We have heard on various occasions that the virus instigating a worldwide plague was let loose whether deliberately or accidentally in Wuhan in China. While it is useful, even intriguing if question-begging, to know this, as an explanation it hardly satisfies the Christian mind. For those whose faith is theistic, scientific or medical descriptions of natural data tend to sell us short. They tell us how certain things occur, but they do not tell us why. But if it is true that God works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11) and that all things work together for the good of those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28), it is difficult to deny that the ultimate cause of the virus is God himself who according to Paul deliberately subjected creation to futility (Rom. 8:20). (1* On this see my article Summary of the Relationship Between Genesis 3:15-19 and Romans 8:18-25.)
A well-known illustration of the point I am making occurs in 1 Samuel 17 which tells us the story of David and Goliath, the Philistine giant. The superficial ‘scientific’ explanation of David’s triumph is that he was skilled at using a sling and pebbles, but even before he put his weapons to use David asserted that the living God of Israel does not save with earthly weapons such as swords and spears but by his own power (1 Sam. 17:37,47). (2* Compare Paul who reminds us that the weapons of our warfare are not flesh but divine power, 2 Cor. 10:4.) How different is the attitude of David from that of Muhammad Ali who after slaying ‘giants’ in the boxing arena regularly boasted that he was the greatest. All glory to him!
Modern atheistic scientists often adopt much the same stance. Solutions to our present ‘natural’ problems are assumed to rest solely with us, that is, with mankind. Thus the frantic search to find a vaccine and get back to normal godless living occupies their mental horizon. People in general do not appear to be asking why we have to endure the coronavirus but what we can do to get to the other side of it as quickly as possible. But this attitude may well rest on superficial analysis of the situation and be a recipe for ultimate disaster. In a world that we believe was created by, belongs to and is ruled by God (Ex. 19:4f.), we must ask why the present coronavirus has arisen to plague us at this point in time in 2020.
Of course, this is not the first time that the world has been assailed by plagues: think of the Black Death and the Spanish Flu to mention but two. It is therefore instructive to glean lessons initially from perhaps the most famous set of plagues described in Scripture, the ten that affected Pharaoh’s Egypt towards the end of the Israelites’ period of slavery. According to Scripture, God’s chosen people were being persecuted and ill-treated, and God heard their cries for help (Ex. 2:23-25). As a consequence he sent Moses and empowered him to rescue his people. While the plagues were intended to bring Pharaoh to repentance, they were also a manifestation of divine grace. They were in fact a means of revelation. After all, since the Egyptians had their own gods, it was vital that they learned of the one true God who created and ruled the world. Thus we read time and again that Pharaoh is told that God’s intention is to make it plain that there is no one like the LORD (Ex. 7:17; 8:10,22) and that it is he who is obviously at work (8:19; 9:14-16,29) in the world. Indeed, God’s harsh treatment of the Egyptians is meant to be a revelation also to the Israelites themselves (Ex. 10:2, cf. 16:6,12). In order to press home his point, God makes a distinction between the Egyptians and the children of Israel (Ex. 8:23; 9:4; 11:7). Furthermore, once Pharaoh shows signs of repentance Moses even intercedes on Pharaoh’s behalf (Ex. 8:28f., etc.). In the end, as Paul reminds us in Romans 9:17, an unrepentant Pharaoh serves God’s purpose of proclaiming his power in all the earth. Egypt is ruined (Ex. 10:7), its gods judged (Ex. 12:12) and the slaves are freed. Eventually, despite fear or recognition of God by some Egyptians (Ex. 9:20), the wall of separation which is set up (Ex. 8:23; 11:7, cf. Lev. 20:24,26) serves its purpose at the time but has to be overcome at a later date (Eph. 2).
So, then, proper analysis of the Egyptian plagues teaches us that our creator God is a God of grace and compassion. Though his ultimate intention is to reveal himself by rescuing his people (Ex. 7:5), his initial purpose is not to punish and destroy Pharaoh (and modern Pharaohs like him) but to reveal himself to him, to give him an opportunity to repent. In doing this he shows much patience (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9) and sends nine warning plagues (in contrast with the mere six described as trumpets in Revelation 8-11) that do not produce what Scripture calls a ‘full end’ (e.g. Jer. 4:27). These provide Pharaoh with a way of escape which he fails to take.
By contrast with the Egyptian plagues, the one recorded in 1 Samuel 5 and 6, which describes how God’s severe hand against false religion and Philistine idolatry brought death and tumours (5:7,11f., cf. Ex. 9:8-12), led to repentance of a sort. The Philistines were perhaps realising that cursing Abraham inevitably brought a divine reaction (Gen. 12:3) as it did eventually in Hitler’s case many years later. This perhaps points the way in 2020. If, as suggested above, the present coronavirus is a warning to a godless, even idolatrous world, then repentance is what is called for in addition to the medical measures we see so earnestly and rightly being undertaken now.
First, it should be noted, as is regularly pointed out in Christian literature, that persecution of Christians in the twentieth century has exceeded that of all previous centuries and, while God is showing his displeasure, in his concern and compassion for the worldly wayward he is also sounding an alarm.
