Because of the confusion and even the fear that wrong teaching has caused concerning the corona virus (in Tanzania), I have tried in this study to give a biblical context with the hope it will give a biblical understanding of the issues that surround this topic. To get the real benefit of this study, I would encourage the reader to patiently read the whole article.
- THE CHRISTIANS IN THE NT REACTED TO NATURAL DISASTER.
In Acts chapter 11 we read that Christians travelled as far as Antioch because of the persecution of the church by the Jews (Acts 11:19). In the same chapter we are told that the prophet Agabus came from Jerusalem to the church at Antioch and prophesied that there would be a great famine in all the world. So here we have a situation where the persecution of the Christians would be followed by a great famine. Let us learn from how these believers in the New Covenant reacted to these two situations!
Agabus, Paul and Barnabus were all Jews and they knew very well the connection between natural disasters and God’s judgement in the history of Israel under the Old Covenant. And these men were teaching the new Christians at Antioch about their new faith in Jesus Christ and the New Covenant.
So what did they do? Did they say that this famine was God’s judgement and did they lead the Christians to humble themselves and confess and repent for the sins of the city of Antioch that God would ‘heal’ the land, or to confess and repent for the sins of the country of Syria – because Antioch was part of the region of Syria? The answer is, no they didn’t. Did they teach the new believers that this famine would be an attack of the devil and God was letting them know so that they could all pray against the devil’s attack? The answer is, no they didn’t. There is not a word about this kind of thing in this passage of scripture. More than this, after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have no example or teaching in the New Testament that believers should confess or pray for the sins of the country they live in. This is very important for us to understand. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross has changed everything. And our thinking and attitude has to change. We do not live under the Old Covenant now. The relationship between God and the world has changed, and we are to recognise the changes that the Gospel has brought about, and we are not to live or think as if we were in the Old Covenant.
You will remember that in the OLD Covenant, God sent his prophets at certain times to prophesy against his people Israel because of their idolatry and sins, and God also warned them concerning his judgements if they continued in their sins. But what do we read now in the NEW Testament? When Agabus prophesied about the famine which was to come, what did these Christians do? Did they ask themselves if this is a sign of God’s judgement on the world because of their sins; or if it was a sign of God’s anger on his people, the Christians, because of their sins? Did they try to find out if this famine was of the devil….or if it was of God? The answer is, “No”.
They could have asked so many questions and created so much confusion and anxiety in their hearts by trying to GUESS what was happening. They could have called for an all-night prayer meeting of intercession to pray……but to pray for what? That God would have mercy on the sins of unbelievers and remove the threat of this plague? Or should they pray that God should forgive the sins of Christians because they and their pastors had become worldly? Or should they pray JUST for their own country, or for the whole world, because Agabus prophesied that this famine would come to the whole world? Or should they pray against the devil with loud voices for one or two hours? But what if basically it is not of the devil but something that God in his own purposes has allowed? If that is the case, then if you pray that the disaster should not happen, then you will be praying against the purposes of God!
With all these questions no one can truly pray! Prayer must be of faith – and faith comes by the word of God (Romans 10:17). Our prayers cannot just be guesswork that issue out of fear, ignorance or superstition – is it God’s judgement on the country, or on the Christians, or both; should we humble ourselves before God, or is it just the work of the devil which needs to be stopped? I wonder how many hours of prayer have been wasted because people are praying not because of something that has been revealed to them by God, but it is just an EMOTIONAL REACTION – they are praying out of anxiety or out of a desire for this thing ‘to go away’.
Some people put an emotional and mental burden on themselves because they automatically think that the devil is gaining a victory and he must be stopped – so when the disaster doesn’t go away, they are confused and think God is not at work or the devil is winning! So they lose their peace and their joy in the Lord. All this would be the result of praying without thinking what the Bible actually teaches – and what the Bible is silent about.
All this kind of thinking is trying to grab at something in the dark. It is not faith, it is not walking with understanding and wisdom; it brings no light; it brings no rest and peace to the heart and mind. Much of such reasoning is born out of fear and insecurity and a lack of true faith in God.
This now brings us back to the Christians at Antioch. Remember, they had been suffering persecution and now they were going to enter into a period of hardship – a severe lack of food. So, were they bothered by any of these questions that we have looked at above? The answer is a clear “No”. We read nothing like that. Paul, Barnabus, Agabus and others at Antioch were Jews by birth and they knew very well how God had previously dealt with the nation of Israel, but they do not react to the situation as if they were under the Old Covenant. There were no prayers of repentance or confessions of sin, there was no praying against the devil. So what did they do about the famine that was about to hit the world? This is what they did – they remembered that many of the Christian believers in Judea were poor and under persecution, and they realised they would particularly suffer because of the famine. So they decided to start collecting money to send to Judea to support the poor Christians there! That’s what they did. We don’t read anything else about his event. Collecting and sending money to poor Christians to help them in a time of crisis was there ONLY reaction.
