In 1750, earthquakes shook Europe. John Wesley took it upon himself to preach upon the disaster in his sermon, “The Cause and Cure of Earthquakes”. He began with Psalm 46:8, “Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth” then proceeded to outline his sermonic purposes: 1) to show that earthquakes are the work of the Lord and that he is responsible for bringing the destruction; 2) to call his listeners to behold these destructive works and 3) to give his listeners directions about what to do. (spoiler alert: repent and believe in Jesus Christ)
It’s the third month of pandemic quarantine. To date we’ve seen over 4 million cases worldwide and as many as 300,000 deaths. Is there a message from God in this? Is there a message from God in any natural disaster? Earthquakes, fires, floods, droughts, and viral pestilence are of the natural order. Each of these events has great beneficial effects creating and fertilizing the soil, clearing land and resetting the ecosystem. As one who enjoys picking wild blueberries, I’ve gained a certain appreciation for a good forest fire. Somewhere in the six days of creation, God made bacteria, viruses and single-celled fauna. Such creatures are of great profit to us—we need them to help us digest our dinner! In themselves none of these are a “disaster”—that is a judgment we place on them because they bring death.
The natural world—even with its viruses--is not our enemy. Death is our enemy. If there was no death, there would be no reason to fear a virus or label it a disaster. In the beginning there was no death. Eve and Adam felt the tremors of the earth, saw floods and breathed in the very viruses we fear today. Here’s the difference: there was no death in the Garden.
Where did death come from? It came from God. Death is God’s judgment upon sin. “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12) Once separated from our Creator, human life becomes precarious and fragile. COVID-19 has uncovered the vulnerability of our health our economy, and of our trusted social institutions.
What is God’s purpose in sending death into the world? It’s nothing less than to call us back to him—the one and only source of life! God sent death not to destroy us but to awaken us. Death is the preacher whose message is very simple: human life is fragile and time is extremely limited.
What then are humans to do? The pandemic has done us a favor by destroying technological illusions of invincibility. We must acknowledge we do not hold destiny in our own hands. We are finite and mortal creatures. We are experiencing in this death-filled world, God’s wrath. Wrath is the form God’s love takes when it meets up with human resistance. It’s a mistake to interpret God’s wrath as hatred, in truth it is God’s summons to turn to him and live. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned but whoever does not believe is condemned already…” (John 3:17-18)
The lesson Mr. Wesley drew from earthquakes for his generation is the one we draw from the virus in our own: turn to Christ and live!