Next, even in my own lifetime in the West, there has been a notable diminution of commitment to faith on the one hand and a deliberate pursuit of the pleasures of the flesh on the other. But all the latter can produce is a harvest of corruption (Gal. 6:8). In fact, man is appearing more and more like a sophisticated animal doomed to certain death rather than one created in the image of God on the way to eternal life in the heavenly city. While philosophical or theoretical atheism may not be all that widespread, practical atheism like that referred to in Psalms 10:4 and 14:1 (cf. Rom. 1:18) most certainly is. God has been eclipsed, virtually banished from his own creation, and is hardly regarded as a serious consideration even when death is imminent.
But apart from God’s grace and patience towards Pharaoh, the Egyptians should have learnt, as we in our time ought to learn, that their contemporary “scientific” experts, though making a significant impression (Ex. 7:11,22; 8:7), were at the end of the day incapable of dealing definitively with the crisis. By the time the third plague had made its point, they had to admit that God himself was at work (Ex. 8:19). Despite this, Pharaoh was unmoved: he simply refused to repent. (3* Though God is said to harden Pharaoh’s heart, 9:12, etc., we do well to note that Pharaoh stubbornly hardened his own heart, Ex. 7:13f.,22; 8:15, etc. Thus he reaped what he sowed, Gal. 6:7, like the Jews themselves at a later date, Isa. 65:6f.; Mt. 23:31-36, etc.)
And so the pattern of deliberate resistance to the purpose of God to redeem his creatures continued in Pharaoh’s time till it brought about the virtual ruination of Egypt (Ex. 10:7) and culminated in the death of the firstborn which was followed inevitably by the release of the chosen people and the destruction of the Egyptian army. All this reminds us, first, of the climax to the trumpet warnings in the book of Revelation which was the inexorable coming of the kingdom of God (Rev. 11:15-18). And, secondly, of the ultimate warning given in Hebrews 9:27. Death is an undeniable and universal certainty in a world divinely doomed to decay, but after it, there is the awesome prospect of final judgement which will seal our fate forever. Not without reason did Peter warn his readers faced with the prospect of terminal dissolution in a concluding conflagration and a fiery holocaust to treat the one life we are given with due seriousness (2 Pet. 3:11).
The Modern Churches
This brings us, however, to something else easily missed in the Exodus account, that is, that the plagues are not merely a revelation to the Egyptians of the ultimate accountability to the God of all the earth but also to the Israelites themselves. They too, as the spiritual children they were, needed to be taught about their own ill-understood God. Although he had already revealed his name to them (Ex. 3:13-22), God also intended that they should know that he was the Lord their God (Ex. 6:7; 7:17; 10:2, cf. 16:6-12). While the Israelites, like the Egyptians, suffered to some extent from the ignorance characteristic of immaturity, the same can hardly be said regarding us in our day. We claim that we can see (cf. John 9:41), but the modern Churches have made two catastrophic mistakes: they have largely rejected the word of God, the Bible, as the source of revelation and its manifestation of divine grace on the one hand (liberalism), and they have refused to repent of the traditional or superstitious atavism (ancient orthodoxy) which nullifies the word of God on the other. In other words, they have gone backwards rather than forwards (Jer. 7:24). The inevitable result is often miasmic stagnation at best and reversion, irrelevance and heresy at worst. Even 500 years after the half-Reformation of the sixteenth century, the Catholic bloc has still not accepted it and stubbornly persists in perpetuating its semper eadem (always the same) stance to the detriment of a dynamic faith in the living God. The rest, despite their semper reformanda (always reforming) slogan, steadfastly refuse to repent, move forward and complete the implication of the original half-Reformation of which they claim to be the heirs. At this very moment the people who are called by God’s name apparently do not realize that fire, flood, drought, storm, pestilence and the like abound and that they are called to humble themselves, pray, seek the face of God and turn from their wicked ways as they ask for forgiveness for their sin and the healing of the land (2 Chron. 7:13f.). Even in 2020 the Protestant Churches are blinkered by a false worldview and immersed in a sin-soaked theology inherited from Augustine of Hippo who died in 430 AD. Just how modern leaders with an open Bible in front of them can continue to tolerate and even promote their plainly unbiblical stance dominated by the heretical dogma of original sin is almost beyond rational understanding. If the false gods of the Egyptians were judged, it follows that ours will be too (Ex. 12:12). Little wonder that we still await the conversion of the Jews and even the Muslims, for the Churches which persecuted them in the past remain an impediment and major stumbling-block to them even today.
In the event, we are even now assailed not merely by natural futility (Rom. 8:20) but by environmental convulsions and meteorological disturbances in the hands of an angry God (Mt. 24:3-14), rumours of wars, false religions and philosophies and political persecution. We ignore these warnings at our peril, for they augur worse to come if we continue to fail to acknowledge our redeeming creator God.
So, having been warned, we need to recognize that in contrast with the rest of the animal creation, God has made us in his image and has destined us for eternity, sinners though we are. He will achieve his aim come what may (Rom. 8:31-39), for Jesus did not die in vain (1 John 5:5). We reject his offer on pain of death.
In the end it is difficult to deny that the present worldwide plague is, as the Egyptian magicians eventually realised, the finger of God (Ex. 8:19).
The Churches should note that according to Scripture: (1) judgement begins at the house of God (1 Pet. 4:17), and (2) teachers will be judged more strictly than others (Jas. 3:1).
See also my
Augustine: Asset or Liability?
The Redundancy Of Original Sin
The Relationship Between Genesis 3:15-19 and Romans 8:18-25
Summary of the Relationship Between Genesis 3:15-19 and Romans 8:18-25