Do you see? Their thinking had changed – because Calvary had changed everything! They were no longer under the Old Covenant. Jesus had died to redeem them and bring them into a relationship with Him. They simply accepted that God had allowed the famine and they wanted to deal with it in a way that would help other Christian believers. That is how they reacted to the situation. God had not said anything more except that there would be a famine, so they didn’t try and GUESS what God was doing.
Of course we may all feel like asking ‘Why’? But in Acts chapter one the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” And what was Jesus’ answer? He said, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in his own power.” In other words, they had to be content with being ignorant about certain things! And the Christians at Antioch were content to accept that God had allowed this natural disaster and they reacted to it in having compassion on other believers who would suffer more than them in that situation.
These believers in Acts 11 didn’t confuse and plague themselves with all those questions we mentioned above!
Let us also recognise that the Christians at Antioch understood and accepted that the famine that was coming would affect believers and make life more difficult for them as well as for other people. They recognised without complaint that Christians would pass through the same difficult times as the unbelievers because of these natural calamities, and so the Christians in Antioch TOOK STEPS to help protect the believers in Judea from the famine. There was no praying against the devil, there was not repenting for the sins of the world. They took practical steps to help other believers to be protected from the consequence of the famine which was coming? And if you have the financial resources, is that what you are doing? Is that how you are reacting to this corona virus situation? Is your first and main thought – how to help your brothers and sisters in Christ who may have lost their jobs or be suffering hunger? Do we read our Bibles? Do we want to be taught and fed by the word of God?
Acts chapter 11 is an EXAMPLE of what Christians did when faced with a natural disaster. Although it is not direct teaching, it nevertheless helps us gain an understanding of how these New Testament Christians thought and reacted to a natural disaster. It shows us that things had changed from how things were under the Old Testament.
- OTHER EVENTS OF NATURE AFFECTING THE WORLD.
During the last 5 years there have been both droughts and floods that have made life difficult for many if not everyone in Tanzania. Furthermore, each year about 5 to10 million people get malaria in Tanzania and about 80,000 die from it. This affects everyone. It is no different with the corona virus – it affects everyone. Have preachers got up and told us to rebuke the devil so that malaria disappears from Tanzania – or do they go to bed with a mosquito net over them? Have preachers got up and called on people to confess the sins of the nation and repent so that there should be no more famine and floods to destroy crops in Tanzania? If not, why not? I know the corona virus affects each one of us socially in a way that the other problems mentioned above don’t, but why do people choose to confess the sins of the nation for one disaster and not another? It has no reason. It has no biblical basis. My dear reader, in these Gospel days it is completely unbiblical to start repenting for the sins of a country every time a natural disaster occurs, as if we were the nation of Israel under the Old Covenant. This is the period of Gospel grace.
God has not been sending a prophet each time to a country to tell them He will send a natural disaster of some kind if they don’t repent as He did with Israel under the Old Covenant. God is speaking through His Son through the Gospel. THAT is how He is speaking.
Between 1918 and 1920 there was a pandemic. It was called Spanish flu. It infected 500 million people across the world and about 50 million people died from it. It came and it went. This pandemic has come and it looks like it will pass. We cannot expect that we might remain untouched by such things, but I will speak about the confidence we should have in God in another section of this study.
- THE GOSPEL AND THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION.
A little later I will show clearly that even Israel, as God’s people, did not confess or repent for the sins of any other nation. This is unknown in the Bible, and it is particularly important for us to understand this in the context of what God did through Christ on the cross.
We read the following in 2 Corinthians 5:19: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world by His death on the cross! (John 1:29). And John tells us in his first letter that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2). And what do we read in the letter to the Romans? The word of God says this, “But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:8-10). These verses tell us that Jesus has already obtained forgiveness of sins for mankind when he died on the cross – and He did this WHILE THEY WERE STILL SINNERS AND HIS ENEMIES! He has done it. It is finished!
If this is the grace of God to sinners, then why are you confessing and repenting for the sins of the people of your country? Do you want to ADD your prayers to Christ’s finished work on Calvary? Do you think that His work on the cross is insufficient to obtain forgiveness for sinners? Do you think your prayers will succeed where Christ’s death didn’t? Do you think that Christ didn’t suffer enough on the cross to obtain grace, mercy and forgiveness for every man and woman? Is that what you think? Yes, that is exactly what you think if you are trying to ‘repent’ for the sins of your country. Your praying stands in opposition to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Or do you think God’s word is not true? In His love and kindness He has forgiven men and women while they were still His enemies, but do you think God has now got angry and impatient and He is now sending different kinds of natural disaster to your country because sinners haven’t repented? Do you think that the basis of repentance today is the Gospel of Jesus Christ or the fear and ‘punishment’ of a natural disaster? Do you think that God has changed His mind about Calvary without telling us?
