Many people I know are praying for family members who are currently ill, immunocompromised, or facing other critical risks from COVID-19. Others I know are praying for those who have lost jobs or otherwise undergoing economic hardships. Some I know are praying for governmental leaders, first responders, and medical professionals who are heroically waging war in the midst of this tragedy. Many are praying for God’s peace to rest upon families, friends, and co-workers who are fearful of what might lie ahead. A few people I know are regularly praying for their neighbors. These are all tremendous things to be praying. By all means, keep presenting these needs to God’s throne of grace.
But how many of us are repenting of our sins and crying out to God for mercy? Throughout the Bible, when foreign armies or natural disasters threatened security, health, or life, God frequently sent emissaries who issued urgent calls for people to turn away from sin and cast themselves upon the mercy of God. In the middle of our own crisis, are we repenting of our sins and calling out to God for mercy? This we must do.
Writing such words will raise the question in some people’s minds of how closely this pandemic might be connected to recent human sinning. Is this pandemic somehow a judgment from God for sin? In light of the global reach of this pandemic, and the current asymmetrical worldwide response to the good news of Jesus Christ (with some nations extremely receptive to the gospel, with others extremely unresponsive), I think it wisest to assume that the current pandemic as a whole is not a judgment of God for recent human sin. But note this: in the Bible, God delivers the same call to repentance in cases when disaster is described as judgment from God (e.g., Jeremiah 4:1-4) as when it is not so described (e.g., Luke 13:1-5).
So when we face a calamity of the growing magnitude of the COVID-19 (or of any magnitude, for that matter), here is what God calls us to do:
- Confess any and all known personal sins, and call out to God for mercy. This includes confessing the most basic of all sins (if you have not yet done so), the sin of rejecting the free gift of God’s grace that can be received by believing in Jesus Christ who died and rose again on your behalf.
- Confess any sins that are prevalent in your church community, and ask God to pour out a spirit of mercy and grace and spiritual power upon the church with which you normally worship.
- Confess the sinful patterns of your nation, as well as any participation you might share in such national sins. Examples might include rampant sexual immorality, complicity in allowing unborn children to die via abortions, numerous and varied injustices, and rampant narcissism. Call upon God for mercy for your nation.
- Confess global sins and prevalent worldwide sinful patterns (think of drug violence and local wars, sex trafficking, failure to give God the glory due him through various forms of idolatry). Ask God to extend his mercy across the globe.
We must turn to God with all our hearts and souls and at the same time turn away from self-serving expectations, such as the expectation that we can do whatever we want whenever we want. As we face our own day of distress—not that of the time of Isaiah or Jeremiah or something yet future, but our own day of calamity—we must call upon God to extend mercy to us, to our neighbors, our nation, and our world. It is urgent that we implore the Almighty God to halt the spread of this plague, and beg the Lord of the universe to display spiritual mercy in our generation by ushering in wide-scale revival. Let us pray as never before that God will demonstrate both physical and spiritual mercy in this time of distress!
I close this post with the powerful words of the prophet Joel, who writes soon after the land of Israel has been decimated by a locust plague, resulting in widespread human suffering. Joel has just warned that more destruction is on its way, then cries out:
“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep and say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'”
Then the LORD became jealous for his land and had pity on his people. (Joel 2:12-18 ESV)
Come, brothers and sisters in the Lord, and let us call out to God for mercy. Let us together entreat him to stop this plague, move our hearts toward repentance, forgive our sin, and send an awakening of his Spirit in the face of distress!
It is time to pray. Let us pray.
 Think of calls to repentance in the face of disaster of Old Testament prophets such as Samuel (1 Samuel 7:3), Isaiah (1:24-27), Jeremiah (4:1-4), Ezekiel (33:11), Daniel (2:18; 9:3, 9, 17-18, 23), Habakkuk (3:2), or Joel (1:13-14; 2:12-17); or of New Testament calls of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:5-12), James (5:1-6), the Revelator (2:5, 16, 21-22), and Jesus himself (Luke 13:1-5).
 Keep in mind that everyone on the face of the globe has sinned, dishonored a holy God, and deserves whatever adversity comes their way. In recent years, it has become ultra-unpopular to say such things, but that is, in fact, what the Bible teaches. We should never be surprised that we, or a loved one, contracts a life-threatening virus; what should surprise us (but that rarely seems to surprise anyone) is that in the face of unrepentant sin, God allows any of us life, comfort, peace, or health. All of us have sinned and fallen short of giving God the glory he deserves. Each and every person on earth individually needs to cast themselves on the mercy of God that has been offered to all who place their faith in Jesus Christ. A time of crisis such as we are currently facing is an excellent moment to do just that. Having written this, we should not assume that there is a direct correlation between an individual’s sin (of whatever sort) and specifically contracting—or not contracting—COVID-19.