This is the 10th contribution to His Grace’s emergency team ministry during the coronavirus pestilence. It comes from Graham Wood, an ex-police local government officer, now retired, and author of Israel: Land of Promise or Promise of Land?.
What is the relevance of the coronavirus crisis to the Kingdom of God?
There must be many Christians who will be thinking about the above question: how to make sense of the coronavirus pandemic which is both a deadly threat to the lives of people globally not experienced since the great flu epidemic of 1918, but which will also change the economic stability of all nations, and the future of countless homes and family life for the foreseeable future in an unprecedented way.
The obvious question for any Christian to ask is: ‘What is God saying to us through this crisis?’ How are we to view it in the light of the Bible and the gospel?
Up to the present in the UK, there appears to be little by way of answers from our spiritual leaders as to the significance of the tragic events which are unfolding every day. The Episcopal Bench, too, has remained strangely silent just at the time when a strong spiritual lead is needed.
For example, the central message from the Archbishop of Canterbury in a Lambeth Palace address recently was to urge people to “care for others in person or virtually during this strange and difficult time… and to keep life going”. But these are commonplace virtues and day-to-day obligations irrespective of any new crisis, and conspicuous by its absence was any hint of a message being sent from God to nations and peoples at this time. Anodyne banalities will not answer deeper questions which arise.
By contrast, in 1865 England experienced a devastating experience of foot and mouth disease that threatened the nation’s food supply by killing their cattle, and a vicar by the name of JC Ryle described the event as ‘the finger of God‘ (Ex 8:19). He faithfully applied the spiritual lessons to be learned from the national crisis.
Should we then discern the finger of God in today’s crisis? I suggest we should even on the simplest of principles, that we only reap what we sow.
It seems that we may well have returned to the pre-flood era of Genesis, when ‘God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually‘ (Gen 6:5). Is it not likely therefore that God, in His infinite holiness and righteousness, is now reacting to similar deep and far-reaching rebellion against Him, evident in widespread rejection of His Word, His laws, and against His Son Jesus Christ through this evil virus?
It would be crassly insensitive, if not biblically ignorant, not to understand the correlation between this widespread and deep apostasy by our deliberate provocation of God over many years that results in our present situation. I suggest it is no accident that there is now an unprecedented confluence of active virulent and hostile ideologies and practices which characterise life in Britain and the West generally as we are seeing today – ranging from the deep idolatry of the environmental movement, the toleration and promotion of equally idolatrous Islam by western governments, indiscriminate abortion (infanticide) also on an unprecedented scale, to the open and shameless promotion of homosexuality and gay rights, and the associated lie of ‘gay marriage’, all condoned by successive governments, the BBC, academia, and unquestioningly accepted at almost every level of our national life.
All of these and more are powerfully exposed in Melanie Phillips’ devastating critique of modern secular humanism and the outworking of this ideology in her book The World Turned Upside Down. She summarises the central theme:
The book sets out the extraordinary similarities between the attempt by the Western intelligentsia to impose secular ideologies such as materialism, environmentalism, or scientism and the attempt to impose Islam upon the free world. Not only do these ideologies display zero tolerance of dissent, but in enforcing what amounts to a secular Inquisition the Western world displays a modernised version of the medieval (present-day Islamic Jihad) which not only repudiates reason in the name of religion but leads to tyranny, oppression and war.
But to return to our question, I think the best answer I have found is that expressed by the respected Bible expositor Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones:
The key to the history of the world is the kingdom of God. The story of other nations mentioned in the Old Testament is relevant only as it bears upon the destiny of Israel. And ultimately history today is relevant only as it bear upon the history of the Christian church. What really matters in the world is God’s kingdom. From the very beginning, since the fall of man, God has been at work establishing a new kingdom in the world. It is His own kingdom, and he is calling people out of the world into that kingdom; and everything that happens in the world has relevance to it. It is till in process of formation but it will finally reach its perfect consummation. Other events are of importance as they have a bearing upon that event.
The coronavirus, with all its tragic outworking as the good Doctor reminds us, is to concentrate minds on the priority of God’s Kingdom in history and today. We are to recall that the consummation of that Kingdom moves ever closer, as the Apostle Peter exhorts believers to expect and look forward to the final climactic moment of the prophetic clock in the certain and ‘any moment’ return of our Lord Jesus Christ in great power and glory. That is the essence of the Christian hope. Meanwhile, such events and experiences also call on us to heed the prayer and advice of the psalmist:
Who know the power of your anger? Even according to your fear so is your wrath.
So teach us to number our days that we might apply our hearts unto wisdom (Ps 90:11f).