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Corona, Christ, Judgment and Lament

Apr 25, 2020

What is God trying to say to us amid COVID-19?

This is my 44th piece on the coronavirus. The world certainly has changed from just a few months ago. Some of my earlier articles focused on spiritual, biblical and theological perspectives on this crisis. Then a number of articles appeared looking at social, political, legal and economic aspects of this. Here I return to a more devotional assessment of what we are all going through right now.

In those earlier pieces I looked at some basic Christian themes, such as the fact that God does indeed judge, and at the very least God is using something like COVID-19 to get our attention, to put him back into focus, and to get our priorities straightened out. See here for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/03/15/dealing-with-disease-disaster-and-discipleship/

I also looked at the covenant curses and blessings that Yahweh had initiated with ancient Israel, and I asked how much of that – if any – can be directly drawn into our current situation: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/03/10/difficult-bible-passages-psalm-9110/

I also said that whenever there is spiritual surgery going on we must allow it to complete its course, and not try to run out of the hospital before the treatment is fully undertaken. We all prefer to get back to normal as soon as possible, and not let God properly and entirely do what he wants to do in our lives. See here: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/03/21/no-more-business-as-usual-2/

Here I want to tie these three themes together, along with one or two more. To do this I will in part draw upon a book I recently recommended: Prophetic Lament by Soong-Chan Rah (IVP, 2015). In just a brief paragraph description I could not say too much about it: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/04/23/essential-christian-reading-during-the-corona-lockdown/

So here I can say that I do not fully agree with all that he writes. Politically speaking, it is clear that he is a man firmly of the religious left, and I was not always keen on what he had to say when he discussed political and social matters. But when he spoke of the importance of the lament, and how so much of American Christianity is uncomfortable with it, I fully concurred.

His book is an examination of the lament in general, and the book of Lamentations in particular. The lament (or complaint or protest) psalm is the largest portion of the Psalter, and much of Scripture features it. I have written before about the importance of lament, eg.: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/02/02/the-lament-psalms/

In his book Rah says this by way of introducing lament psalms:

Laments are prayers of petition arising out of need. But lament is not simply the presentation of a list of complaints, nor merely the expression of sadness over difficult circumstances. Lament in the Bible is a liturgical response to the reality of suffering and engages God in the context of pain and trouble. The hope of lament is that God would respond to human suffering that is wholeheartedly communicated through lament.

As to the book of Lamentations, this was of course written as a response to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians. It was an unthinkable and devastating experience for the Jews: “The destruction of Jerusalem serves as the apex of suffering for God’s people. The last stronghold for a formerly great nation fell, inaugurating the exile period for God’s people.”

The false prophets had insisted that God would never judge his people and violate his temple, and even when the exile did take place, the false prophets were saying it would just be for a very short period of time. The true prophets begged to differ of course.

Jeremiah 29 is one biblical commentary on all this. It is ‘a letter to the exiles’ and it tells them that this period of captivity would last for 70 years, and that they should “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage” (vv. 5-6).

There would be no quick fix here. They were in it for the long haul. Yes, a return to home would eventually occur. There was light at the end of the tunnel. But God had to let his work run its full course. Lessons for us today would be similar: we do not know how long this crisis will last, but we must allow God to achieve what he wants from this.

While most of us just want things to go back to normal, God may well have more important things in mind: especially that the inhabitants of planet earth will get on their knees, acknowledge their God, repent, and put him first. That would be the most crucial response we could make. As such, this whole thing can be seen as the great mercy of God, to get us to get right with him before it is too late.

A second and final thing that I want to highlight from this book is this: just as God was in control of the exile (he was fully behind it and using it for his purposes), so too he is in control of coronavirus and was not taken by surprise by its outbreak.

While the Babylonian exile was a definite judgment of God for the disobedience of Israel, we cannot say with the same assurance that corona is God’s judgment on the world. It could well be, but we do not have any sure prophetic word on this as was found in the Old Testament.

But God is still on top of things here. As horrible as it is, God will carry out his plans, just as the horrible destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews was actually part of God’s loving interaction with them. And Lamentations 2 focuses “on a proper response to God’s sovereignty”.

