We live in unique times today. The COVID-19 pandemic outbreak itself coupled with a panicking response to eliminating the virus has revealed a concerning state in our culture. The world economy has shut down, child rapists are let out of prison, and pastors are arrested for preaching at church. Even more disturbing enactments today reveal that abortion clinics and liquor stores are considered “essential” operations while churches in which people unite to God are “non-essential” and have been forcibly closed.
Giving our bizarre setting today, we have to look closely at God’s hand in this manner. While it is difficult for us finite, fallen people to know God’s will with clarity, we can always look to the past to understand the present. Much like a man looks into his past actions to make sense of his present state, we must venture into the historical Biblical narrative to comprehend our current predicament.
A consistent theme that runs throughout the Bible, is that when the people diminish their companionship from God, God repeatedly allows punishment on the people so as to draw them back to him. Now, this is not some benign “falling away” as if people forgot to pray to God. Rather, we see that Israel performed acts of idolatry in worshiping other gods – akin to a wife having an affair on her loving husband. When Israel persisted in their grievous acts of idolatry, they received untimely plagues. Even an atheist who reads the Bible from front to cover would have to acknowledge that one of the re-occurring patterns of this book is that when God’s people engaged in idolatry, plagues would follow.
Now, we come to our situation today in which many are proposing this pandemic is the effect of God’s punishment for humanity’s constant idolatry of pop culture worship. Bishop Strickland of Tyler, TX tweeted the following:
“People of the world, fall to your knees. Fall to your knees beg forgiveness of your sins. Stop worshiping yourself, stop worshiping creation, stop worshiping your desires, fall to your knees and worship God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Repent!”
The reason for this connection is that theology alludes that repeated sin always leads to suffering. The theological connection mirrors what is known in philosophy as the law of causality in which a bad effect must come from a bad cause. This contention is why Cardinal Burke recently said, “ There is no question that great evils like pestilence are an effect of original sin and of our actual sins.”
Now, while this is true, there needs to be a certain cautious humility on our part in making a direct correlation of individual suffering to sin. In other words, we can’t say those who have the virus are receiving God’s punishment because they are corrupt while those who are healthy are the righteous ones. As Bishop Fulton Sheen was fond of saying, “The law of the Christians is the innocent must suffer for the guilty.” This concept runs counter to the Protestant notion of “the prosperity gospel.” Under this doctrine, a man suffers (e.g. receives cancer) merely because he didn’t love God enough.
The sin (cause) – suffering (effect) connection typically does not apply directly to specific individuals, rather pertains to a rebellious society at large. When the disciples saw a man who was born blind, they asked Jesus, “Teacher who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither has this man sinned nor his parents, but that works of God should be manifested in him” (John 9: 1-3).
So, it wasn’t this man’s sin that caused his blindness. The reason for his unfortunate state was because God’s work of redemptive suffering was being displayed for all to see. This concept also applies to Job’s anguish. In the book of Job, Job was a noble man. We learn that his continuous suffering was not because he had sinned badly. Instead, Job’s punishment was inflicted by God in order to prove to the devil that love and loyalty require suffering.
Now, there are significant exceptions to this rule. We do, in fact, witness instances of a person’s sin directly causing turmoil to that person. Recall, Jesus healed the sick man and then later told him, “Behold you are made well. Sin no more so that nothing worse may happen to you” (John 5: 12-14). Here, is a direct parallel of sin and temporal punishment. We can’t also dismiss the incident when God killed Ananias and Sapphira on the spot when they tried to deceive St. Peter. Clearly, in this passage God is telling us if you tell a blatant lie to the vicar of Christ without remorse, your body, much like soul, is going to instantly die (see Acts 5: 1-11).
Therefore, at times an individual’s suffering does not directly have a one-to-one correlation to a sin that person has committed, but at times it certainly does. Only God knows for sure. But, while we can’t know with clarity the direct connection, we can assuredly conclude that repetitive sins have a straight-line effect on society at large. And in the societal picture, the innocent are going to have to “take one for the team” in suffering for the guilty much as Christ did on the cross.
Scads of examples in the Bible illuminate how divine punishment comes to nations – both the guilty and innocent within a group.
Did not Jesus institute the Eucharist while celebrating the feast of the Passover? And the Passover celebrates the putting out the lamb’s blood so that the angel sent from God doesn’t kill the people. Therefore, the Passover, the most sacred meal of the Jews, was associated with a deadly plague that consumed Egypt.