The Gospel means the “Good News” of sins forgiven. Are you spreading “Bad News”? If you are confessing and repenting for the sins of your country then you are giving the message that God has sent this disease because He is angry at their sins – by which you mean that your prayers will atone for their sins, because that which Christ did on Calvary was not sufficient to atone for them! And remember, that the corona virus is worldwide, so will have to pray for the sins of the whole world to be forgiven, just as if Jesus had not died!
Have you not read that “God, who at different times and in various manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Has in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…” (Hebrews 1:1,2). God speaks to us in these days through His Son, through what His Son has done on the cross, through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And because of His shed blood, He has sent the Holy Spirit and it is the Spirit of God that convinces men and women “sin, righteousness and judgement” (John 16:7-11). Do you think that the ministry of the Holy Spirit has ceased and that Christians in your country need to confess and repent for the sins of unbelievers instead of sinners themselves repenting? Or do you think that Christ suffered His death on the cross to forgive the sins of the world while they were His enemies, and then He sends a plague later because He is angry at their sins? God hasn’t suddenly changed His mind, nor His nature! It is the Spirit of God that convinces men of sin THROUGH THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL.
- TO PREACH THE GOSPEL.
So what remains for the sinner to do? The thing that remains is that the sinner should BELIEVE the Gospel and repent of his sins. Forgiveness has already been freely obtained for mankind by God through Christ’s death on the cross! That is why Christ said, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:17). This is the Gospel! This is what we are to preach to men and women! As Paul says, “…how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10:15). The church is to declare to the world that Christ has already died for the forgiveness of their sins.
It is the preaching of the Gospel that is to lead men and women to repentance in these days!
The Lord Jesus said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Matthew 28:18). This is the truth that we are to understand and live by. All power is given to Jesus – in heaven and in earth. Is this in our understanding when we consider what is happening in the world today? In the psalms we are instructed by the following words, “Say among the heathen that the LORD reigns.” (Psalm 96:10). This is the message – the Lord reigns! This is the message to your heart and mind, and to the nations – the Lord reigns. Again the word of God declares, “God reigns over the heathen: God sits upon the throne of his holiness.” (Psalm 47:8). Whatever happens in the world, this is the truth. The devil cannot get an advantage over the Lord. The devil may blind the hearts of those who don’t believe (2 Corinthians 4:4) and work in the lives of sinners (Ephesians 2:1,2), but it is God who is over all and who is in control. Do you believe this? Do you believe these truths in your heart as you walk and live day by day? Do you believe this even if this pandemic doesn’t go away quickly? Or do you think the devil is in control and winning if the pandemic continues to spread? If that is the case, then your thinking is wrong. What do the scriptures say, “You have put all things in subjection under his feet…But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus…crowned with glory and honor” (Hebrews 2:8,9). Is that what you see with your spiritual eyes, Jesus crowned with glory and honour? Is this the truth that our heart embraces from which we get encouragement and peace in our hearts? God and His son are on the throne. No one else. Glory be to His name!
Do not live thinking that some power has put a curse on your life because of Covid-19! This is superstition, not faith. Do not live in fear of what may happen. If you live in fear, then more damage is being done to you that if you got the virus! We are to believe God and His word. I speak much more about this at the end of this study.
- UNDER THE OLD COVENANT.
Because of the confusion that is caused by not distinguishing the Old Covenant from the New Covenant, let us consider how things were under the Old Covenant. It is clear that under the Old Covenant Israel WERE NEVER TOLD to confess or to pray for the sins of any heathen nation. There is no example of this or any instruction from God to do this. This is true both in the old and new Testaments. When the Jews were captives in Babylon, they didn’t confess or repent for the sins of Babylon. Nor were the Christians in Rome involved in confessing or repenting for the sins of the Roman Empire. To do this kind of thing is to do something that God has not instructed, and for which there is no example in the Bible. Some people might do this, but it can have no effect because it is not in the purposes of God, and to do so today is to fundamentally misunderstand the Gospel and what Christ’s death on Calvary has achieved. Believers might feel grief at the suffering that natural disasters may cause and start to pray that God will forgive the sins of the nation they live in, but this is a matter of being led by your feelings and not by the word of God. Without considering what the Bible really teaches, people just think of Israel and how they confessed and repented of their sins and apply it arbitrarily to situations today.
As we have seen, Israel never confessed or repented for the sins of any other (heathen) nation, for those who were not in a covenant relationship with God. When Jonah went to Nineveh he didn’t confess and repent for their sins! He preached the word of God to them and they themselves repented after hearing God’s word. So if you want to see people saved and blessed, preach the word of God, preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
If you want repentance to come to the people of your country, then preach the Gospel to them, and pray that God will raise up labourers for such a harvest!
