Theologian John Piper has offered Christians four ways they can biblically understand the coronavirus, which has infected about 87,000 so far and killed more than 3,000 people.
The family of viruses known as coronaviruses infects mostly bats, pigs and small mammals, but they mutate easily and can jump from animals to humans, and from one human to another, as The Wall Street Journal explained recently, adding that the mortality rate has ranged between 2 percent and about 3.4 percent as of now.
More than 50 countries have reported cases of coronavirus and the World Health Organization has upgraded the global risk of the outbreak to “very high.” Amid the outbreak, Piper said in his “Ask Pastor John” podcast that the coronavirus, which originated in China last year, is not stronger than Jesus.
“Jesus has all knowledge and all authority over the natural and supernatural forces of this world. He knows exactly where the virus started, and where it’s going next. He has complete power to restrain it or not,” he said.
He shared four biblical realities that could be used as building blocks in developing an understanding and making sense of it.
1. Sin subjected the world to futility
Quoting Romans 8:20–23, Piper pointed out that when sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, “God ordained that the created order, including our physical bodies, as persons created in His image, would experience corruption and futility, and that all living things would die.”
However, Christians, who trust Christ, do not experience this corruption as condemnation, as their “pain for us is purifying, not punitive.”
“We die of disease like all men, not necessarily because of any particular sin … We die of disease like all people because of the fall,” he explained.
2. Sometimes sickness is God’s mercy
Some Christians can die of illnesses “so that we may not be condemned along with the world,” Piper said.
The pastor said his view is based on 1 Corinthians 11:29–32, which deals with misusing the Lord’s Supper. “But the principle is broader,” he underlined.
“The Lord Jesus takes the life of His loved ones through weakness and illness — the very same words, by the way, used to describe the weaknesses and illnesses that Jesus heals in His earthly life (Matthew 4:23; 8:17; 14:14) — and brings them to Heaven. He brings them to Heaven because of the trajectory of their sin that he was cutting off and saving them from — not to punish them, but to save them,” he explained.
3. Sickness could come as judgment
“God sometimes uses disease to bring particular judgments upon those who reject him and give themselves over to sin,” Piper said.
Referring to Acts 12, the pastor cited the example of King Herod who exalted himself in being called a god. “Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.”
He said God can and does use illnesses to bring judgment sometimes upon those who reject Him and His way.
4. God’s thunderclap
Quoting Luke 13:1–5, Piper said all natural disasters are a “thunderclap of divine mercy in the midst of judgment, calling all people everywhere to repent and realign their lives, by grace, with the infinite worth of the glory of God.”
He concluded that “that’s the message of Jesus to the world at this moment in history, under the coronavirus — a message to every single human being, … saying, ”Repent."
Coronavirus and Christ
‘BEHOLD THE KINDNESS AND SEVERITY OF GOD’
It matters little what we think about the coronavirus. But it matters forever what God thinks. He is not silent about what he thinks. Scarcely a page in the Bible is irrelevant for this crisis.
Our voice is grass. His is granite. “The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Peter 1:24–25). His words in Scripture “cannot be broken” (John 10:35). What he says is “true, and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:9). Listening to God, and believing him, is like building your house on a rock, not sand (Matthew 7:24).
His voice is not only true; it is perfectly wise for every situation. “He is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom” (Isaiah 28:29). “His understanding is beyond measure” (Psalm 147:5). When he gives counsel about the coronavirus, it is firm, unshakable, lasting. “The counsel of the Lord stands forever” (Psalm 33:11). “His way is perfect” (2 Samuel 22:31).
God’s words in these times are not only true and wise; they are also precious and sweet. “More to be desired are they than gold . . . sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10). They are the sweetness of life: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). And with indestructible life come words of unshakable peace and joy: “Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16).
And the sweetness is not lost in this moment of bitter providence — not if we have learned the secret of “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). The secret is this: Knowing that the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus and doesn’t, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it. Indeed, more than sustains — sweetens with hope that, for those who trust him, his purposes are kind, even in death.
“Behold the kindness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22). His providence is sweet and bitter. Naomi did not sin when she said, “The Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20). That was true. And it was spoken at the very moment when all her fortunes were about to change.
This is not a season for sentimental views of God. It is a bitter season. And God sent it. We know this, because he “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). All things. Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from our heavenly Father (Matthew 10:29).
Nature is not sovereign. Satan is not sovereign. Sinful man is not sovereign. God rules them all (Luke 8:25; Job 1:12; 2:6; Acts 4:27–28). So, we say with Job, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).
Therefore, God not only comprehends the coronavirus; he has purposes for it. God does nothing, and permits nothing, without wise purposes. Nothing just happens. Everything flows from the eternal counsels of God (Ephesians 1:11). All of it is wisdom. All of it is purposeful. For those who trust Jesus Christ, all of it is kindness. For others, it is a merciful wake-up call: “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17).
Our hope and prayer in the resources below, which we plan to supplement weekly, is that we might be of some help in anchoring your soul in the word of God. That you might see the greatness and beauty and worth of Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:8). That you might treasure him above health and life (Psalm 63:3). And that God would be glorified in you, as you are satisfied in him.
This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:21–24)