The basic pattern in Scripture is evident to understand. God initiated plagues and punishment when the people started worshiping other gods (see Exodus 9:14, 32:1-8, 27-33, Numbers 11:13, Deut. 28:6, 15, 1 Samuel 5:7, 2 Samuel 24:25, 2 Chron. 21:14, Revelation 9:18-20, 11:6, 15:1-8, 18:4, 8, 21:9).
Moreover, not only were plagues and turmoil a result of society’s sin, the more pressing problem was that the various plagues prevented people from worshiping God. Pestilence acted as a barrier that cut people off from being with God. And, oh can’t we see this today as the coronavirus has shut-off the faithful from receiving the Sacraments.
Because of the consistent pattern in salvation, we can know with relative certitude that pestilence is an effect of the collective sin of the people as a whole. Yes, there is a physical reason for the pandemic (the how). But, there is also a deeper, underlying non-physical (spiritual) component that answers “the why” of this crisis.
One may ask why does God punish people when they fall away and worship other gods? Doesn’t that seem a bit vindictive of God? Why such extreme effects of sin? These plagues aren’t vengeful or “over-the-top” if we could comprehend what worshiping other gods do to people. If one cuts himself off from God, that is akin to removing the very life-line to one’s existence. From this, a slow death ensues. If we knew what idolatry does, it would mortify us more than COVID-19 does.
Everyone worships something. There is always a source that a person constantly draws from on how to think, act, and who to believe. We may not perceive it as worship, but below the surface, one must bow down to some underlying power source. If this “power source” is anything but God, it falls into the camp of idolatry. As John Zmirak commented, “The impulse to pray and sacrifice is baked into the human cake. If we won’t train it upward [towards God], it starts wriggling downward, and won’t stop burrowing till it reaches the pit of hell.”
Therefore, all human actions either good or bad must have a starting point from which it draws from – either God or not God. Idolatry is the starting point of “not God.” No question God can punish us for a long list of sins. But, ultimately the origin of society’s corrupted deeds begins with listening to our culture’s fake gods. This is why the first commandment of not having other gods is primary – the most important.
Idolatry has the person remove himself from his source of life, from the true God who created him and loves him to an entity that only uses him and eventually destroys him. Therefore, false gods poison the whole person, which then leads to that person projecting their false ideas in corrupting others. It is analogous to the leaven that Paul warns about in which a tiny amount of toxic leaven inevitably contaminates the whole lump (see 1 Cor. 5:6-8, Gal. 5:9, Matt 16:12).
What God is doing ushering in these plagues is showing people an ugly glimpse of what their eternal life will look like if they choose to leave God and worship these false deities (i.e. the pop culture). In this stage, one becomes a wretched version of the person they were made to be.
Therefore, plagues are a sign of God’s fatherly discipline to his people. Rather than see discipline as a horrible punishment, discipline is an expression of love in that it is an instrument to will the good of the person (see Hebrews 5: 5-11).
An adulterous affair
The Biblical narrative poetically describes God’s relationship with Israel as a marriage union (see Isaiah 54: 5-8, 10. Song of Songs). Therefore, Israel’s idolatry to other gods is portrayed as a wife cheating on her righteous husband with an evil pretender-husband. Like any good, loving husband, God has to show his bride (Israel) the hideous effects of how her idolatry has crippled her. God does all this so he can rescue Israel from the death trap of idolatry.
Here is how the prophet Ezekiel poetically describes it:
“So it came to pass, after all your evils, says the Lord, ‘that you also built for yourself a house of fornication, and made a public place for yourself in every street; and at the beginning of every road, you built your brothel and ravaged your beauty. You spread your legs to everyone who passed by and multiplied your acts of prostitution. You committed fornication with the children of Egypt, your fleshly neighbor, and committed fornication in many ways. … You also committed fornication with the daughters of Assyria, and even then you were not satisfied; indeed you committed fornication with them and were not satisfied. You multiplied your covenants with the Chaldeans, and not even with these were you satisfied. Why should I make a covenant with your daughter,’ says the Lord, ‘when you do all these things, the deeds of a prostitute? So you committed threefold fornication. . . you’ve become an adulterous wife who receives strangers instead of her husband’ (Ez. 16:23–27,28–30, 32 see also Hosea 2: 1-7, Isaiah 1: 4, 21, Jeremiah 2:32, 3:20, Joshua 23: 11-13, Judges 2: 11-17).
According to the prophets, God is accusing Jerusalem of spiritual fornication with the various pagan gods of other nations. Jesus, as God in human form, is described as the Bridegroom, thus, the image of Jerusalem as a faithless wife is fitting.