The people of Israel were only involved in repenting for the sins they themselves had committed – not for any other peoples or nations! It is important for us to understand the context of this. Firstly, at the time when God was leading Israel into the land He was going to give them as His people, he WARNED them IN ADVANCE through Moses of the judgements they and their land would suffer if they started to turn their backs on His commandments and to serve other Gods (Deut. 28). And in Leviticus 26 God explains that His judgements upon them were for the purpose of turning their hearts back to Him, and that if they wouldn’t repent after His initial judgements, He would send further judgements. In 2 Chronicles chapters 6 and 7, Solomon takes up this theme and asks God that He would forgive His people if they humbled themselves before the altar at Jerusalem and confessed and repented of their sins – and God heard his prayer.
Secondly, when Israel turned their back on God, He sent them prophets to make it clear to Israel that they had sinned against Him and also of His judgements that would follow. So Israel was not left in ignorance about what God was doing or why He was doing it concerning such judgements. Israel didn’t have to be involved in GUESSWORK as to why these judgements were happening. God made it clear and warned Israel before they occurred, and even at the time they occurred, and God made it clear why they were happening. And is this how God has been speaking and what God has been doing in this New Covenant? No, it is not. There is nothing in the New Testament that reflects this.
Let us be clear that Israel was not left in the dark about God’s judgements. Everything that we have just described, applied only to Israel as a nation under the Old Covenant. But even under the Old Covenant, Israelites were never taught to confess or to pray for the sins of heathen nations, nor were they told to do this for the sins of the particular nation they lived in. There is no example of this or any instruction from God to do this. This is true both of the Old and New Testaments.
In this New Covenant, those who are now born again of God’s Spirit have become the dwelling place of God through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22); we have become the temple of God (1 Cor.3:16) and God is our inheritance (Romans 8:17; Galatian 4:7). Jesus Christ has redeemed us by His blood out of every kindred, tongue, people and nation (Rev. 5:9) – we are His church, His body, and He is the Head of this His church! This one church consists of all His redeemed people all over the earth and is not represented by one earthly nation! By His blood, Christ Jesus has redeemed us from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:13)! You cannot bring the Old Testament into the New Testament as if Jesus hadn’t died! There is nothing in the New Testament to indicate that God would rebuke or punish His people for their sins through natural disasters – and please remember, the church is worldwide! It is completely wrong and unbiblical to think because you, as a Christian, live in a certain country, God is going to deal with your particular country as He did with Israel! There is nothing to indicate that He was doing this to any heathen nation either. There is nothing in the New Testament to make us think this. Furthermore, Israel represented God’s people as one nation. Christians of any country find themselves in a country that is mainly filled with unbelievers. You cannot compare the two and you mustn’t confuse the New Covenant with the Old Covenant. This was the problem that Paul continually had, namely, wrong teachers trying to take Christians back into Old Testament thinking and ways of doing things!
- A NOTE ON DISASTERS AND JUDGEMENT.
We are all aware that God sent a flood as judgement on the world in the days of Noah, and that He also sent fire to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. In both these cases, God let his servant know (Noah and Abraham) before the event occurred. Judgements were also pronounced by several prophets (Amos, Obadiah, Nahum etc.) against those regions and countries that had treated Israel cruelly. We also know that Jesus Christ foretold the destruction of Jerusalem because of the Jews’ rejection of Him as their Messiah. This happened in AD 70.
However, DURING THIS PERIOD when the Gospel is preached there has been no clear or recognised example or repetition of God speaking in this way. Christ and the holy scriptures have already spoken. Christ has told us that there will be “great earthquakes in various places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven,” and that we are not to be troubled by these things. We know that just before the Lord’s return “there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” (Luke 21:26,27).
The judgement of the unbelievers and the ungodly is not asleep (2 Peter 2:3). We know that “the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints.” (2 Thess.1:7-10). And we know that “the heavens and the earth…are reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” The book of the Revelation also tells us about God’s judgements and anger that shall be poured out on the earth. The basic and main message during this period of Gospel preaching and of the church is that judgement is to come, it lies ahead of all those who reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It has been prophesied and declared by God. So to start seeing every natural disaster as God’s direct judgement against the sin of a particular nation and its sins has no biblical justification. It confuses both the message of the Gospel and what God has said about the future judgement to come.
So, we are to remember that “the Lord is not slack concerning his promise…but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9). At the moment we are still in the days when the Gospel is being preached, and we are not to despise the goodness and mercy of God that leads men to repentance, as Paul says, “Or despise you the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
Finally, as we have already noticed, when God wanted to judge another country outside of Israel, He always declared His judgement openly beforehand. God did not strike a country with judgement out of the darkness – without there being a for-warning from God. God is light and He speaks clearly and in righteousness about His judgements to His people and to the nations. Let us not make God unrighteous by suggesting He will suddenly send a judgement on a nation without any explanation at all. But as we have seen, this context only belonged to Israel under the Old Testament. It has no parallel in the New Testament.
