Dialogue: Is Coronavirus the Way that God Judges?

Dialogue: Is Coronavirus the Way that God Judges? April 13, 2020

This was a stimulating, challenging follow-up discussion of my post, Priest Blasphemes God (Coronavirus = Judgment?) “Heinz” commented underneath the post on my blog. His words will be in blue. Then, Stephen Howe offered a critique. His words will be in green.

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Ah, I totally agree with you that these conspiracy theories are neither edifying nor true. But I am also willing to see a glimmer of truth in this misled man.

Some of your counterarguments, Dave, rest on how “sensible” it is and how “the God you know” is not like that. I don’t think we can say that. And the argument, if it were good, could be used harmfully in many cases. At least I am frequently surprised how God plans and works, so I am definitely not a man to see something and know what God intended with or without it.

I find it hard to stick to a 100% extreme absolute “God never wills evil” in the human sense and then read the old testament in which rather rough ways (i.e. killing nations) are described as God’s way to make a point.

Now this whole thing is much more complicated than can be expressed with few words, but to say that a global phenomenon that kills and brings many people to ponder what God wants, is definitely not a chastisement from God is more than I can guarantee. Does the same count for WWII and robberies? We can say that God does not create them out of anger, but we cannot deny that He uses them in His plan, once we have caused them.

Just like you I do not believe that the Amazon Synod is the trigger or that the pandemic is first and foremost a chastisement. But not because I can think of a more “sensible” way how God would have done it, or because “the God I know” would not do that; but because there are plenty of infractions which are arguably worse and plenty of catastrophes that are worse. To pick two and put them into relation is as arbitrary as choosing a dark day (there are several) an earthquake (there are many) and a flood (there are plenty) and deduce that it’s the second coming of Christ (as the Bahai do) according to biblical prophecies.

Unfortunately in this case there is insult paired with the arbitrary judgement. This ranting only shows that the priest has bigger issues of dissatisfaction and he chose an ignorant and harmful way to talk about it. But as for the general “we are doing bad things” and “as a result bad things happen” message, I’m afraid that is true.

Thanks for your articulate comment and mild criticism. I love to have the opportunity to clarify and further develop my thinking.

These are huge issues. It gets into the problem of evil (the thorniest problem in apologetics and one of the biggest in theology and philosophy), and the theology of judgment. As I noted, I have written some fifteen or so lengthy papers analyzing God’s judgment in Scripture. I was referring mostly to what the Bible reveals as to how God judges. So I noted that it was usually a specific target people or person, or else an entire country. I can’t find in the Bible some passage that says that God would judge in the way that coronavirus is in effect “judging”: going after the weak and elderly, and black people and Latinos.

What I definitely do know from Scripture and personal experience is that God is loving, good, and merciful. And so, yes, I can say, based on that (with a very high degree of certitude, within the parameters of Christian faith), that it’s not in God’s nature to “judge” in the manner that this virus is killing people. That’s simply not judgment; it’s how nature acts: preying after the weak.

You also bring up complex issues of Old Testament judgments (what is always brought up). “Killing nations” is, precisely, one way in which He judges, and it’s perfectly just: these nations (as a whole; not every individual) deserved it. As an apologist, I have dealt with those kinds of things many times: usually in response to atheists who want to trash the Bible and God because of them. It took some work and effort, but I have never found their arguments insurmountable. They only sounded impressive at first (i.e., before they are analyzed and scrutinized). That’s how it often goes in apologetics.

I was not claiming here to know everything about God, or everything about any particular thing He does. Obviously not; that would be absurd and foolishly presumptuous. It was more of a “negative” argument: “I think we can know that He would not (according to how He has revealed Himself) judge in the particular way that is being claimed with regard to this virus.” That’s why I claim that this argument I have critiqued is blasphemous. It turns God into a moral monster: a sort of evil, scheming sadist. And we know that He is not that: if we accept His inspired revelation, the Bible (as I do), and the entire history of trinitarian Christian theology proper (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant alike).

Thanks for the reply and yes, we are definitely on the same page. But I still find that your argumentation is specific where you need it and stays vague where you need it.

You say “it’s how nature acts: preying after the weak” – and that is admittedly the way God has created nature. Some judgements in the Old Testament are:

* famine (Gen 41), not directly attributed as God’s judgement, but not humanly created either
* the plagues in Egypt (Ex 7 pp)
* a fire (Num 11)
* snakes (Num 21)
* a plague (Num 25, 8b, 9, 18e)

Now it is not specifically said, that the weak and old suffered more, but that’s how plagues and natural catastrophes work. Covid-19 is a plague probably not unlike the one that hit the Israelites until that one guy killed the other with his Midianite woman in bed.

