We are living in very strange times. There are over 200,000 cases worldwide of a new virus that we do not completely understand. At least 9,000 people have died of this new disease, but that number will continue to climb as more areas of the world are affected by COVID-19. Some people look at these numbers, and they are not concerned because they are comparing the numbers to diseases that continue to kill today, such as tuberculosis, cholera, and ebola. They are also looking at other illnesses that are responsible for more deaths annually, such as heart disease and cancer. The problem, though, is that at this point in our history, we don’t know what this new disease will do. We don’t know the long-term effects on those who have been infected. We don’t know if the disease will mutate and stay around for centuries to come. We don’t know if we will have a COVID-19 season like flu and cold season. This new illness could be around for the rest of human history. We just don’t know.
Despite the fact that we don’t know what this new disease will do to our daily reality, God is not surprised. Throughout human history, famine, war, and disease have plagued our world. In one year of the Black Plague (1665-1666), over 750,000 people died in a very short amount of time, causing about 15% of London’s population to succumb to the illness. Over 40 million people died in World War I alone, including military personnel and civilians. The Russian Famine of 1920-1921 was responsible for the death of roughly 5 million people. These three events represent only a small percentage of people who have died because of famine, war, and disease. And God is not surprised that in 2020, we are struggling to figure out a new illness that has the capacity to kill and to cause permanent damage to those who have been infected.
I am not a doomsayer. I do not believe that God is punishing us. Despite the fact that in modern day we have “filled a river in Rwanda with 800,000 dead bodies from a tribe we didn’t like. We’ve played retaliation in the land of Jesus’s birth […]. We’ve watched nations sanction ethnic cleansing. We’ve elected leaders who kill without remorse” (Boone 23), I still do not believe that God is punishing us with this new illness. I believe that this illness is a result of our own decisions as the human race. I believe that sin has caused destruction in human relationships, in our relationship with God, and in our balance with nature. These imbalances have caused famine, war, and disease. God has not caused these imbalances — we have.
So, what do we do? What can we do? In this time of Lent, I find it interesting that many people in the world are being forced to fast. We cannot go out to eat, we cannot go to the movies, we cannot go to concerts. Some of us cannot even go to the grocery store. And many of us cannot work. We are being forced to fast our busyness. We have to stop and spend time with those closest to us. Parents are having to provide home school instruction to their own children. Children and teens cannot go out with their friends. We are stuck in our houses with very little to do, for once in a very long time.
And I believe that in this time of Lent, we are not just called to fast. We are also called to repent. Throughout scripture we see multiple times when God was on the verge of destroying humanity and his chosen people. In Exodus 32, the people of God had rejected God once again. While waiting for Moses to come down from Mount Sinai with the Lord’s instructions for their lives, they convinced Aaron to make a god for them to worship. God’s response seems contrary to what we want to believe about God’s character. He says to Moses, “‘I have seen these people […] they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them'” (Exodus 32:9-10 NIV). Moses intercedes on behalf of the people and reminds God of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. Moses presents the plea of the people before God. Moses repents on behalf of the people, even though he was not directly responsible for their sin.
Later in scripture, we see a similar plea from Daniel. Daniel was a righteous man before God. He had been greatly favored in the courts of the Babylonians and the Persians because he was faithful to God during the exile. Even though Daniel was in no way perfect, he did not need to repent in the way that we see in Daniel 9. Instead of pointing out what the people have done, Daniel includes himself in his prayer of repentance for the people of God. He prays, “‘We have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land'” (Daniel 9:5-6 NIV). Daniel’s prayer of repentance acknowledges that sin is not always personal. Sin is also corporate. It is the responsibility of every one of us.
In this strange time of human history, I ask you to join me in a prayer of repentance. I ask you to seek God as you acknowledge your own sin and the sins of our people. I ask you to pray like David in Psalms 51: “Have mercy on [us] O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out [our] transgressions. Wash away all [our] iniquity and cleanse [us] from [our] sin […] Create in [us] a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within [us]. Do not cast [us] from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from [us]. Restore to [us] the joy of your salvation and grant [us] a willing spirit, to sustain [us]” (Psalm 51: 1-2, 10-12 NIV).
Be encouraged as your life of sacrifice includes a prayer of repentance not just for your own sins but also for the sins of our world.
Boone, Dan. A Very Good God in a Badly Broken World. The Foundry, 2019.