- REGARDING THE DEVIL’S WORK.
We should also understand that in the Old Testament none of the natural disasters that Israel suffered were attributed to the devil. Satan is not said to be the author of any natural disaster – not in the Old Testament nor in the New Testament. Can you find one example in the Bible where Satan is said to have been the author of any natural disaster that afflicted a particular nation or the world? In 1 Chronicles 21:1-12, Satan tempted King David to number the people of Israel – in other words, he tempted David to rely on human strength instead of the Lord. But it was God who sent the judgement, not Satan!
There are things that the devil is responsible for and the scriptures are clear about this – but nowhere is he claimed to be the author of a natural physical disaster over a particular nation or the world. So if you pray against a natural disaster because you believe it is the work of the devil, who told you it was the devil’s work? If the disaster is allowed according to God’s own purposes, then you will be praying against what God has allowed. Is this what you want to do? And if you tell or teach people that a natural disaster is of the devil when it isn’t, then do you want to be responsible for giving the devil a fame and a power that he doesn’t possess? Do you want to create fear in people and make it appear that the devil has some sort of victorious power over God when the natural disaster doesn’t immediately disappear?
In life we are perhaps rarely, or even never given an understanding of the spiritual background of why something has happened. This is the great trial of our faith – when there is suffering but we don’t know why. But unusually, the scriptures give us insight into the spiritual reasons why Job was afflicted so painfully. Now we know that Job was severely afflicted by Satan, but God’s word makes it clear that this only happened because God allowed it – God gave His permission. But we are also to recognise that God allowed this for His own purposes! Firstly, to show to all men and to principalities and powers that a man will love God more than anything else, and secondly, to strengthen the believer’s faith and to bring him into a deeper knowledge of God and a closer relationship with Him. All this brings glory to God. Consider what the Lord says to the believers at Smyrna, against whom the Lord had no accusation but commended them. He told them, “Fear none of those things which you will suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10). Again we see clearly, that God allows the devil to do things according to that which will fulfil His own purposes.
Now, to what extent God allows the devil to upset nature or even cause calamities, I cannot say, because the scriptures themselves do not say. Was the devil behind the cause of the storm on Lake Galilee when Jesus was asleep in the boat? Whether he was or wasn’t, Jesus soon calmed the storm and the disciples were never in real danger. But we know that the apostle Paul was shipwrecked three times and yet God looked after him!
It is interesting that even if the devil is behind some disturbances in the natural world, the Bible never talks of him as being their cause.
- SUPERSTITIOUS RESPONSES
The big problem is that some Christians are trying to guess at what God is doing. They are looking for an interpretation of events as if they can’t live without knowing the reason why these things are happening. Some of this might come from a background of witchcraft – people still have a witchcraft mentality. Some people think in the following way: Something very bad happens in your situation. This must be witchcraft, the power of the devil. Someone has put a curse on you through the witchdoctor. So you are scared. You look for a charm or a greater spiritual power to combat and triumph over the evil power. If you don’t succeed in removing the bad situation, it means the evil dark force is winning and you are not safe. Without realising it, this is the foundation of some Christians thinking. It is superstitious. It is not biblical. Let me give one simple example. A Christian lady comes to work and another person says to her, “Why do you look so sad and worried today?” The Christian lady answers, “Oh, something bad has happened and I am sure God is punishing me.” This is a true story. This is not biblical thinking. This comes from a witchcraft mentality. How did she know God was punishing her? She didn’t! God had not spoken to her of any sin. The problem with her thinking is that she immediately interpreted the bad situation as God’s judgement on her. She didn’t really go to God and wait on Him. She didn’t consider His word in the scriptures. If bad things happen, this is God’s judgement and punishment! This is how she thought. To immediately think like this is to walk in darkness, it is superstitious. And it is how many people think – without truly coming to God, without waiting on Him and considering His word.
What a terrible picture it is, when we think that God is like someone hiding in some dark corner where we can’t see Him, and that he suddenly jumps out and hits us, and then quickly runs back to his dark corner without explanation! Then without any real reason for doing so, we start to think He is punishing us from a great distance away in a dark corner and we begin fearfully to start to repent for…what? This is some people’s god! They think of Him like this. This is darkness. This is superstition. This is not our God. If I do something wrong, God is able to convict me through His word or by His Spirit in my conscience. He is my Father. He is your Father if you are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb! Let us walk in the light of His word, not in the darkness of ignorance and superstition. Amen.
But this is how some people are reacting to this present situation – without knowing or hearing anything from God, they immediately believe the disaster is of the devil, or they need to repent because it is God’s judgement! There are many preachers who do not help this situation. On the contrary, they make it worse by what they are saying and preaching.