Again, I’m not saying that Covid-19 is first and foremost a judgement and thus I’m even further away from speculating if there is a specific trigger. But from biblical examples we cannot say: ‘God would not chose a chastisement under which the weak and old suffer most’, because the weak and old – by nature – always suffer most.

But maybe you have a good argument why we can differentiate such:

We can look at a catastrophe and check if naturally weak and old are hit hardest. If so, it’s not a chastisement from God. If they are not hit, then it might be a chastisement (and we can assume – without written basis – that the biblical events were such).

Then we could classify Covid-19 as not-chastisement and the Spanish flu as a possible chastisement. But what would be such an argument? And does God really want us to argue this way?

And finally: What then is this not-chastisement in God’s plan? Is it not from God at all?

Another thought-provoking and interesting comment. Thanks! But I continue to stand by my differentiation — based on the Bible — of target-specific judgments and judgments of entire nations or regions. I have made a fairly strong argument about this, I think, in other papers of mine about judgment: including the two about judgment and coronavirus.

Other things are simply natural, and involve what we call “natural evil” (C. S. Lewis discusses it at length in his book, The Problem of Pain.) Now, indeed, that is a difficult concept in relation to God, but it falls under the category of “problem of evil” rather than aspects of God’s judgment. Natural laws are the way they are and sometimes they lead to any number of natural catastrophes. Right now, for example, we have a volcano, locusts in Africa, and coronavirus all over the world.

The biblical examples you bring up as examples of judgment simply support the case I have laid out, in my humble opinion.

1) You concede that the famine in Genesis 41 is “not directly attributed as God’s judgement.” But this is the whole point! It doesn’t have to be human-caused; it simply is, based on various cycles (such as, for example, the Dust Bowl in more recent times; though that had significant man-caused components). But it clearly was not a judgment of Egypt at all, precisely because God gave both the pharaoh (a dream) and Joseph (its interpretation) foreknowledge that allowed the Egyptians to store up and avoid the negative consequences:

Genesis 41:34-36 (RSV, as throughout) “Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land, and take the fifth part of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plenteous years. [35] And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. [36] That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine which are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”

That can hardly be considered a judgment. So it is irrelevant to our discussion. It’s a natural disaster.

2) The plagues in Egypt are perhaps the most plain biblical examples of targeted judgment: they were completely towards the Egyptians as a people, and not the Jews at all (Passover being the prime example of that within the plagues). That is as far as imaginable from the current pandemic, which shows no discrimination at all (geographically) as to where it attacks. Nor can we reasonably say it is a judgment of the whole world because the vast majority are untouched by it.There is no conceivable purpose that I can see for God to supposedly overwhelmingly judge elderly people with diabetes or high blood pressure or a heart condition, or, disproportionately, blacks and Latinos, as in New York. That makes no sense whatsoever, and is not in accord with what we know about God’s character.

It’s true that nature does go after the weak, and God created it that way, but again, that is a separate topic, not having to do with God’s judgment. When God judges an entire country, of course, as part of that, the weak and elderly will be particularly hard-hit. And many relatively innocent people die, too, because judgment of a nation is different from judgment of individuals. But in such cases, it would be clear (at least from the biblical model) that the nation was being judged.

3) Numbers 11:1-3 is clearly a judgment of the Israelites only because they “complained”: leading to the anthropomorphic “anger” of God, Who then sent a “fire of the LORD.” Then Moses prayed “and the fire abated.” That can happen, too, as when Abraham tried to intercede for Sodom and Gomorrah (but they were too wicked to be saved). Moses atoned for many sins of the Israelites, because God wanted to reveal His mercy as well as His wrath. They were again judged later in the chapter for not appreciating God’s provision of them for food (manna), and their constant craving for meat and other foods grumbling about that (11:4-6, 10, 13), so God judged them for it (11:33-34).

4) The snakes in Numbers 21 are the same thing again: the Jews complained about being freed from slavery (!) and especially about food, and so God judged them with serpents. Then He had mercy on them after they repented, by providing the bronze serpent (21:4-9). So this proves my point again: the judgment was very specifically targeted, and (most importantly, and utterly unlike this virus), targeted towards those who richly deserved it.

5) Numbers 25 is about Israel being judged for rank idolatry of the worst kind (other “gods”: 25:1-3). God was very specific even within the Israelite camp: hang the chiefs (25:4) and anyone “who have yoked themselves to Ba’al” (25:5). God again showed mercy after the righteous Israelites showed a resolve to follow His commands. This is the usual pattern throughout the Old Testament: justice and mercy both.The Midianites were judged (25:17-18, etc.) for the reasons why these other nations were always judged: they had become wicked and were corrupting Israel, particularly by means of false gods and idolatry. It’s not an unjust judgment. They deserved it: just as Israel herself was continually judged by God for disobedience and spiritual adultery.

