Todd Mangum on the Pandemic as God’s Judgment

Todd Mangum is Clemens Professor of Missional Theology, Misso Seminary.

Is this pandemic God’s judgment against us? This is a difficult question to ponder. To ask it, I do not presume ourselves to be under either the blessings and curses of theocratic Israel or the apocalyptic doom of Revelation. However, I do see patterns of biblical teaching indicative of God’s ongoing engagement in the affairs of human life and his willingness to use extreme measures to accomplish his purposes.

When confronted with disaster, Scripture calls us to look to God for both comfort and self-censure. Prophets from Moses to Malachi point to sin and the need for repentance as reasons behind various disasters. Likewise, John the Baptist and Jesus launch the New Testament with prophetic warnings and calls to repentance.

Early in Romans, the apostle Paul observes, “the wrath of God is being revealed … against all ungodliness and unrighteousness” (1:18, ESV). To the Corinthians, Paul holds up Old Testament patterns of judgment as “types,” “examples to us”—historic precedents to heed (1 Cor. 10:1–12; Rom. 11:20–21). When chastising the Corinthians for desecrations of the Lord’s Supper, Paul warns, “why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep [have died]” (1 Cor. 11:30). Paul labels sickness and death as a “judgment” (v. 29), even for these New Testament believers. Hebrews 12, citing Proverbs, tells believers in the same vein, “‘do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, … for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant” (Heb. 12:5, 11, ESV).

It is important to clarify that God’s wrath comes with mercy (Hab. 3:2; 1 Chron. 21:13). We can discern his mercy in the pattern of smaller catastrophes preceding greater ones, granting opportunity for repentance sooner rather than paying larger consequences later. The ten plagues of Egypt increased in severity in part because, early on, Pharaoh and his people “did not listen,” but rather “turned and went into his house with no concern even for this.” (Ex. 7:22–23, NASB). How quick are we to dismiss extraordinary acts of God as quirks of nature, forces we can harness with enough resilience and resourcefulness? Scripture labels this mindset hardening the heart (Ex. 8:19; Prov. 28:14). It is dangerous.

Some will demand prophetic confirmation of any divine judgment. But given the full and clear teaching of canonical Scripture at our stage in redemptive history, we are owed no more prophetic confirmation than the rebuff of such expectation at the end of Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:27–31).

Nevertheless, the Lord has raised up poignant prophetic voices in our midst, from Jeremiah Wright, Jim Wallis and Diane Langberg to John Piper and James Dobson. While none of them claims inerrant inspiration, each has sounded loud notes of biblical warning. Jeremiah expressed God’s frustration at how his people stubbornly closed their ears to (mostly unnamed) prophets “sent again and again” (Jer. 25:4, 29:19). Perhaps this indicts us too.

God may disrupt the human cycle of selfishness by awful means and call us to account. Global pandemics thankfully are rare, but when they do occur, they usually spread through trade routes of prosperous, powerful nations—inherently prone to prideful pursuit of profits and indifference toward God (Deut. 8:10–14). Is this pandemic part of a larger pattern? Consider other catastrophes that have struck North America over the past 20 years: 9/11; Superstorm Sandy; hurricanes Katrina, Maria, Irma, and Harvey; California wildfire; Midwest tornado spikes; swine flu, and now COVID-19. Have we hardened our hearts so as to write off a warning as mere acts of nature? Shouldn’t we rather ask if we could be under divine judgment?

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Source: Christianity Today