Let us remind ourselves that the Christians in Acts 11 didn’t react like this at all! Their understanding was different! They accepted the fact that a famine was coming and it seems that God had told them about it so that they could make provision for the poor believers in Judea. It is a biblical truth that there will be natural disasters without reference to a specific judgement on the sins of a specific nation.
- HOW TO INTERPRET NATURAL DISASTERS.
I want to look into what the Bible says about natural disasters that occur on the earth and see if we can gain an understanding that will help us. Let me first quote what Jesus says in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” This is why I have said we are in a time of Gospel grace. The Gospel will be preached in all the world before the time of the end. And what we are considering is natural occurrences in the earth before the end – not those things that will happen when Jesus comes and the judgement which all will see at that time.
Let us now look further into Matthew chapter 24. The disciples ask Jesus concerning the sign of his coming and the end of the world, and this is what Jesus said, “And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that you be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:6-8). The first important thing we notice is that when Jesus speaks of these disasters, he says that they “must come to pass”. That is all he says. He doesn’t give a reason for them happening or explain why; he just says they must come to pass. Also notice that verse seven belongs with verse six because verse seven begins with the word “because”, which indicates the connection between the events in verse 6 and verse 7. So in addition to wars, there will be famines and diseases and earthquakes in different places! Jesus has predicted these things for us, but without any reference to them happening as specific judgements on specific peoples.
So what is Jesus message to you and me about all these disasters? Here is the second important thing we should notice. He says that we should make sure that “we are not troubled”! Have you read this? Jesus instructs us that when wars and natural disasters happen, then we are to watch out. Watch out for what? Watch out that you do not become troubled by such things! Is that your attitude? Is this the understanding by which you live today – when there is a war, a famine or a disease, you don’t immediately think that this is God’s judgement on a country or that the devil has got some advantage over God? Is that true of you? If not, why not? Do you want to believe and obey Jesus or do you want to follow your feelings or some preacher who doesn’t teach ‘the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20:27). Unto Jesus is given all power in Heaven and on earth and He has foretold us that these things will happen and that we should not be troubled in our hearts! Praise His name!
The third important thing to notice is that when speaking of all these kinds of events, Jesus says that ‘the end is not yet’. What does this mean? It means that He is not talking about a short period of time in which these things happen. And what does He mean when He says these things are just ‘the beginning of sorrows’. It may mean that these kind of ‘sorrows’ may increase as we near the end. Or if you look at the next verses after verse seven, Jesus talks about the persecution of believers and the troubles that believers will encounter. In other words, the natural disasters are one kind of ‘sorrow’ and they are to be followed by things that will bring sorrow to believers because of persecution and betrayal. However you like to interpret this expression about ‘the beginning of sorrows’, the important thing is that He that is above all, has told us in advance that these things would happen. They are no surprise to God! God has not lost control! He is working all things according to the purposes of His own will! These truths should comfort and encourage our hearts!
People who start confessing and repenting for the sins of the country they live in because of some natural disaster are ignoring the testimony of scripture, of the word of God. I encourage you to read the scriptures that are referred to in this study and to be led and fed by them. They will bring light and life to your soul.
Finally, on this topic of natural disasters that we are considering here, I would like to give some thoughts on some specific verses that might have a connection. They are my thoughts but I share them with you in case they are of benefit.
Things are not completely right with this earth. When Adam sinned it affected the earth (Genesis 3:17,18). The breakdown of the relationship between God and man was reflected in changes in the earth as an outward sign of this breakdown. For example, there were famines in the Old Testament without any reference to God’s judgement or sin (Genesis chapters 12, 26 and 41). We have mentioned how Jesus talked about natural disasters as ‘sorrows’, and there would be such ‘sorrows’ until the time of the end. This word ‘sorrows’ in the original Greek refers to ‘pain’ or ‘travail’, especially the pain when a woman gives birth to a child – and that is how it is used in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 when Paul is talking about the swift destruction that will come upon the earth at the time of the end. He says, “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as TRAVAIL upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.” The word ‘travail’ in this verse is the same word as in Matthew 24:8, except here it is used as a verb and not as a noun. And in Galatians 4:19 when Paul talks about his prayers for the Galatians again he uses the same word as a verb, that is, to bear pain as someone giving birth. He says, “My little children, of whom I TRAVAIL in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” He was worried about many of them because they had been taken back into Old Testament ways of thinking and very near to losing true faith in Christ. He says he is praying for them again and compares his praying to the pain of giving birth! So when this word ‘travail’ is used, it is used to refer to the pain that is suffered or endured in order to bring forth something – the travail has an expected purpose and end.
And we meet this word again in these verses in Romans: “For the earnest expectation of the creation waits for the manifestation of the sons of God…Because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now.” (Romans 8:19-22). Paul is here saying that the whole creation is in bondage and corruption – this might remind us of Genesis 3:17,18, which I just quoted above – and because of this bondage it is groaning and travailing up to this time. But why is it travailing and groaning – for what purpose and for what expectation? Paul tells us that creation is waiting for the true and final manifestation of the sons of God in order to be delivered from its corruption and bondage. He is referring to the time of the end when the Lord returns and our bodies shall be redeemed, as we can see if we read verses 23 to 25.
