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Common Grace, Divine Retribution, the Gospel of Jesus Christ & the COVID-19 Pandemic

Common grace is the kindness of God expressed toward sinful men despite their demerit.  Demerit means contrary to what they deserve.  That is the ultimate enigma in life.  Why is God so good to such bad people?  The problem of pain is not hard to solve.  It is the reality of pleasure that is hard to comprehend.  Sinners always get it backwards.  

When Adam sinned the whole world came under the judgement of God.  Listen to Paul the apostle in his letter to the church in Rome. 

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.  

Rebellion against God is a treasonous offense worthy of capital punishment.  That was made clear to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  They would surely die. 

Genesis 2:15-17 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. [16] And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” 

As a result of their rebellion, God cursed Adam and Eve and the entire created order (Gen 3:16-19; Rom 8:18-21).  He also forbid them return to paradise lost.   

Genesis 3:24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

In addition, the Lord put them (and their posterity) under the dominion of Satan (2 Cor 4:4) in his kingdom of darkness (Col 1:13). 

In these actions, we see divine retribution.  Man was cut off and doomed and yet there was hope.  In his mercy, the Lord God extended their lives, provided for their material needs, and promised a Savior.  These were expressions of extraordinary grace. 

Gen 3:14-15 The Lord God said to the serpent … “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. [15] I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

This is a reference to Jesus Christ bruising (i.e., striking and crushing) the venomous head of Satan in his substitutionary death and victorious resurrection.  Satan bruises Christ’s heel in the sufferings he endured at the hands of evil men.  This is the gospel in its earliest form.  The good news about the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. 

Remarkably, God extends common grace to mankind and irresistible grace to the elect after the fall of mankind.  All contrary to what we deserve.  With this as a backdrop, we should marvel at the following verses which teach God’s universal benevolence.     

Luke 6:35-36 “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. [36] Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

God is good to the ungrateful and wicked.  That is amazing.  In his merciful love, he extends kindness and generosity to his enemies.  To those who do not thank him.  To those that oppose him.  We learn his benevolence is not dependent upon what the recipient deserves.  He is merciful.  Common grace is everywhere yet sinful man refuses to acknowledge it in humble thanksgiving.  

If the Lord protects us from the COVID-19 or spares our lives; if he restores our commerce and sustains our economy; and if he grants the resumption of social interaction and recreation; will we praise him?  We know the answer.  Most inhabitants of the earth will continue to live wicked lives characterized by ingratitude to God.  It is astounding that God “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”  

Acts 17:24-25  The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. [25] And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.

Our lives are dependent on the merciful God who created heaven and earth.  He gives us life and breath.  Every moment we are kept alive by him.  He also gives us “everything else.”  Why should God do this when we have forfeited all claims upon his kindness?  Only because he is merciful in the nature of his being. 

Matthew 5:44-45 “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, [45] that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Everyday I marvel when the sun rises.  God causes it to happen.  It is a gift of grace.  The same is true for every drop of rain.  God does this for those who love him.  He also does it for the evil and unrighteous! 

Acts 14:15-17 “Friends, why are you doing this?  We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them.  In the past, he let all nations go their own way. [17] Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.

Paul spoke these words to the Lycaonians who worshipped the Green pantheon of gods in Lystra.  He contrasted the worthless idols of Zeus and Hermes with the monotheistic testimony of the one and only “living God” who made all things and showed them kindness.  

In the words of J.I. Packer. 

“God controls all that happens in His world, every meal, every pleasure, every possession, every bit of sun, every night’s sleep, every moment of health and safety, everything else that sustains and enriches life, is a divine gift.” (Knowing God, p. 147) 

This should cause men to turn to the Creator in humility and give him praise for his many gifts.  He even fills our hearts with joy.  Instead mankind suppresses the truth they know about God from what has been made.  That brings about divine retribution.  

Roman 1:18-20 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, [19] since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. [20] For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Man is incurably arrogant and dishonest.  He justifies his godlessness and wickedness even though God’s eternal power and divine nature are clearly understood from what has been made.  As a result the justified wrath of God is revealed from heaven where he directs all things according to his purpose including judgements upon the earth.  God’s wrath is God’s righteous response to evil. 

Psalm 5:4-6 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. [5] The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. [6] You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

Man also believes he can function independent of God’s sovereign rule.  He is boastful and arrogant in this evil belief.  

