Why is this happening? Coronavirus is grinding the world to a halt. Countries are locking down, closing borders and banning public gatherings. Sports, tourist attractions and major events are being canceled. Cities are eerily quiet. Masses of people are being forced to stay home. Hoarding is rampant. Store shelves are empty. Shoppers are panicking. Businesses are being destroyed. Stocks are plunging, and economies—national and global—are being ravaged.
Is God angry with mankind? Is this fulfilling Bible prophecy? What can we learn from this extraordinary event?
When we experience this kind of disruption and trial, we need to learn what we can from it. We don’t want to stumble through and hope everything ends as quickly as possible simply so we can return to life exactly as before.
You need to know what the Bible says. You need to know what a Christian’s response should be. You need to know how to react, physically and spiritually—because even more-serious crises are coming.
Prayer and Panic
United States President Donald Trump declared Sunday, March 15, a “National Day of Prayer for All Americans Affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic and for Our National Response Efforts.” In a White House statement, the president noted that though a lot of churches were closing, “in this time we must not cease asking God for added wisdom, comfort and strength, and we must especially pray for those who have suffered harm or who have lost loved ones.” He asked for people “to pray for God’s healing hand to be placed on the people of our nation,” to “pray for the health and well-being of your fellow Americans, and to remember that no problem is too big for God to handle. … With God’s help, we will overcome this threat.”
It was a fairly tame proclamation. It said nothing about why God might be allowing this pandemic. It avoided talk of humbling ourselves before God or seeking to restore God’s favor. It didn’t mention repentance, or turning from sin. It merely recommended asking God for comfort, strength, protection, health and healing.
Still, many people reacted viscerally. They ridiculed prayer as being “anti-science.” One woman tweeted: “Wishful thinking isn’t going to make testing and care available to those who are sick. Wishful thinking isn’t going to feed people or pay their bills. It doesn’t keep us warm or safe from harm.” Rep. Rashida Tlaib issued a vulgar response scorning national prayer.
Others demanded separation of church and state, as if encouraging voluntary prayers is somehow enforcing a state religion. One woman tweeted: “This goes against everything the founding fathers stood for.” Apparently she is unaware that America’s founders were deeply religious and praised and thanked the Creator God in the nation’s Declaration of Independence. Among them were men like John Adams, who said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
In the overall national conversation on the news, God is not being talked about. Instead, you are hearing from every doctor, scientist, celebrity and pundit regarding containment measures and projecting worst-case scenarios. You are hearing experts speculate that around two thirds of the world’s population could get the disease, and that tens of millions could die.
This is creating a lot of hysteria. Most of the shocks to stock markets have not come from problems already hitting, but from fear of problems that could hit. Shortages in groceries and general stores mostly aren’t resulting from problems with supply, manufacturing or distribution, but from fear, panic and hoarding. Plenty of food, toilet paper and other essentials still exist, but people are frantically grabbing more, looking after themselves and their own.
This is exposing some ugly truths about ourselves—truths certain to prove extremely relevant in the time ahead. We are getting a preview of how people react in crisis—and Bible prophecy says far more and far worse crises are coming.
What would happen if a more lethal disease or an environmental or financial disaster actually disrupts the supply chain? What if earthquakes or other natural phenomena destroy infrastructure or wipe out food production, or long-term economic depression hits, or currency values collapse, or we suffer an energy embargo, or terrorist strikes—perhaps nuclear, biological or chemical weapon attacks—occur in several cities? Such threats are very real.
Witness how people are behaving in this comparatively minor crisis. The world has never reacted to a pandemic as it is reacting today. Even if worst-case scenarios don’t materialize, this shows how quickly an unexpected disaster can arise from nowhere and utterly alter the global landscape.
This is a time we need national days of prayer. We need to be sincerely looking to God, not just for comfort, strength, protection, health and healing, but also for guidance and, yes, correction. We need to see this from His point of view. We must see how He is involved and what He is trying to teach us.
Yet the notion of God being involved in something like a disease pandemic is entirely foreign to people.
“For Christians, this terrible virus is not a punishment but a test of our faith and charity,” the Telegraph wrote on March 16. This author ridicules the idea of divine punishment, and explains how “Enlightenment” reasoning has overtaken “medieval” thinking. “Very few Christian leaders have blamed the coronavirus on sin (even if there is a lot of it about), and some clerics have been so keen to discourage us from going to church, lest we cough on the congregation, that one is left wondering what faith has to offer when nature goes mad.” The solution this author provides: Christians should look after other people.
