We are living in interesting times right now. “Normal life,” as we’ve known it, has flown out the proverbial window, and we’re left to either wonder when the end of this madness will come or why it’s happening in the first place.
Unsurprisingly, times of panic and fear are fertile ground for conflicting reactions and opinions. In a time when parents are now teachers and Zoom meetings are now church buildings, there is no shortage of “experts” telling us the why’s and when’s of this social crisis. Unfortunately, many believers have entered this fray, and though their hearts are undoubtedly in the right place, their words sometimes miss the mark.
The truth is this is a perfect time for Christians to evangelize. These are the times when God shines as His power is, and will continue to be, very evident. What God doesn’t need is for us to defend Him, nor does He need us to advance our opinions on what He is doing or why this is happening.
As a minister and counselor, I’ve had many disillusioned people come to me lately in confusion, fear, and even anger over what some Christians have offered as rationalizations for what is befalling the world right now. This is a time to turn people toward God, not away from Him, and our words have the power to do either.
There are three specific explanations I believe Christians should stop saying during this pandemic or any other crisis:
1. “This is God’s judgment against the world.”
Just saying this sets up an image of God as the mean and angry Judge up in the sky, waving His mighty scepter around and throwing pestilence this way and that because He has simply had it with mankind. This is simply not true. God already judged mankind in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve rebelled against the authority of God by listening to and acting on the temptations from Satan, sin entered the world and the earth was judged. Nothing will ever be perfect again until Jesus returns. Every catastrophe that hits us while we live on this fallen planet isn’t an individual judgment from God. It’s a consequence of the moment sin entered existence.
2. “He (or she) got sick because of a lack of faith.”
This one has been a hotbed of misinterpretation, and it is also one of the leading reasons many have either left the faith or not embraced it in the first place. Jesus says in Matthew 17: “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
But when passages like this are used to justify statements that infer someone’s lack of faith caused them to get sick, we step into the role of judge and jury. In truth, that passage, as well as all the others in the Bible referring to faith as a means to healing and prevention of sickness, is about relationship with God. It’s about knowing God and His character so well that our faith lies in Him, not in what we expect from Him. Our faith is in God and His promises.
Thomas Schreiner wrote:
“Faith isn’t abstract; we put our faith in the promises of God, in the truth he has revealed. Scripture never promises believers they will be healthy or wealthy. Paul’s thorn in the flesh was probably a physical disease, and though he prayed three times for deliverance, God said ‘no.’” (“Why Doesn’t Our Faith Move Mountains,” Thomas Schreiner, www.thegospelcoalition.org)
In short, faith is about God, not us. And when we say things like, “You’re sick because you didn’t have enough faith,” we take the reins right out of God’s hands and we put them into our own, wrongly trusting in our human abilities so that we can try to obtain what we desire.
3. “God isn’t in control.”
Christians often say this when they are trying to defend God. They know that He is good, so He can’t be in control of something as evil as a pandemic. This is partially a true statement. God is, in fact, good, and there can be no evil in Him. However, claiming that He isn’t in control is tantamount to claiming that He isn’t God. The issue is the difference between “control” and “cause,” and I believe that many have begun to use these two words to mean the same thing. In fact, these two words are completely different. According to Dictionary.com, “cause” means to be the cause of, or to bring about, but “control” means to exercise restraint or direction over; to dominate; to command.
When Christians claim that “God isn’t in control of this virus,” what I think they mean is that God didn’t cause it. And that is correct.
James calls God “the Father of Heavenly Lights” from whom comes every good and perfect gift. Psalm 92:15 says, “The Lord always does right! God is our mighty rock!” And finally, John wrote, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all!” By virtue of God’s very character, He cannot author evil. However, by virtue of His very “God-ness,” He overrides any evil intent by the enemy or even sin so that His good and perfect will can be accomplished. He will work all things out for good and to His glory (Rom 8:28, ESV); He will take all that the enemy means for evil and use it for good (Gen 50:20, ESV); and as Isaiah wrote, “The Lord of hosts has sworn, ‘As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.’” (Isaiah 14:24, ESV)
In an attempt to defend God’s character, some Christians have inadvertently laid waste His place as God. He did not cause this pandemic but make no mistake—He is in control of it. If He were not, He would cease to be God.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “When you go through a trial, the sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which you lay your head.” God’s prevailing authority should always lead Christians to a place of perfect peace during this pandemic and whatever else may come our way. As we represent God to a lost world during these difficult days, we need to choose our words carefully. God is still on the throne and He still wants people to know Jesus. Let’s be the reason they find Him instead of the reason they turn away.