Pestilence, panic and promise

March 26, 2020

Everywhere we turn, we keep hearing about the coronavirus. The world, it seems, is coming to a grinding halt.

While we are living in strange and foreign times, much wisdom can be gleaned from Scripture and history. In times like these, we can trust the Spirit of God is at work. Here are three helpful reminders.

God loves the world.
One thing that is clear between Genesis 1 and Leviticus 25 is that God cares about His creation and all the people within it. It is important to note the relationship between God, people and creation, which shows that through human governance and stewardship, creation flourishes or fails. Ever since the fall in Genesis 3, the world has been cursed. The effects of sin are broad, seeping into every crack and crevice of creation — including the human heart. Creation now languishes under the burden of sin. Through the approach and invitation to Abraham (Genesis 12) and his subsequent family, God puts forward a rescue plan that, through His people, He will rescue all people to Himself and restore them to their rightful place as faithful stewards of His creation.

The promise will come.
God’s promise of rescue almost always seems to be in peril, because there is a usurper in the midst — satan and his evil angelic army. They too know that, through human governance and stewardship (or lack thereof), creation flourishes or fails. And the key to it all is whose voice has most prominence in human lives.

In Leviticus 26, God’s chosen people, who were rescued from slavery, are given promises of either blessing or curses. It comes back to this willingness, or not, to heed God’s voice. God says, “if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments” (verse 14, ESV) the ultimate consequence is that Israel would have “no power to stand before your enemies” and “perish among the nations” (verses 37-39, ESV). Death, particularly in the form of Exile, is the result of sin.

The ominous tone of the text is telling — 13 verses of blessing and 26 verses of curses. What’s interesting is what the Lord says will be the consequences of disobedience. If Israel repeatedly is unwilling to heed His voice, He promises to “visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consumes the eyes and makes the heart ache,” (Leviticus 26:16, ESV), ultimately to “break the pride of power” and discipline them. Surprisingly, though, this discipline is to give space for the land to “enjoy its Sabbaths” and to give “the land rest” (Leviticus 26:34-35, ESV).

Living with the consequences.
Already, the pollution levels in Wuhan, China, — ground zero of the global coronavirus pandemic — are remarkably low. Could it be that the world is grinding to a halt because of God’s love for creation? It’s impossible to draw such direct corollaries, but the language is striking. Pestilence is running rampant across the world in 2020, and panic is not far behind it.

Interestingly, Leviticus 26 does not end on an ominous tone of curse. Leviticus 26:40-42 says, “But if they confess their iniquity…. if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled, and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob…. Isaac … and Abraham, and I will remember the land” (ESV).

There are consequences to our collective, global choices. And the more we point the finger at each other, the further out solutions are. The Lord says our consequences do not have to be the full story; His promises are still intact and progressing history one generation at a time. God truly is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, but He will not acquit the guilty. This is who He is.

The blessing of forgiveness, the assurance of purpose and the filling of the Spirit gives us the kind of hearts that God can trust to be His servants. Wisdom will tell us when to serve our neighbor by doing something for them or staying at home because of them. Wisdom will tell us how best to gather, and what activities to take part in. But let’s not miss the opportunity to view this pandemic as an opportunity to reconnect with the earth and remember what it is here for in the first place.

When the world feels like it’s coming apart at the seams, it’s the church that has the greatest opportunity to bring joy and peace to our neighbors, and the earth, in the midst of a crisis.


by Josh Reed  
Adult Evangelism and Discipleship  /  Baptist State Convention of North Carolina

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