Acts of charity toward those in need are certainly noble—but can we casually dismiss the idea that a crisis like this may be a curse from God?
Think about this for a moment. Suppose God did want to correct us. Suppose He does hate sin and hates how it harms us. Suppose He wants us to see how selfish, covetous, materialistic we are, how glutted on sports and entertainment. Suppose He does want us to change, to turn from sin, to turn to Him, and to live better lives.
Suppose God wants to show us that modern conveniences and luxuries are dominating our lives and drawing us away from the spiritual. Suppose He wants to help us see how we trust ourselves too much and to realize how fragile the civilization we have built really is, how tenuous the social fabric.
Suppose God wants us to get a good look at our own selfish human nature and to help us see that we aren’t as good-hearted as we think. Most of us get along well enough as long as we are materially well off—but it’s when we experience hardship and deprivation that our true character begins to emerge. What if God wanted to show us how little hardship it takes to begin to expose our ugly tendencies like selfishness, tribalism, factionalism?
What if He wanted to warn us that bigger trials are coming, and to give us a taste of those, a dose of reality, so we could examine ourselves to begin to see who we really are? What if God wanted us to stop our sports worship, our entertainment addiction, if He wanted us to hit the pause button on all the movies—so we would slow down a moment, stay home with family, think, and consider our ways? What if God actually did want to correct His children for their sins, and to lead them to repentance?
Isn’t it possible He could use a disease pandemic to do it?
God makes the answers to all these questions and more plain in His revelation to mankind, the Bible.
God’s Word tells us why events like this are happening. It explains in detail why God allows trials like this one—at times on a mass scale—to accomplish specific purposes. It also tells us what God expects of us: what God’s standards are and how to recognize when we are astray. It explains how to see the evil in our own hearts and to combat it.
The Bible is also full of examples of God correcting people through trial. There are biblical examples and many biblical prophecies of God specifically using health trials and diseases to correct people.
So the Bible is an invaluable resource to guide us through an event like this. It can tell us what to expect and how to successfully navigate these choppy waters.
First let’s see why God is allowing mankind to go through this ordeal.
God has a magnificent purpose for man. But that purpose requires that we have free choice; God will not force us to go His way. At the beginning of the book, our first parents, Adam and Eve, were given that choice. God spelled it out for them and let them choose between the tree of life and the tree of death. They chose death (Genesis 3).
The rest of that chapter shows that because of their decision, God pronounced certain curses on them. He banished them from the Garden of Eden and cut off their access to the tree of life.
Their decision cut mankind off from God, His truth, His knowledge and His guidance. Ever since, man has been building civilization apart from Him, trying to figure out how to make things work on our own. This is why the world is so rife with misery: because, with few exceptions, we are not submitting to God. We are living a way that is leading to our own destruction.
It’s a way God prophesied would actually end with our annihilating ourselves from off the planet—if He didn’t intervene! Jesus Christ Himself prophesied this about the time that would occur just before His Second Coming: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved …” (Matthew 24:21-22).
God wants to restore to us the awesome human potential that Adam and Eve turned their backs on. He wants to convert the heart of every person in the world, to help us see our error in going the wrong way and instill in us a love for His way. “The Lord is … not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Repentance means comparing ourselves to God’s law of love to see where we are sinning and flawed, and then changing direction and obeying that law!
God’s law, for example, commands that you love God with all your heart, mind and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37). Repenting of not doing this means striving to change. God’s law forbids putting anything before the true God (Exodus 20:2-3). Repentance means searching your life for areas where you are prioritizing other interests, people or things before God. God’s law says you shall not commit adultery (Exodus 20:14; Matthew 5:27-28). That means turning away from all forms of sex outside of marriage, including fornication, pornography and all lust and perversion (as God defines it, not as society does).
God’s law is perfect and it is liberating (James 1:25). It is a law of love (Romans 13:10). God’s law defines how He thinks, how He lives, and who He is. It is the way that Jesus Christ lived. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3).
Our own thinking, reasoning and ways are fatally flawed. The unstable, unjust, unhappy world we have built is abundant proof of that. God wants each of us to see reality, “the plague of his own heart” (1 Kings 8:38). He wants us to avoid the suffering that comes from each of us relying on ourselves and comparing ourselves to others. He wants us instead to live by His law because that is what is best for each one of us, and for the world we inhabit.
