COVID-19 Brings Biblical Hope to LifeMarch 27, 2020
COVID-19 Brings Biblical Hope to Life
When we read the Bible, it can be difficult to grasp the scale of suffering and turmoil that God allowed on the earth. The Bible can easily begin to feel like exaggerated stories which have a moral or theological point but don’t seem real to us. My children were all born after September 11, 2001. They have no memory of the fear and chaos that day brought. I, myself, was born after the Cold War and nearly four decades after WWII. My grandfather wasn’t yet born during the Spanish Flu of 1918. What global event should I or my children use to compare or relate to events in the Bible? What if COVID-19 actually helps us read the Bible better?
As you read through the prophet Isaiah, you will see there are unbelievable events which the Lord plans to bring upon His people and the surrounding nations. See some snippets of what God has prescribed for His rebellious people and the nations surrounding them. See if it doesn’t sound a bit familiar.
To Jerusalem and to Judah:
For behold, the Lord GOD of hosts is taking away from Jerusalem and from Judah support and supply, all support of bread, and all support of water; - Isaiah 3:1
To the Assyrians (the “rod of God’s anger” against Israel in 10:5):
Therefore the Lord GOD of hosts will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors, and under his glory a burning will be kindled, like the burning of fire. - Isaiah 10:16
God’s judgment on the whole earth:
The mirth of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No more do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. The wasted city is broken down; every house is shut up so that none can enter. Isaiah 24:8-10
Two short notes:
1. We have not, by any comparison, yet to experience the extent of suffering and loss described in Isaiah.
2. This is not to say that COVID-19 is God’s direct judgment on America or another nations just like in Isaiah. This is a global pandemic and what God’s precise purposes are I do not know.
What I want to say is that we have the opportunity to read the Bible and know God with greater clarity because of COVID-19. God has not taken away our bread. But, who hasn’t seen 100 pictures of grocery store aisles with no bread? Our water has yet to be cut off, but who hasn’t seen pictures or experienced emptied water aisles? With that experience comes just a taste of the fear and suffering God brought upon idolatrous Israel.
God said he would judge Assyria—His chosen means of disciplining Israel, by bringing sickness upon them. We’re seeing how sickness works. COVID-19 has just come out of nowhere and swept across the globe in no time. Epidemiologists have determined its origins are a Chinese meat market. But why that virus? Why now? Why all over the world? It has spread so quickly and disrupted so much of daily life that, as the New York Governor described it, “It’s like someone has picked up the snow globe and shaken it”. That is the kind of experience the Assyrians would have. Sickness would come upon the Assyrians like a tsunami. Although it would have been so severe they wouldn’t bother or be able to keep the daily body count posted online.
What about the houses all over the earth in Isaiah 24? Most likely from information in other chapters that means the houses would be boarded up and abandoned. But it shows how every earthly source of security is revealed to be fragile and short-lived. Surely we can relate to the lack of jubilance and laughter.
If you read through Isaiah, you will see that God’s judgment on Israel and the surrounding nations is much more severe than what we are experiencing to date. But during COVID-19, we can get just a sense of what God was doing and what He is willing to do in the face of idolatry among His people. Which means we can know Him more and love Him more.
How Gross Are Sin and Idolatry
We think too lightly about sin. At first glance, God’s measures may seem a little harsh, right? But the severity of God’s discipline against idolatry and injustice teaches us the severity of our sin. That is the point of the severity of suffering which God allows, it shows how serious sin is.
We see this in the gospel of Christ crucified. How serious and severe is God about sin? It is so serious to God that He willingly crucified His own Son to pay for sin. The only thing that could redeem us from our sin is not even our own suffering and loss, but the sacrifice of the pure and righteous Son of God.
God was willing to remove the bread and water of His people so they might see how gross their idolatry was. As long as there is bread on the shelf and water running through the sink, we are prone to live in idolatry. That is, we are more prone to forget who God is. Even when we do realize our idolatry we are prone to minimize the severity of our idolatry. But Isaiah is pronouncing that no longer would God only send sermons; He was sending suffering. He removed the most basic necessities to force His people to reckon with their faith—with Him. It was worth it to God. The worship of other gods, the security in worldly wealth, the practice of empty religion, and rampant injustice was gross and dangerous. It was grosser to God than His people being without food and water. It remains so today. Idolatry is more dangerous than the loss of earthly comfort and security.
Perhaps empty shelves and decreased bank accounts is good for our souls. Whatever exposes idolatry, false religion, and injustice in us is God’s means of grace to us.
How Gracious God Is
We also learn how gracious God is. Experiencing the shelter-in-place order gives us a sharpened awareness of the hope of salvation in God. As surely as God came to destroy the cities of Israel and Assyria, He also called those of faith and humility into the city of salvation.
A Safe City of Salvation
Reread our church’s COVID-19 memory verse with a bit more context.
We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. 2 Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. 3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. 4 Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. 5 For he has humbled the inhabitants of the height, the lofty city. He lays it low, lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust. 6 The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy. Isaiah 26:1–6 (ESV)
In providing a city of salvation, God is not only providing safety from harm. God has brought about suffering and loss which led His people to trust in God for salvation—to flee the city of earthly security and run to the city of God’s salvation. Now, those who humbly worship God have a strong city—that salvation of God. Our city officials are doing an amazing job at working together and guiding our city. But they cannot hide how fragile our city’s economy and infrastructure is.
It is being revealed just how regularly we’ve enjoyed safety and security apart from trusting God. It is being revealed how safe our idols have been. It is being clarified how gracious God is to forgive and welcome us to Himself, despite our sin.
Safety in Your Home
We chose our COVID-19 theme verse over a week before the shelter-in-place order was announced. But since then, the opportunities to read the Bible with heightened awareness a biblical picture of salvation has increased each day. Consider the last verses of Isaiah 26:
20 Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by.
21 For behold, the Lord is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain. Isaiah 26:20–21 (ESV)
Again, I’m not saying that in COVID-19 God is doing exactly what He was doing in Isaiah. We can’t know His purposes perfectly. What I am saying is that we can read Isaiah and be more acutely aware of the severity and the kindness of God. Now we, like those of Isaiah, have the experience of shutting our doors and sheltering in place in order to avoid the sickness outside and protect others. For Isaiah, that was the depiction of coming to God for your salvation. Shut the doors in city of God. His salvation is a wall and a bulwark.
We’re safe inside; we’re safe in the city of the salvation of God.
Trust in the Lord for spiritual and eternal salvation like you are trusting in your house to keep you from getting or spreading COVID-19. Read large swaths of the Bible and see if our circumstances don’t help you read the Bible and know God more clearly.