Says Rah, “The destruction of Jerusalem reveals YHWH’s fidelity to the covenant curses, which reflects his fidelity to the covenant itself. If God stays true to his character, he has to judge unrighteousness and injustice because he takes sin seriously.”

He continues:

It is appropriate for the lamenter to experience a level of disease and discomfort with the harsh judgment imposed upon Jerusalem. However, lament also acknowledges God’s right to judge humanity. God abhors sin, therefore the prophet should also abhor sin. The prophetic role is to point out and call out sin, not just in the individual context but also in the corporate context. The faithfulness to point out sin is also an implicit faithfulness in God’s desire to restore. He has judged rightly and he will restore rightly. Are we willing, therefore, to accept God’s righteous and appropriate judgment?

And one more quote:

Lament presents an appropriate response to suffering, but lament must also correspond to the recognition that God is in control. The expression of God as the main subject of agency in Lamentations 2 reveals a God who is indeed sovereign over history and serves as the righteous judge over history. If we trust in God’s sovereignty to judge, then we can also hope in God’s sovereignty to expand his reign over human history. Lamentations 2 asserts that God is the primary actor in Jerusalem’s history. The acknowledgment of this sovereignty should free those of us who put our trust in God to not put ourselves in the place of God. An important aspect of Lamentations is the challenge to accept historical reality and to embrace God’s sovereignty over history. We are called to lament over suffering and pain, but also to recognize God’s larger work.”

That is my main concern here: to get us to see the bigger picture, to try to discern what God might be doing here, and what our appropriate response might be. Yes, God is in control – he was over the Babylonian captivity, and he is over COVID-19.

What really matters is to seek God, seek his will, and seek to get fully in alignment with his purposes. And I cannot see how any biblical Christian would deny this basic truth: whether or not this present crisis is the direct and explicit judgment of God upon a sinful and rebellious world (it certainly could be), at the very least, God is using it to get our attention, to get us to rearrange our priorities, and to get right with God in Christ while we still have the chance.

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5 Responses to Corona, Christ, Judgment and Lament

  • Thank you, Bill. I concur.
    A warning for us though: we may be inclined to sympathise with the sentiment, “We all prefer to get back to normal as soon as possible”, but for those who honour Christ ahead of all else, “normal” is not where we should be heading. The old “normal” is a sinful nation (world, indeed) which largely has turned its back on the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, on God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our post-COVID 19 objective should be to re-form as a nation on its knees in prayer, repentant and recommitted to seeking first the kingdom of God. Let us not waste this new opportunity our God is giving us.
    Peter

  • I also concur.
    I am meditating in the last chapters of Jeremiah each day at the moment.
    It is really confusing to see prophesies of doom mixed with those of hope and welfare.
    I think that there is an invaluable, proper place for deep repentance and lament both over sinfulness and suffering.
    We indeed must let God get our attention, so that individually, as God’s people,and hopefully as a nation we can get right with God.
    He may indeed smash all our icons.
    He even said that those who leave Jerusalem willingly would be saved; now that is tough, when we are asked to leave behind all that is valued and supposedly gives us justification, and security.
    Through all the suffering and lamenting in Jeremiah’s book, there is the regular reminder of that ultimate hope, not just that God does what is right but that God will fulfill His promises with eternity in mind.
    Those promises do not at all reduce the suffering, but add two dimensions that enable us to perhaps even embrace it.
    The first is the calling to a higher empowered righteousness, in the here and now.
    The second as I have mentioned is the eternal hope that it is gloriously all about Jesus in the end.
    What then is God doing here?
    For the church is it perhaps a call to be both more foundational, more spiritually passionate and more militant?
    For our society is it perhaps to rediscover the fear of God (and all that that means)?

  • Dear Bill, if I might preface the following offering with the invitation for you to change or not use it, unless you discern the Spirit to be in these words.

    It seems God, being the true loving Father that He is, like any devoted father must share in the pain that is the natural consequence of rebellion in which we have all played a part, and grieved ourselves and our Redeemer.
    Perhaps we need to press in to His heart and pray that which Father knows best?

    Praying for His will to be done in and through our lives (no better option) might best invite the Holy Spirit to dwell in us?
    How else can He bring forth the redemption of His precious humanity (us)?

    James 1:8 speaks of our double mindedness and consequent futility. Perhaps this is where lament and repentance remain the only way back into our Saviour’s arms?