This is a tremendous ambition for God to have, because each human heart is terribly plagued by weakness and evil (Jeremiah 17:9). God is not yet trying to turn people to repentance on a mass scale—but His master plan does eventually include everyone. God has an amazing future for all those who will be willing to come to repentance.
True repentance bridges the gap between an individual and God. Thus, the very first step toward real, lasting happiness is a genuine, deep, complete repentance.
Have you ever repented before God? Very, very few people have. But nobody will ever begin to walk the path toward true happiness and fulfillment before doing so. We must recognize our own helplessness and inadequacy apart from God. That is the most fundamental lesson any of us can learn.
This is what was missing from President Trump’s declaration for a National Day of Prayer. As 1 John 3:22 explains, “Whatsoever we ask [in prayer], we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.” Prayer alone isn’t enough: We must also turn to Him in repentance and obedience. His ears are open to the prayers of the righteous, “but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil” (1 Peter 3:12). That is a major reason so many prayers go unanswered—because people simply have not surrendered themselves wholly to God. They are still living in rebellion against Him. (You can learn more about this in our free book How to Pray.)
Blessings and Curses
Once you understand that God is trying to bring us to repentance, then many of the prophecies of the Bible make sense.
Consider Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, known as the “blessings and curses” chapters. They list the blessings God will give, even on the national level, to those who obey Him—and the curses that will come to those who do not. These chapters are specifically directed at the Israelites and their descendants, which today include the United States and Britain. But the principle applies to us all, even individually.
“But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee: Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field. … The Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do … because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me. The Lord shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee” (Deuteronomy 28:15-16, 20-21). The word pestilence describes various types of destruction and death; it could even be violence we commit against each other.
God then gets more specific, even discussing disease: “The Lord shall smite thee with a consumption [chronic degenerative diseases], and with a fever, and with an inflammation [speaking of communicable diseases like influenzas—coronavirus would be included], and with an extreme burning …” (verse 22).
To have God, who has total power, cursing you is terrifying! Few take this warning seriously, but this is just one of many biblical passages showing how God corrects His children when we go astray. He is like any father who loves his children: He will step in when he sees them hurting themselves.
Throughout Deuteronomy 28, God repeatedly says how these curses are aimed at turning us back to Him! If we would turn—and as soon as we turn—the curses would stop! Only because we refuse to repent will they grow worse and worse.
Isolation and Idolatry
Amid this current crisis, how many people are seeking God? How many are examining themselves according to God’s Word? How many are concerned about the sins of our peoples that are bringing these curses upon us?
Instead we see people hoarding, fighting over goods in stores, panic selling, and looking for entertainments to lose themselves in.
“With great swathes of the world population physically distancing themselves from the rest of society, travel restricted, and schools and workplaces shutting down, we can expect a massive increase in ‘screen time,’” the Telegraph reported. “Last week, Telecom Italia reported a 70 percent increase in Internet traffic, much of it due to online games such as Fortnite. … The coming age of self-isolation means experiencing live events, social interactions and learning through a device. Parts of life that were once analogue will now become temporarily, or perhaps permanently, digital” (March 16).
So many of the things society loves are actually idols: sports, concerts, bars, comforts and luxuries, money and materialism, our work, our investment portfolios. Not that any of those things is evil of itself—but many people put those things ahead of God, which is a form of idolatry. Now, suddenly, many of these “gods” are being forcibly stripped from us.
Perhaps you are among the many people who cannot go to work. You have extra time on your hands. Use this opportunity to direct your attention to the more important things in life that are too often neglected amid the hurly-burly of everyday responsibilities and distractions.
God wants us all to see the error of our ways and turn our hearts to Him! He wants mankind to recognize just how failed and flawed the civilization we have built apart from Him is. He can use a crisis like this to try to drive people in that direction. But if people don’t respond, what more can a loving God do?
If you look from God’s perspective at the way people are reacting, you can see why these problems are virtually certain to intensify. God wants to bring about repentance—so He can make the magnificent future He has for mankind possible. Thus, He is going to allow this world to endure even greater suffering.
The Bible includes some grim prophecies about disease pandemics in the end time. Even secular news sources have been quoting some of them.
In that Matthew 24 prophecy, Jesus was forecasting the conditions that would precede His Second Coming. He said, “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in [different] places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (verses 6-8).