James 4:13-17 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” [14] Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. [15] Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” [16] But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. [17] Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Man thinks of himself as sovereign but there is only one Sovereign – the Lord Jesus Christ.  If he wills, you will live.  If he doesn’t, you will die.  My literal life is in his keeping every moment of every day.  The only reason I am breathing now is because he wills it.  When he ceases to will my existence, I vanish like a mist.  The same is true of all my plans.  They only come to pass if he permits.  To think otherwise is arrogant.  

I am grateful for the leadership of President Trump, Vice President Pence, and all the men and woman who are fighting hard to combat the pandemic but it will only abate if God wills it.  The nation should call upon his holy name in repentance.  

Psalm 21:1, 7 May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!  May the name of the God of Jacob protect you! … [7] Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Scripture teaches us not to be afraid of anyone or anything that can kill the body including the COVID-19 virus.  If we know the Lord Jesus Christ and die by this disease, he has ordained it.  We go to be with him.  That is far better.  Remember, not even a sparrow perishes apart from the Father’s will.  Listen to the words of Jesus.

Matthew 10:28-29 “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. [29] Are not two sparrows sold for a cent?  And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”

Christians also have thousands of promises in God’s word by which we live in faith.  We too are tempted to be anxious and fearful but this is the time for us to put our theology to work!  Therefore, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.  Everything else will be added.  He knows what we need.  Study the Father’s care in Matthew 6:25-34. 

We must also recall his promises of protection.  I think of Psalm 91 and Psalm 121.  Mediate upon them.  We are not exempt from all harms but we are spared so much affliction because we are his children.  Make God your refuge and fortress.  Not drugs, alcohol, or food. 

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-10 [1] He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. [2] I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” … [9] Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge—[10] no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.

Psalm 121:5-8 The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. [6] The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. [7] The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. [8] The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

Always remember, our safety comes from the Lord.  Trust in him. 

Psalm 4:6-8 There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?  Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” [7] You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. [8] In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

What wonderful promises but they are for those who look to him.  If you do not know the saving grace of God, and not made him your refuge, you should fear greatly. 

God has sent this virus to humble all the nations of the earth including America.  Not only are God’s blessings occasioned by his will, so too his judgments.  This is evident throughout Scripture but especially clear in the Book of Revelation.  God’s judgements include the plagues and pestilence he sends upon the earth.  That includes viruses.  There is no “mother nature” and the “laws of nature” only operate according to God’s design and purpose.  He created them and superintends them. 

In the words of Jerry Bridges. 

“The truth is, all expressions of nature, all occurrences of weather, whether it be a devastating tornado or a gentle rain on a spring day, are acts of God.  The Bible teaches that God controls all the forces of nature, both destructive and productive, on a continuous, moment-by-moment basis.  Whether the weather is nice or bad, we are never the victims or even the beneficiaries of the impersonal powers of nature.” (Trusting God, p. 96) 

Furthermore, God sovereignty is particular not general.  He directs all things. 

Amos 4:7 I also withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away.  I sent rain on one town, but withheld it from another.  One field had rain; another had none and dried up.

He even causes the grass to grow. 

Psalm 147:8 He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills.

People don’t understand that health and healing are gifts of God’s good providence.  So often we take them for granted.  When he removes these kindnesses, we find fault with him rather than drawing near to him in our time of need.     

Jesus instructs us to pray for daily bread which comes from his hand.  How often do we pray for daily health which also comes from his hand?  I went without health insurance and medical care for a lengthy period in order to conserve resources so I could help others.  I learned to pray for daily health which he kindly granted. It wasn’t good luck that preserved me. 

The world is full of sickness and death. They are our just deservings.  Do you remember this verse?  The same could be said of COVID-19. 

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.  

At the same time, the earth is remarkably full of health and life.  It even retains some of its original beauty and majesty.  God’s grace in all its forms is amazing.  We should never be offended at God’s judgments.  Rather, we should be shocked by his goodness.  Bless the Lord!  His praise shall be continuously in my mouth. 

Psalm 103:1-5 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! [2]Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, [3] who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, [4] who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, [5] who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 34:1 I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. The Book of Revelation is a neglected book. It is hard to interpret and understand in the details. But it is a needful book. Our nation is not acquainted with suffering, only prosperity. Many of our creaturely comforts could be taken away by the Sovereign Lord now or in the future. If I were a pastor, I’d be preparing a series on the Book of Revelation. God’s saints must be prepared to persevere, endure hardship and overcome in the midst of persecution and universal upheaval. We must also realize the Lord disciplines his people. Churches are not immune to his chastisements which can be severe. Read Revelation 2-3.