The verses in Romans are not easy to understand and interpret, and people have different views on their interpretation. I am not asking you to agree with me about this passage in Romans, but I hope you can see how it fits in with other verses in the Bible. Whether you agree or not about the passage in Romans, nevertheless from the other verses we have looked at, the Bible gives us a picture of the earth that itself has suffered corruption. Something is not right with the earth. We know there were changes as a result of Adam’s sin. The earth is in travail now.
Most of the signs of this travail might be the natural disasters which Jesus mentions in Matthew 24.
From these verses and all the others we have looked at, it should become clear to us that to start praying for the sins of the country we live in, or to start praying against the devil every time there is a natural disaster is something that has no biblical foundation in these days of Gospel grace.
As I indicated above, the natural disasters, or ‘sorrows’ that Jesus talked about in Matthew 24 might increase as we approach the day of His coming. More than this, they might get worse. So there is a great need for us to be rooted and grounded in the word of God, so that we don’t get confused, discouraged and fearful, and so that we are not deceived and fall prey to every false preacher that calls himself a prophet.
We know that just before the Lord returns momentous things will happen that will affect the whole earth and all who live on it, and Jesus said that unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved. Those things have not been the focus of this study because those days are still ahead of us – but they might not be far away.
Without doubt there will be preachers in these days of the corona virus who will claim that God has given them a message for the church. I have already heard two preachers who say God has given them a message for the church concerning the corona virus and other judgements that will come. But they don’t say the same things! Let us remember that when the disciples asked Jesus about the end times, the FIRST thing He said was, “Take heed that no man deceive you.” (Matthew 24:4). Jesus was warning us that there will be many deceivers who will try to lead people astray with the claims they make about themselves and about the things that will happen (Matthew 24:23,24). My dear reader, what was Jesus’ message to us about the last days? The important thing He said to you and to me is, “Be ready, for in such an hour as you think not the Son of man comes…Watch therefore, and pray always…”. (Matthew 24:44; Luke 21:36). Do not let preachers excite your feelings and fill your thoughts about the things that will come! What is important is that you and I live day to day in close relationship with Jesus Christ, so that when He comes you are ready to meet Him!
- OUR REACTION AND WITNESS.
I would now like to talk about how we, as Christians, should be in this situation with the corona virus.
First and foremost we should be different to how the world is. Let us understand that as God’s people we pass through many of the same things that others pass through. It must be so. If it weren’t so, how could God show the world, and principalities and powers, that He has done a wonderful work in us that makes us different from those around us? Things happen to us but it doesn’t make us bitter, hard or fearful. If we are God’s people then how we react to situations should be different to how unbelievers in the world react. What glorifies God is our trust in Him – this is the first and most important thing. If you want to know what you should do, then it is this first – put your trust in God your Father completely.
The Lord has said, “Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1). Do you believe God like this? Do you believe Him in this present situation to the extent that you don’t let your heart be troubled? Have you got peace in your heart because you have followed the word of God which says, ‘Casting all your care upon him; for he cares for you”?(1 Peter 5:7). What great promises we have in the word of God: “He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.” (Psalm 91:1,2). Are you dwelling in that secret place of trust in God, where your life is given to Him? How do I know I am trusting God? You know by the peace that God gives: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you: because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3).
Our faith, which results in such peace, is more precious to God than gold, even though it is tried in fire. (1 Peter 1:6,7). Your relationship to God is the most important thing. If this situation with the corona virus causes you to fear or to be anxious, if you let it confuse you and rob you of your peace and joy in the Lord, then you have already lost the battle – you will be damaged in the most important area of your life, that is, in your relationship with God. As far as our faith in God and our relationship to him is concerned, fear, or the fear of something, is a far greater threat than the Corona virus itself. If we are taken captive by fear during this time, then the Corona virus has as already hit us where it will hurt us most despite all the precautions we have taken to successfully avoid the disease itself!
God has not called us to understand everything, or the causes of everything – He has called us to trust in Him completely, especially when we don’t understand what is happening! This is the faith that is real and precious before God. Let us remember how the word of God instructs us: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5,6). Don’t lean on your own understanding! These are wonderful verses and they should direct your heart and life – and mine too. Resist the demands of your mind to know the answers to everything. Yes, we all might have questions, but we are not to let our minds rule us and trouble us because we are left in ignorance about the causes of some things! We are to trust God.
As I said, to believe God and have peace in our hearts is not a matter of wanting a blessing, but it is that which glorifies God.