Perhaps the most vivid forecast on this point is in Revelation, the Bible’s most detailed book of end-time prophecy. Here is where you find the imagery of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The fourth of these is described in Revelation 6:8: “And I looked, and behold a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” Among the weapons this horseman has, there are disease epidemics. Along with these other three horsemen, this anemic-looking horseman on a haunting, pallid horse will slay “the fourth part of the earth.” With today’s population of 7.7 billion, that means nearly 2 billion people!
Coronavirus is definitely a problem—but compared to the scale of the pestilence that is coming, it is barely significant. God prophesies of tens of millions of people killed by pestilence!
But do not lose sight of the reason. God is not destroying indiscriminately: He is punishing the world in love and in measure—to help mankind ultimately turn from the paths of destruction to the way of truth and peace! God will allow coronavirus and other afflictions to affect mankind to precisely the degree needed to help people repent—no more, no less. For most people, this will come when God resurrects them again to life in a world that He governs. (To understand this truth, read “The Three Resurrections.”)
God is trumpeting His end-time warning message to this world through this work, literally fulfilling His prophecy in Isaiah 58:1: “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” But if God cannot bring us to repentance through words, then He will try to do so through trials, afflictions and disasters.
When trouble comes, some will finally cry out to God for His intervention in their lives. But physically, they may be too late. We must seek God “while he may be found” (Isaiah 55:6).
Must you suffer alongside this world? No. The same God who controls world events is perfectly capable of protecting individuals. Act while the warning is still going out, not only after calamity grows worse. Heed God’s words and turn to God now, and you will receive relief from His curses. He promises to forgive and then to protect each person who repents. Why wait until the Great Tribulation, the worst suffering mankind has ever experienced, to respond?
God wants us to change our behavior so we obey Him and seek His will, not ours. The Bible is filled with examples of individual repentance and individual protection. If we repent, God can protect us just as surely as He protected Daniel from the jaws of the lions. Not one hair was singed when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were cast into the fiery furnace. Other ancient prophets survived multiple disasters and intense persecution. God’s true Church received divine protection throughout the centuries when His people remained faithful to Him. God can bless us and be a shield in our individual lives just as He was for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and so many others.
The Apostle Peter wrote that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9; Revised Standard Version). This lesson permeates the Bible: God protects righteous, obedient people who seek His protection.
God has power over diseases. He says in Exodus 15:26 that if we diligently hear Him and keep His laws, “I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee.”
God promises to heal upon repentance: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases” (Psalm 103:2-3). This does not mean you will never get sick. In fact, God’s promise of healing wouldn’t apply to someone who never came down with a sickness or disease. Some of God’s people may even get coronavirus. God may allow that as a test of our faith.
But we need not panic during times like these. The world is panicking and fearful. People are so terrified of death, that panic is drawing them into ugly behavior and unnecessarily costly policy decisions. But those who put their trust in God are at peace. They are full of faith, hope and comfort. God promises these things.
He also absolutely promises healing. Yet sometimes God allows His people to get sick—even to die in faith, not yet having received the promise of healing in this lifetime (Hebrews 11:35-39). Healing is a sure promise, and many who claim that promise are healed, even immediately! But for some, it will take place in the resurrection. (If you want more information on this inspiring biblical doctrine, request our free booklet The Plain Truth About Healing.)
God does not promise that you will never die in this physical life. Actually, God promises that you will experience trials! But with Christ in you, you’ll be able to battle those with faith. That makes all the difference—whether you live or die. God’s faithful people are not afraid of death.
God guarantees peace of mind during the worst of crises. He is in control, and He promises in Romans 8:28 that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” We may experience some of the same troubles that descend on the world. Yet we have a solid hope in the future God has promised as an “anchor of the soul” to keep us stable even in times of trouble.
Are you ready for crises to come? Start preparing by repenting before God. That is what God seeks above all. And to those who turn to Him with supple hearts, He offers individual protection—escape—from the worst of the coming storms (e.g. Luke 21:36). That is the only sure place to invest your faith.
If you want guidance on how to repent and to act on what you’re reading, we can help. We produce a lot of material aimed at helping you make God’s way of life your way of life! A good place to start is by reading our editor in chief’s booklet How to Be an Overcomer, starting with Chapter 1, “Repentance Toward God.” Sign up for our weekly PCG Signposts e-mail; it gives vital, practical Christian-living instruction to help you make real changes in your life. You can also find helpful, relevant education on our sister website, pcg.church. And if you want to speak with a Philadelphia Church of God minister, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.