The COVID-19 pandemic is serious but far worse things have and will come upon the face of the earth.  The Book of Revelation gives us a divine perspective and imparts grace to persevere in times of persecution and great tribulation.  It extols the sovereignty of God and the Lamb “who loves us and has freed us from our sins through his blood” (1: 5).  The victory of Christ and his church over the dragon (Satan) and his helpers is assured.  A wonderful blessing is pronounced upon those who read (and reread) the book. 

The Lord blesses the ungrateful and wicked but he also brings judgement upon them.  He is the God of vengeance (Psa 94:1), not just goodness.  This is foreign to American Christianity.  God is not the god of plagues.  He doesn’t kill people.  He is “nice” in all his ways.  No, he is holy in all his ways.  He should be feared.  While the earth is full of his blessings; it is also full of his wrath.  

Revelation 4:8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

“Day and night” we should be saying and singing and preaching, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty.” God is transcendent, infinitely pure and omnipotent. Man is earth bound, sinful, and weak. Oh, the mercy and justice of God! He extends kindness to the wicked but he also judges them in his wrath. Those judgements fill the Book of Revelation. For example in conjunction with the seven seals (6:1-17; 8:1-5), the seven trumpets (8:2-9:22; 11:15-19), and the seven bowls (16:1-21). Here is but one example. Revelation 6:7-8 When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” ]8] I looked, and there before me was a pale horse!  Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

Just today an article titled Plague of Locusts - Millions at Risk of Famine was brought to my attention by WORLD magazine.  It states, “As coronavirus disease sweeps the world, a plague of locusts is devastating crops in Asia and Africa.”  It is a horrific account of devastation.  BarnabasAid is raising funds for poor Christians like Paul the apostle raised funds for the poor church in Jerusalem when they experienced a great famine.

In another place we read a quarter of the world’s population died, yet those who remained alive by the grace of God still did not repent.  We are obstinate and insolent sinners! 

Revelation 9:18, 20-21 A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths…[20] The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. [21] Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.

The book of Revelation concludes with a final judgement.  The Lord will repay.  He is the God of justice not just mercy.  Now is the day of salvation.  Future wrath awaits those who do not turn from their sins to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 

Revelation 22:12-13 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. [13] I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Paul puts it this way in his second letter to the church in Thessalonica.

2 Thessalonians1:6-10 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you [7] and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.  This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. [8] He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. [9] They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might [10] on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.  This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.

Our greatest need is not a vaccine against the coronavirus though that would be a wonderful gift of grace – an expression of God’s goodness.  Our greatest need is to be reconciled to God and saved from his wrath in this age, and in the age to come.  That is what Christ accomplished for us on the cross.  

Roman 3:22b-26 For there is no distinction: [23] for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [24] and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, [25] whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. [26] It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

In simple terms, he was put to death for my sins and suffered God’s wrath in my place.  This was to demonstrate God’s holiness and righteousness along with his love and grace.  Sin must be punished.  Divine retribution is worthy of praise (e.g. Rev 11:16-18).  There is a final judgement that will bring glory to God. 

That is why God justifies believers by his grace but not at the expense of his justice.  Christ was cut off and crushed for our iniquities. 

Isaiah 53:5-6 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. [6] All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Peace is the absence of conflict.  The end of enmity.  Through Christ’s atoning sacrifice,  we can be reconciled to God!  That is our greatest need. 

The Lord is humbling the entire world with this virus.  April and May will soon be upon us.  The virus will grow exponentially and the consequences greatly increase.  At this moment, 3,810 have died but that is just the beginning.  Today, the White House predicted 100,000 to 240,00 citizens will perish over the next two weeks.  Many people are about to meet their Maker (Amos 4:12).  That is why I pray daily the gospel will go forth and men and women will come to God the Father through Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son.  No one else can save them. 

Acts 4:10-12 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. [11] This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. [12] And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Don’t reject Jesus of Nazareth.  There is salvation in one else.  Turn to him, believe on him and follow him.  In this world, God has spared us so much suffering and given us so much blessing.  Let that draw you to him.  Don’t grumble and complain and charge him with wrong doing.  In so doing you only store up wrath and prove your pervasive depravity.  

Romans 2:4-5 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? [5] But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

For the church, we eagerly await his second coming.  

Hebrews 9:27-28 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, [28] so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Christian, during this plague, let us rejoice, remember the Lord is near, be anxious about nothing, pray in every situation with thanksgiving, and let the peace of God guard our hearts and minds.

Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice! [5] Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. [6] Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. [7] And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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This article was originally published here, and is reposted with permission from the author, Brent Detwiler.


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