Thus, all five of your examples strongly support my original argument, which I see no reason to modify. Thanks! I can provide many more examples (already present in my two earlier recent papers about coronavirus not being “judgment”) where God singles out sinful individuals and groups in particular for judgment. That’s particular judgment. The other kind revealed in the Bible is when nations become incorrigibly wicked and God judges them:

Isaiah 14:22-23 “I will rise up against them,” says the LORD of hosts, “and will cut off from Babylon name and remnant, offspring and posterity, says the LORD. [23] And I will make it a possession of the hedgehog, and pools of water, and I will sweep it with the broom of destruction, says the LORD of hosts.”

Isaiah 19:17 And the land of Judah will become a terror to the Egyptians; every one to whom it is mentioned will fear because of the purpose which the LORD of hosts has purposed against them.

Isaiah 30:31 The Assyrians will be terror-stricken at the voice of the LORD, when he smites with his rod.

Isaiah 34:5, 9 For my sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; behold, it descends for judgment upon Edom, upon the people I have doomed. . . . [9] And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into brimstone; her land shall become burning pitch.

Jeremiah 47:1, 4 The word of the LORD that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the Philistines, before Pharaoh smote Gaza.. . . [4] because of the day that is coming to destroy all the Philistines, to cut off from Tyre and Sidon every helper that remains. For the LORD is destroying the Philistines, the remnant of the coastland of Caphtor.

Ezekiel 25:2-3 “Son of man, set your face toward the Ammonites, and prophesy against them. [3] Say to the Ammonites, Hear the word of the Lord GOD: Thus says the Lord GOD, Because you said, `Aha!’ over my sanctuary when it was profaned, and over the land of Israel when it was made desolate, and over the house of Judah when it went into exile;

God judged Sodom and Gomorrah because it didn’t even have ten righteous people in it (Abraham’s intercessions with God: Gen 18:32).

God judged the entire world in Noah’s time because “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5), and “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. . . . all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth” (6:11-12). Only Noah and his family were righteous.

See the pattern? God judges due to sin, not due to something like being old and having diabetes, or being unfortunate enough to be in an area like New York City, where the mayor and Governor acted foolishly and were very late to implement social distancing, thus causing many hundreds of deaths that could easily have been prevented.

God was going to judge Nineveh, but the people repented after Jonah preached to them, so He didn’t. That’s all God asks!

So, in summary, this was my argument: the coronavirus doesn’t fit at all into either of these biblical revelations of how God judges: either the specific scenario or wicked country / world scenario. So I maintain that it can’t reasonably be classified as a judgment from God, and if it is, that this casts such aspersions upon the nature of God that it is blasphemy. We have plenty enough biblical data about God’s judgment to know when and how He does it. It’s not just speculation.

I also wrote an entire paper entitled, “Does God Ever Judge People by Sending Disease?”

My own answer was “yes.” But again, when and how does He do that? Does it fit into the scenario now of this pandemic we are suffering under? No! Once again, it is specific targeting that is not the case at all with the current virus:

1) God sent boils (among the many other plagues) to the Egyptians because of holding the Hebrews in slavery (Ex 9:8-11).

2) God sent disease to the Jews when they disobeyed His commandments (Ex 15:26; Lev 26:21; 2 Chr 21:12-14), and He didn’t when they obeyed (Dt 7:15).

3) God smote wicked King Jehoram “in his bowels with an incurable disease” (2 Chr 21:18-19).

4) God judged wicked King Jeroboam “so that he was a leper to the day of his death” (2 Ki 15:5; cf. 2 Chr 13:20).

5) And wicked King Herod, who “was eaten by worms and died” (Acts 12:23).

6) And wicked Antiochus, who was “was seized with a pain in his bowels for which there was no relief and with sharp internal tortures” (2 Macc 9:4-6).

For more individual judgment passages (not necessarily disease-related), see: Jezebel (2 Ki 9:33-37), King Ahab (Jer 29:21-22), Ananias and his wife Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10) and the church in Pergamum (Rev 2:12-16).

In many other instances, disease is simply treated as natural events: unfortunate but natural. See my paper, “The Bible on Germs, Sanitation, & Infectious Diseases”.

