Did God Send the Coronavirus?
Updated: Mar 21, 2020
Okay you caught me. My title is click-bait. I'll play my cards right up front. No, I don't believe that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a plague sent from God to punish the world for it's sin. But what then does Paul mean he wrote the following to the Corinthian church?
"For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world." - I Corinthians 11:29-32
On the surface, Paul appears to be telling the Corinthians that all sickness, illness, and death is the result of abusing the Lord's Supper. If Paul were here today, I wonder if he would have said, "Do you think the Coronavirus is merely a coincidence? Hardly! Many among you are catching the virus, and a number of you have even died from it, because you have not been taking the Lord's Supper rightly." If that's true, then all I can say is, "Wow. Dang, Paul."
But would Paul have really said that? Would Paul have considered the Coronavirus an act of judgement on our nation? Because if he wouldn't, then I don't think we can either.
First, it might be helpful to consider how exactly the Corinthians were abusing the Lord's Supper. Based on Paul's previous statements in chapter eleven, they had completely misunderstood the purpose of this meal. The Lord's Supper was opportunity to display and be reminded of the unity of the body of Christ. When one eats the bread and drinks the cup, they are eating and drinking (whether symbolically, literally, or spiritually) the body and blood of Jesus. The Lord's Supper creates communion with the body of the Lord and communion with the other members of that body. Unity is the key principle that Paul had in mind.
The Corinthians, however, completely misunderstood that. The city of Corinth was an overnight success. It was a wealthy seaport town, and the gap between the haves and the have-nots was alarming. Alciphron, a contemporary of the city, once said, "I learned in a short time the nauseating behavior of the rich and the misery of the poor." Furthermore, it was a quid pro quo society. "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours, and if I have to scratch my way to the top, then that's what I'll do." That was Corinth. Naturally, these characteristics trickled into the church.
In the early church, the Lord’s Supper book-ended a potluck supper. First, the church would break the bread, then they would eat their shared meal, then they closed with the wine. And they didn’t have a sanctuary or fellowship hall in which to host these meals. The early church met and worshiped in homes, usually the home of a wealthy patron, for only such a home was large enough to host. In these homes were two separate and unequal dining areas – the atrium and the triclinium. The triclinium was small and extravagantly decorated. It had the best food, wine, and couches on which to indulge. Furthermore, only the upper class, the haves, were invited to dine in the triclinium. Everyone else could stand out in the atrium eating leftovers, or worse, nothing at all.
What was supposed to be a communal meal, symbolizing the unity of Christ's body, became just another Corinthian way of showboating one's wealth and status. Needless-to-say, this kind of behavior made Paul sick to his stomach. The question is, did it make anyone else sick too?
To be clear, Paul means what he says. Paul envisions that some sort of judgement results from abusing the Lord's Supper in this way. Those who care so little for the body of Christ, their brother's and sister's who are hungry or in need, will face judgement one day for their lack of concern. I think it's safe to say that any person who calls themselves a Christ-follower yet shows zero empathy for the physical needs of another has misunderstood what it means to follow Christ. Are they truly part of the body of Christ, then? I dare not speculate on such thought. Will Christ hold them accountable one day for their apathy? I believe he will.
And this is Paul's point. What Paul is trying to get the Corinthians to see is that their selfish and apathetic approach to the Lord's Supper has a negative affect, not just on the individual, but on the community as a whole. The sick and dying he refers to are possibly those who are malnourished and suffering from hunger. In his commentary, New Testament scholar Preben Vang says, "He may refer simply to the specific illnesses (and deaths) stemming from poverty issues such as hunger and malnutrition - issues that could, and should, have been avoided in Christ's body (the church)." The "judgement" Paul speaks of could be the natural result of a community that has failed to "discern" the body of Christ. We are the body, and when one of us suffers, the whole body suffers (I Cor. 12:26).
To claim that all sicknesses, illnesses, and untimely deaths today are a result of God's judgement is to misinterpret this passage. Paul is not saying that, nor would he say that the Coronavirus is a result of God's judgement on a wicked nation.
However, there is opportunity in this whole Coronavirus pandemic to embrace and live out Paul's teachings over the body of Christ. In a time of shortage and panic, we need to remember the vulnerable in our churches, the elderly and the sick. Healthy church members should practice unity of the body of Christ by reaching out to and providing for our members who cannot provide for themselves right now. Those in the body that have more resources available to them should decide how they are going to share those resources with those who are running out of options. Right now is the time to "discern" the body of Christ by looking after the needs of others.