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Pastor Dwight Dolby

There has been much talk about life and death in recent days. Surely the coronavirus pandemic causes us to think about our own mortality to a greater degree than normal.

Of course, to speak of death in our future provokes questions about life. What is it all about? Why are we here? Deep questions, to be sure.

Science provides answers regarding “what is” and “how it works” and “how to harness it” for our purposes. Questions about the origin of all things, about meaning and purpose behind our lives, about God, about life after death — these are all outside the realm of science.

You probably would’ve guessed I embrace “intelligent design,” as I also believe that all art reveals an artist.

The Bible states plainly that God is the creator of all things (Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 44:24) and that creation declares his glory (Psalm 19:1). It also reveals (the Bible) that God is not only active in his creation but that he ordains whatsoever comes to pass (Ephesians 1:11).

According to the story of Job, even the devil is under God’s authority (Job 1:6-12). Yes, the Bible teaches that God is ultimately behind every hurricane, every tornado and every pandemic. (Amos 3:6; Isaiah 45:5-7, 12)

Just because Christians view God as governing all things (which is the consistent biblical teaching) doesn’t mean we understand His purpose in such things as pandemics. Surely in the Bible such plagues are generally associated with God’s judgment upon the wicked and rebellious (think Sodom and Gomorrah referenced in Genesis 18).

One thing we do know is that such pandemics don’t necessarily bring people to faith, even if they do provoke people to pray.

Abraham Kuyper, a Christian prime minister of the Netherlands in the early 20th century, lived through the great Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. He referred to it as “the Plague of God.”

He writes in one of his devotional pieces, “In one village, as reported, there were two thousand confined to their beds, while there were but a little over one thousand left, who were not stricken. This might make a deep impression, you would say. Fear will come upon an entire population. The joy-fires of sensual pleasure will be extinguished. A call will go out on every hand for a day of fasting and prayer!

“And yet, the state of the public mind does not respond to this expectation. Newspapers indeed are full of the plague when it goes around. It is the subject of common conversation. It is not laughed at nor ridiculed as has been done before. But as by a higher power the population is by no means impressed.”

Indeed, he continues a few paragraphs later, “But scarcely did the plague abate … no sooner was the danger past, but it seemed, that the astonished multitudes were bent upon making good past losses, so wildly did wantonness break out again.”

Kuyper makes this distinction: “’sorrow toward God’ is yet something all together different from ‘fear of the smiting hand of God.’ Terror of possible death before the day is over works no true conversion.”

He continues: “All that threatens from without, remains outside of the kernel of the life of our soul. And as in the midst of a shipwreck the sailor calls upon God, and presently when saved, drinks himself drunk again with a curse upon his lips, so is also the multitude that knows not God, and yet momentarily has trembled before His majesty.”

So the fear of death is not the pathway to conversion. The fear of God is.

Kuyper describes plagues and threats as being external to us. When people really come to God, the kernel of the life of their soul is reached — not by visions of dying alone in a hospital bed, but by the Word of God itself, revealing to them their desperate need of the forgiveness of their sins through faith in Jesus Christ’s dying on the cross to take God’s judgment for their sin upon himself.

Christianity is about life and death. C. S. Lewis wrote in his book “God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics” that to be born in this world means “either an eternal surrender to God or an everlasting divorce from Him.”

There is something worse than death.

Dwight Dolby is pastor of Auburn Road Presbyterian Church; ARPCA.org.

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