This post is part of a series walking through the second volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
Even in Eden, it was God’s plan that man use means. The problem is, Kuyper has already said that God “brings misery as punishment” and that God teaches means to offset misery. Isn’t this a contradiction? Those who lean towards passivity say this. Sin is “rebellion against God,” and “the first condition of receiving grace is that we strictly refrain from all resistance to God and His just judgment.” (539-540) Doesn’t this mean that we must submit to suffering and misery?
We look here to Scripture–specifically we look to Luke 4:38-39 and Peter’s sick mother. Jesus does not tell her to submit and suffer. Instead he rebukes the fever rather than the patient. We must not read this as a mere gloss for “Jesus healed her.” The word “rebuke” is intentionally chosen and tied to the fever itself. This is the same word used in Matthew 8:26 where Jesus rebukes the storm. In this example, there is even less human agency and just natural forces (themselves ordained by God!). No guilt of the people involved is in question here.
The problem with these examples so far is that a word study really isn’t much help. “Rebuke” is just the Greek word epitimao, to give someone their due. [And I am taking Kuyper’s word for all of this here, since my Greek is pretty spotty.] It can mean giving someone praise, but clearly doesn’t mean that in the context here. In the Greek Old Testament, it specifically means ‘wrath.’
All this to say that Christ is angry at the resultant destruction of sin. “…God and his Christ themselves are angry with the consequences of the curse, rebuke them; and disrupt, arrest, and oppose them.” (543) Should we not do the same? Clearly, we absolutely should. And by way of example, Kuyper asks us to consider the case of a pandemic:
“If an epidemic breaks out among a people, it is God’s demand that all, with every means available, combat and rebuke that epidemic as a great evil. The person who does not do this is guilty of breaking the sixth commandment and is accountable to God for murder, since his or her inactions would result in the epidemic claiming victims. This reality is confirmed very clearly by what the Old Testament teaches concerning the first symptoms of leprosy. To see it otherwise and to act otherwise is not only unhealthy but profoundly sinful. The reason we state this so starkly and severely is because we, as far as our words might reach, wish to reject any responsibility for those who are sick and might succumb through inaction. We would even add that ministers of the Word cannot be blameless if they do not preach this ordinance of God to the people clearly, convincingly, and without any trace of doubt.” (544)
Kuyper later in the volume has two full chapters on vaccination, and I will have more to say on that in the future. Needless to say, Kuyper would have some sharp words for believers in our moment.
But! We might ask, what about suffering that is the result of direct punishment? Shouldn’t we passively submit to that? We’ll get to that in the next chapter.