accepts homosexuality as behavior approved as normal, that nation is in its last stage before collapse.” One writer who had studied Unwin in far more detail than I have said that Unwin lumped this behavior in with all aspects of unbridled sexual immorality. Either way, I don’t have to tell you where America and other Western nations are in this regard.
In studying Romans 1, these current nations are right in the middle of the same sins as were the Gentiles of Paul’s day. How long it took for their nations to fall we leave for Unwin’s research to document, but combining his conclusions with Paul’s inspired ones sends chills up my spine.
My own conclusions about the question posed in the title of my article, “Is the Coronavirus COVID-19 a Judgment of God?” are as follows:
- I think the answer is “yes,” with explanation.
- The explanation includes the futility of trying to ascertain whether this judgment is a direct one or an indirect one. It doesn’t ultimately matter. God either caused it or allowed it.
- My study of the Old Testament shows clearly that any plague or natural calamity, whether locusts or sustained drought or any other calamity, was seen by the people of God as God’s discipline for their sins.
- Further, in those repeated occurrences, the call by the prophets was for repentance on the part of the people with the promise of God’s removal of the discipline upon their repentance.
- In my day of prayer and fasting last Thursday, I prayed multiple times on my knees for many needs I see in this current ordeal. The one final conclusion I ended up with time and time again was for enough repentance to occur to move God to intervene.
- Certainly I prayed for protection from the virus for myself, family, fellow disciples and other friends. But I must accept the fact that illness and suffering will likely affect us all randomly. I can get the virus just like anyone else, as can you. If suffering only happened to the unrighteous, the temptation to seek God for wrong reasons would be tremendously strong.
- At the end of each prayer, after expressing my sincere and strongly felt desires, I prayed what Jesus did in the Garden: “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”
- Many of my friends have expressed what I have been thinking for the past several weeks. We have been surprised, even shocked, that something like COVID-19 hasn’t happened sooner. Looking at the depravity of our world through the lens of Romans 1 and many other similar passages, it should have been expected.
- As for me and my house, we are praying and repenting and begging all others to do the same. God is still in control and still responds to prayer and repentance. Let’s get on with it!
A Parting Thought
A few days ago (March 26, 2020), Robert Nicholson wrote an article entitled, “A Coronavirus Great Awakening?” I found the article on the Opinion page of the March 28 online edition of the Wall Street Journal. In it, he used illustrations from the Old Testament and World War II as examples of how cataclysms can move us to repent and return to God. I close with a rather lengthy, but exceedingly profound, section from that article.
Today the world faces another moment of cataclysm. Though less devastating than World War II, the pandemic has remade everyday life and wrecked the global economy in a way that feels apocalyptic.
The experience is new and disorienting. Life had been deceptively easy until now. Our ancestors’ lives, by contrast, were guaranteed to be short and painful. The lucky ones survived birth. The luckier ones made it past childhood. Only in the past 200 years has humanity truly taken off. We now float through an anomalous world of air conditioning, 911 call centers, acetaminophen and pocket-size computers containing nearly the sum of human knowledge. We reduced nature to “the shackled form of a conquered monster,” as Joseph Conrad once put it, and took control of our fate. God became irrelevant.
Who will save us now that the monster has broken free?
“Men may live to a great age in days of comparative quietness and peaceful progress, without ever having come to grips with the universe, without ever vividly realising the problems and the paradoxes with which human history so often confronts us,” Butterfield wrote. “We of the twentieth century have been particularly spoiled; for the men of the Old Testament, the ancient Greeks and all our ancestors down to the seventeenth century betray in their philosophy and their outlook a terrible awareness of the chanciness of human life, and the precarious nature of man’s existence in this risky universe.”
The past four years have been some of the most contentious and embarrassing in American history. Squabbling over trivialities has left the public frantic and divided, oblivious to the transcendent. But the pandemic has humbled the country and opened millions of eyes to this risky universe once more.
“Sheer grimness of suffering brings men sometimes into a profounder understanding of human destiny,” Butterfield wrote. Sometimes “it is only by a cataclysm,” he continued, “that man can make his escape from the net which he has taken so much trouble to weave around himself.”
For societies founded on the biblical tradition, cataclysms need not mark the end. They are a call for repentance and revival. As the coronavirus pandemic subjects U.S. hospitals to a fearsome test, Americans can find solace in the same place that Butterfield did. Great struggle can produce great clarity.
“The ancient Hebrews, by virtue of inner resources and unparalleled leadership, turned their tragedy, turned their very helplessness, into one of the half-dozen creative moments in world history,” Butterfield wrote. “It would seem that one of the clearest and most concrete of the facts of history is the fact that men of spiritual resources may not only redeem catastrophe, but turn it into a grand creative moment.”
Could a rogue virus lead to a grand creative moment in America’s history? Will Americans, shaken by the reality of a risky universe, rediscover the God who proclaimed himself sovereign over every catastrophe?