St. Paul tells Timothy to take some wine for his stomach ailments, and has his “thorn in the flesh” (widely thought to be an eye disease), which is not due to his sin, but to prevent him from becoming prideful. Job is afflicted (with illness and maladies) even though he was “blameless” (it was a higher purpose of God, as in the following passage):

John 9:1-3 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. [2] And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” [3] Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.

There are still more nuances and complexities to the whole discussion, but this is my case, and I think it is biblically a very strong one, whereas the absurd case laid out, of coronavirus supposedly being God’s judgment is bald (and self-serving reactionary) speculation, with very little Bible brought to bear, while ignoring many other Scriptures that go against the created fiction.

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I’m not denying the points you make (I really haven’t investigated the whole Pachamama thing) but one point in particular I do question. It is regarding your assertion that if he wanted to punish the sins of a leader God would punish the corrupt leader and not his/ her followers. Don’t we see an illustration of the people suffering for the leader’s sins while the leader is unscathed, in 1 Chronicles 21:14? King David had sinned and chose plague as his punishment: “so the Lord sent a plague upon Israel, and 70,000 people died as a result.”

David himself argues as you have that God should be punishing him, not his people: “I am the one who has sinned and done wrong! But these people are as innocent as sheep—what have they done? O Lord my God, let your anger fall against me and my family, but do not destroy your people.” But that is not the way God acted in this case. Indeed we see often in Scripture that we are all interconnected as human beings and sometimes punishments for sins seem to fall upon the innocent. Leaders bear a very great responsibility for their subjects for good or ill. (We see the ‘for good’ side of the coin in the effects of Christ’s victory applied undeservedly to those who follow him)

Another example of the ‘for ill’ with King David again would be his first son with Bathsheba who dies because of his sin of adultery. Perhaps the best example of all of this influence and responsibility of a leader in a way that could seem unjust to us is with the transmission of original sin to Adam’s descendants.

My point is that I think we have to be very cautious in saying “A loving God would not do this” simply because his ways are so far above our ways that we can’t expect to always be able to predict exactly what he would do, especially in this area of whom gets punished for the sins of a leader who represents his people.

Excellent comment and a challenge. It seemed to me that you had a counter-point to my overall argument about God’s judgment that I couldn’t answer, but then I did some digging (in fellow apologists and Bible Dictionaries), and I think I have an answer that makes sense of the seeming oddities or mysteries regarding God’s judgment that you highlight. The answer is arrived at particularly by examining the cross reference to the passage: 2 Samuel, chapter 24.

2 Samuel 24:1 (RSV) Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”

Why was God angry; why did He want to judge Israel? Well, it was actually only one tribe of Israel that deserved His wrath:

2 Samuel 24:15 So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning until the appointed time; and there died of the people from Dan to Beer-sheba seventy thousand men. (in 1 Chronicles 21 it doesn’t specify the tribe of Dan).

So what sins did this tribe commit? Well, we know several things from Scripture. Dan abandoned God and turned to idolatry before the time of David:

Judges 18:30-31 And the Danites set up the graven image for themselves; and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. [31] So they set up Micah’s graven image which he made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.

Their downfall was predicted far earlier, in fact:

Genesis 49:17 Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that his rider falls backward.

The tribe of Dan is not listed among the tribes names in Revelation 7:4-8. The reasonable explanation, from what we know in Scripture, is that it was due to this described idolatry. Their captivity under the Assyrians took place in 722 B.C. (1 Ki 12:28-30; 2 Ki 10:29). That was some 240 years after King David, but Judges 18:30 tells us that they were in bondage to idolatry the entire time. Hence, it is perfectly plausible to posit that this is why they were judged during the time of David (70,000 slain).

And that is perfectly in accord with my entire thesis, which I think is thoroughly grounded in what the Bible reveals about God’s judgment. He judges target groups of people who are particularly evil (or else entire countries that have become evil). Thus, in this instance, it was the tribe of Dan that was His specific target.

And that doesn’t fit at all with the coronavirus scenario.

[note: I went into considerably more depth on this particular matter of the 70,000 being judged, in my article (along the lines of a general “alleged biblical contradictions or difficulties”): “Why Did God Kill 70,000 Israelites for David’s Sin?”]

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Related Reading

Taylor Marshall: Pachamama “Idolatry” Judged by Coronavirus (Yet “Antichrist” Pope Francis Walks the Streets of Pandemic-Ravaged Rome Free of the Virus . . .) [3-17-20]

Alexander Tschugguel, Taylor Marshall, & God’s Wrath [3-19-20]

Priest Blasphemes God (Coronavirus = Judgment?) [4-10-20]

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Photo credit: The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, by Pieter Schoubroeck (c. 1570-1607) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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