Is COVID-19 a Biblical Plague?

Is COVID-19 a Biblical Plague? March 31, 2020

Answers in Genesis has words.

In just a few short weeks, the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak has wreaked havoc on our way of life worldwide. Governments across the globe have mobilized to stop the spread of this World Health Organization-level pandemic.

What exactly is a “World Health Organization-level pandemic”? Inquiring minds want to know.

Look, yes, I get that the World Health Organization declared this a pandemic, I just don’t think that makes this pandemic “World Health Organization-level.” It just makes it a pandemic. 

But! Brandon Clay, the author of this piece, is not done.

Thousands of people have died and hundreds of thousands have been infected. The world continues to reel from the effects the virus.

Disruptions on this scale were hard to imagine a month ago. Since the virus entered the US, businesses have closed, airplanes have stopped flying, the financial markets have crashed, and grocery stores have emptied due to government efforts to contain the virus. Things are bad.

So I’m pretty sure grocery stores are still open for business. In fact, from what I’ve read, there are lines, so I’m not sure where we got to grocery stores emptying. But I’m picking at nits here, because none of this is the real question.

What is the real question? I’m glad you asked!

But the question is, “Does it reach the level of a biblical plague?”

Yep—that’s the real question.

In this overview, I aim to explore what a plague is from the Bible, some principles we can glean from biblical plagues, and ultimately answer whether the COVID-19 virus should be considered a plague from God.

Are we really doing this?

One Hebrew word for plague is daber (דָּ֑בֶר). It is often translated as “plague” or “pestilence.” Another word for plague is makkah (מַכָּה). The term makkah sometimes connotes other concepts besides what we understand as plagues.

Yep. We’re really doing this.

In the New Testament, we see the term plague functioning in a similar manner. There are several words translated as “plague” in different versions, including loimos (λοιμός), and plege’ (πληγή). Plege’ is the most common word for plague in the New Testament.

We’re hardcore doing this.

Clay’s article is actually fairly long, so I’m not taking you through the whole thing. Instead, I’ll give you the cliff notes version. The first truly interesting thing I noticed is this:

Or in Revelation 15:1 (ESV), the author used plege’ when he wrote: “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.”

I find myself curious why we haven’t seen more of this. If the end times includes plagues—and I’m suddenly recalling other passages that suggest it does—why aren’t more evangelicals asking if this is the end times?

Oh. My bad. They are. I somehow missed that.

But that’s not actually Clay’s focus. He’s more interested discussing plagues directly mentioned in the Bible. He offers a list of plagues in the Bible, primarily from the Old Testament. He then writes as follows:

There are two major lessons to glean from a biblical plague. For one, a biblical plague is a part of God’s judgment against sin. …

The second lesson to understand from a biblical plague is that God usually extends mercy in a time of plague.

Over the past few weeks, it has helped me to remember that none of this is new. Pastors refusing to close their churches? Not new. There have always been those who claim that coming together to worship a deity will turn a disease back. Quack miracle cures? Also not new! The belief that an epidemic is God’s judgement? Again, not new.

We’re just unfamiliar with these things because we haven’t seen an epidemic on this level in a century. We’ve forgotten. Plagues are no longer part of our collective consciousness.

With this, Clay returns to his initial question:

Is COVID-19 a “Biblical” Plague?

He answers as follows:

A biblical plague is, by definition, a plague mentioned in the Bible. So COVID-19 could never qualify as true, biblical plague. So the question is not whether it’s a biblical plague. Rather is it a plague akin to biblical plagues?

Wait. Wait. The title of Clay’s article is COVID-19—a Biblical Plague? But that’s suddenly not the question, because, by definition, a biblical plague is one mentioned in the Bible? He could have told us that a bit sooner!

COVID-19 could qualify as a plague because its consequences are severe.

Wait. Wait. That’s not how definitions work.

Though we shouldn’t presume God’s intention through this pandemic, certainly God has reason to judge humanity. Prior to all the shutdowns in America alone, 3,000+ babies were being murdered every day through abortion (far more than what COVID-19 does). Sexual immorality is running rampant in the LGBT movement and in the church. As a culture, we have largely abandoned God’s Word as a standard for right and wrong and replaced it with man’s word. It’s easy to see why God would judge the world. But to say the COVID-19 outbreak qualifies as a plague similar to biblical plagues is too far.

Oh dear. What is happening here? There is just so much.

Of course there are people saying this is God’s judgement. Of course there are. They said this in the middle ages too, and I’m sure they said it in 1918. And of course abortion comes up. Because of course it does.

There are over 500,000 abortions in the U.S. each year. By claiming that each abortion is the murder of an innocent child, evangelicals are able to create an evil that will always be worse than every other evil. That’s more than the number of American soldiers killed in all of WWII. Making abortion into something horrific on this level can easily result in minimizing other evils in comparison—or in justifying horrors like this epidemic as just what we deserve.

I need to write more about the function abortion plays in the evangelical imagination, because it’s a problem. But we’ll save that for another time. Enough to know that Clay says it’s totally plausible that this disease is God’s judgement raining down on us for legalizing reproductive choice, sexual freedom, and gay marriage. So, that’s cool.

Conclusion: Seek God in Good Times and Bad

Uh … what?

As we weigh how to think during this challenging time, it’s good to remember the words of Job. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). Even when it seems like the world is falling apart, God is still in control.

He knows what’s happening and is intimately involved in this and every situation, including in your life. However you’re affected by this event, God sees every detail and is merciful (Psalm 145:9). Continue to trust him despite the chaos that may surround you. He is worthy of our confidence.

If you don’t know the Lord or you are not sure if you do, seek him while he may be found. See the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What.

This piece is fraught through with intellectual laziness.

I have questions. If this pandemic is God’s judgement on us for secularism, why does it seem to respond to containment measures like those put in place in China, or to widespread testing like that in South Korea? Are humans greater than God? I have other questions, too, such as, if this plague is God’s judgement on us for secularism, why does it predominantly strike the elderly while sparing the young, who tend to be the least religious, the most gay, and—I’m guessing here—the most likely to be engaging in “sexual immorality”?

I don’t mean to be flippant—I really, really don’t—but is Clay suggesting that God is punishing people for their secularism by killing their grandmas? If so, that’s sick. And twisted.

But remember—all of this has happened before and all of this will happen again. There is nothing new under the sun. People said crap like this in the past too—and worse, I’m sure! None of this is new. That’s what I’m going to hold onto, because frankly, that is what has proven most effective at lowering my blood pressure. Our ancestors lived through this. We can make it through this too. Keep your loved ones close, and hang in there.

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