Nevertheless, God, the committed husband, does not abandon Israel (see Hosea 2: 15-20, Jeremiah 31: 31-32, 34). However, by showing them the ugliness of their affair it acts as a great charity to draw Israel back to him for their own sake.
As Jonas Alsenas wrote, “God’s purpose is to form Israel into a fitting spiritual bride for himself so that the Incarnation could be produced as a result of their union.” It follows if they can’t remain as a loyal bride, then the Incarnation of Jesus would be delayed while Israel waits in agony only to be conquered by other nations.
Today, this dreary cycle of “spiritual harlotry” continues. And much like it was God’s beloved people of Israel that performed egregious idolatry, members of the hierarchy in God’s church have fallen into similar adulterous ways. As Bishop Athanasius Schneider recently wrote,
“We have to accept this situation from the hands of Divine Providence as a trial . . .One can understand this situation as a divine intervention in the current unprecedented crisis of the Church.”
Where is the crisis in which idolatry has happened? Isn’t it interesting that in October (right around the same time the covid virus was released from a Wuhan lab) there were actual “mother earth” idols brought into St. Peter. Now, just a few months later, public worship of God has practically ceased throughout the world.
The culmination of the modernist theology infiltrating the Church was witnessed in October at the Amazon Synod. Here, people prostrated themselves to the pagan goddess Pachamama and a pile of dirt in a Vatican garden ceremony, with the pope looking on approvingly. The idol was given a ritualistic procession through St. Peter’s Basilica and installed in a nearby church. This act was the inevitable end result of the liberal clergy’s long harlotry with the false gods of the modern world. What’s more is that throughout the Bible idol worship is viewed as the utmost slap in the face to God (it’s the First Commandment for a reason) and the source of all evil. As Wisdom reads, “The worship of idols . . . is the beginning and the end, the cause and the result of every evil” (Wisdom 14:27).
In fact, prominent figures in the Church are insisting that our pandemic is likely a direct result of the spiritual harlotry of the recent idol worship at the synod. Archbishop Vigano, Bishop Schneider, and Italian priest and theologian Nicola Box have articulated that our crisis is God’s chastisement for infidelity of Vatican leaders. Box said, “the pandemic is a warning to men in the Church, who, in the name of a ‘paradigm shift,’ subordinate Christ’s teaching to the reality of the world’s teaching.”
Bishop Schneider, commented in an interview,
“The cultic veneration of the pagan idol of Pachamama inside the Vatican, with the approval of the Pope, was to be sure a great sin of infidelity to the First Commandment of the Decalogue, it was an abomination.” Schneider went on to add that “such acts of idolatry were the culmination of a series of other acts of infidelity to the safeguarding of the divine deposit of Faith by many high-ranking members of the Church’s hierarchy in past decades.”
Recalling the Lord’s threat of punishment and call to repentance, directed to bishops in the Book of Revelation (cf. 2:14-16), Bishop Schneider said he is convinced that “Christ would repeat the same words to Pope Francis and to the other bishops” who allowed the veneration of the Pachamama idol in the Vatican.
It remains a concern that even though this theme of “idolatry leads to plagues” keeps repeating itself in history, people (even those in the hierarchy) keep falling for it. Here is hope those members within the Church repent of their actions and come to show the love and loyalty towards Mother Church’s teaching.
History tells us the Church always raises up saints in times of turmoil. In the 3rd century, a great plague was affecting the Roman Empire. The Bishop of Carthage, Saint Cyprian, wrote a treatise that may ring true today.
“And further, beloved brethren, what is it, what a great thing is it, how pertinent, how necessary, that pestilence and plague which seems horrible and deadly, searches out the righteousness of each one, and examines the minds of the human race, to see whether they who are in health tend the sick; whether relations affectionately love their kindred; whether physicians do not forsake the beseeching patients; whether the fierce suppress their violence; whether the rapacious can quench the ever insatiable ardour of their raging avarice even by the fear of death; whether, when their dear ones perish, the rich, even then bestow anything, and give, when they are to die without heirs. Even although this mortality conferred nothing else, it has done this benefit to Christians and to God’s servants that we begin gladly to desire martyrdom as we learn not to fear death. These are trainings for us, not deaths: they give the mind the glory of fortitude; by contempt of death they prepare for the crown.”
What St. Cyprian is getting at is the Lord is using this pandemic to expose the proud and to raise up the righteous and lowly.
Here is hope that in our plight today those who participated and approved this scandal will re-position themselves back to God and that just men rise up to lead us to victory.