  • I don’t think we really need another prophet and people probably wouldn’t listen anyway. The scriptures, however, are quite clear.

    What we see in the Old Testament is that whole nations were judged, just as God said in places like Lev 18:24 and Lev 26:21. While God protected His own, the situations were not micro-managed and so righteous Lot lost his house and possessions when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, Noah lost his house and whatever he could not take into the ark, including flock and stock outside the proscribed seven, the righteous were initially prevented from entering the promised land along with the unrighteous and, yes, Jeremiah had his nation overtaken by the Babylonians and lost his vineyard etc. just as with the unrighteous at that time, etc., etc.

    We also see with Naomi and Ruth and with Rahab, that there were sometimes decent people among the nations who were judged yet the entire nation suffered the judgement because, just as God said, the entire nation had been defiled. This is the simple fact of life under fallen, human authority.

    The scriptures are absolutely clear that this is a defiled world and people will not get individual justice until the final judgement, when people are individually judged, and all authority is returned to God, so good people will currently suffer along with the unrighteous, just as Jesus suffered, but if nations repent, God obviously wants to be merciful. The question is whether we learn the lessons.

  • This government mandated lockdown has been the most monumental delusion of the West. ( Excluding Sweden ) There seems no end in sight as the ruling Cabinet Junta in Canberra show no signs of stopping this madness. The curve is well and truly flattened and flat lining. So the elitist PM and medicos and Premiers Coup decide they will just move the goalposts and push this COV idiocy out to 6 months or more and hover in fear and trepidation with a locked up healthy out of work population under house arrest waiting for a vaccine with the increasingly few coronavirus cases and empty hospitals anxious for a second wave ! In Queensland only 6 people have died from this beat up of a plague. The media have a lot to answer for as usual !

    Utter madness and unprecedented hysterical reaction to a Wuhan flu. The Communists in China are laughing their heads off that the West can be so easily defeated. How pathetic we are destroying our Economy and lives and businesses of millions of Australians. For it is so true that God knows the Beginning from the End and is the Alpha and the Omega and fore knew that His sinful and stupid creatures would act in this global delusion of fear and panic and make these suicidal decisions and self vandalism of previously Christian Jewish foundations Nations.

    Lament is a Biblically strong word that has all but lost its meaning in our overly consummeristic and secure risk averse life styles. There will not be any general regret and lament over this crazy decision and already the inane talk of ” we have saved tens of thousands of lives ” ! There is a stubborn refusal to admit as a Nation we have made an horrendous mistake. The heart of Man is desperately wicked and will very seldom admit fault. There will be endless justifications of what we have done for years into the future and I really can not see signs of deep repentance ? As far as falling on ones knees and lamenting and making supplication to God. Well I fail to see any signs of that. People are so invested in believing this was a correct response. It is only a courageous person who admits wrong decisions and takes responsibility for their actions. It has never been the function of Governments to SAVE LIVES ! Where is the science to support locking people inside is better than people exercising their judgement to be outside playing sports golf fishing swimming walking running horse riding ? My daughter has lost her job instructing for Riding For the Disabled . It has been cancelled for the whole year ! I can only poorly convey the joy and sheer delight I witness with these precious children and adults at Collingwood Childrens Farm. No one really cares for them do they ?

    We have to admit that we have lost our freedoms of speech , religion , assembly , protest, appeal, redress and basically those freedoms are not coming back and we can see the imposition of Leftist governments have a glorious opportunity to micro manage the minute details of our lives and intrusion into births and marriages and deaths or Hatch Match and Dispatch. All this talk of gradually over months allowing an easing up on restrictions is patently rubbish . Our freedoms will be a sorry reflection of their former self. Think of 18 C and the abortion and euthanasia power grabs . NSW non conservative Gladys allowing abortions to the point of birth as essential jobs and activities . Where are our priorities as far as saving lives are concerned when per day 247 babies are murdered each day in Australia ? We live in evil times indeed. That is where our collective lamenting must start and call out all these pro death people for their fake concern for the old and frail. The World can be divided by these issues as Pro Death or Pro Life ? Choose YOU this day ? BITTER or SWEET EVIL or GOOD WRONG or RIGHT SATAN or GOD ?

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