If you are God’s child, then do you know that your life is hidden with Christ in God? (Colossians 3:3). What a wonderful truth this is! What a great thing God has done in us through the death and resurrection of His son! We are to know and understand that as God’s children our life is already in God’s hands (Psalm 31:15). If you have been redeemed by Jesus Christ then you are his – He is your rock, your fortress, your dwelling place and your security (Psalm 18:2; Colossians 3:3; Romans 8:35-39; 1 Peter 3:13). You don’t have to run to someone in this period of corona virus pandemic to get protection through their long prayers. This is something that God Himself has already done. Lay hold of the word of God and believe Him. You don’t need a preacher to pray with a loud voice for half an hour before you can have security in Christ. These things are already true in and through Christ. We are to live by faith in God’s word, not by a preacher stirring up our feelings in a meeting. Let preachers feed the people of God with the word of God at this time. We need a faith and a confidence that doesn’t come from having our feelings stirred for a short time in a meeting, but a faith and confidence that comes from you and me believing God and His word day by day. We are to live by faith, not by fear or feeling.
In our hearts we have to live above the circumstances that surround us; we have to live as seeing Him who is invisible to the physical eye. What does Paul say about the difficulties that we pass through in this life? He says this: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17,18). If you look and live by the things that are seen, you will become discouraged, anxious and confused. We are to have the right perspective and live by the things that are not seen…looking unto Jesus!
Jesus has told us that we should not fear those that can kill the body but cannot do more than that. He says that God is the one whom we should fear, because he has power to destroy both body and soul (Luke 12:4,5). Verse 4 seems specifically to refer to persecution but it is also a general truth. We are not to fear the devil – we are to resist him and his suggestions. We are not to fear what man can do to us. We are not to live in fear of the corona virus. We are to ‘fear God’. Fearing God means believing, honouring and obeying His word – more than anything else. This fear of the Lord leads us to avoid all evil and it is the beginning of wisdom and understanding; it also gives us true confidence and security in God (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 8:13; 14:26; 16:6). This is not a fear that makes us hide away from God among the trees like Adam and Eve did because we think God is going to punish us at any moment. No. The fear of the Lord is the humble submission of our lives to God, where we honour Him and His word above all else. This fear of the Lord is a fountain of life! (Proverbs 14:27).
Let me say that nothing that I am writing is to encourage anyone to tempt God. What do I mean? I mean this – the devil quoted scripture in order to try and get Jesus to jump off the top of the temple (Luke 4:9-12). The devil was saying to Jesus that he didn’t have to worry about any dangers if he was God’s son, so he tempted Jesus to jump. Jesus refused. We read in John 7:1 that Jesus chose not to walk in Judea. Why? Because the Jews were seeking to kill him. In the things that Jesus did, he took into account the natural situation, unless God specifically intervened or if it was to fulfil God’s will. God didn’t miraculously change every situation in order to protect Him from the dangers of His environment. Jesus often walked in the context of the situation that prevailed at the time. What does this teach us? He teaches us that we should not be led by a false confidence. A false religious confidence leads us automatically to think, “I am God’s child. I don’t have to worry about this danger or that danger. God will look after me whatever I do.” This represents the temptation of the devil. Remember what Jesus said when the devil tempted Him to jump from the top of the temple? He said, “It is written, You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” Likewise, we should live according to the word of God and not by a fake faith.
If you ask me what a ‘fake faith’ is, then I would say it is a manufactured faith, not a real faith. For example, if someone (it doesn’t matter who) says or teaches that if you don’t go to church because of the corona virus, then you don’t have real faith in God. This person is making a law concerning faith, and if you go to church because of his words in order not to appear to others that you don’t have faith, then you are doing something that is completely wrong. You are not going to church because of the personal faith you have in God or because of the peace He has given you in your heart to go, but you are going because of the opinions of a man. This is fake faith. Faith must issue out of your own relationship with God – and this faith will either give the peace to go to church, or the peace to stay at home.
I know some of these decisions are not easy and we need to walk humbly with God and seek His wisdom in these things.
I cannot and will not make any rules about what anyone one should or should not to do during this corona virus. I am sharing biblical truths and principles that should guide us in all we think and do. The decisions we have to make day to day are not always easy humanly speaking, therefore we need to walk humbly with our God and ask Him for wisdom and grace.
- A FINAL WORD
What is one great result of a person being brought into the New Covenant? According to God, it is that we should all know Him – from the least to the greatest! (Hebrews 8:8-11). Praise God! And this is why I have written this study. People are being robbed of the knowledge of God by so-called preachers and prophets who don’t feed the flock with the word of God. Instead, they stir people’s feelings by preaching with loud voices and fill the listeners’ hearts and minds with a corrupted version of Old Testament thinking which brings them into darkness.
Jesus Christ died for us to bring us into relationship with Himself and the Father! We are to know God. We are to know what He is like. We are to know the peace, comfort and joy of knowing God. Amen.
© David Stamen 2020.