July 8, 2020 · C.E. Carter
Ironically, it is in the book of Jonah where we get a glimpse of, among other things, what widespread repentance actually looks like. In the story, Jonah was tasked by God to deliver a warning of God’s judgement, and subsequent impending calamity, against the wicked city of Ninevah. After being vomited up on the beach from the belly of a whale, and reluctantly delivering his brief message concerning this judgement, Jonah witnessed the entire city of wicked men and women cry out to God and don themselves with sackcloth and ashes in brokenhearted repentance.
Faith requires repentance: a restoration and recalibration of a broken moral compass, a process which brings into alignment action, conscience, and God’s Law. We repent, as Christians, since it has been illumined to us by the Holy Spirit that our actions, as they are, stand contrary to the Law of the One we love and fear. You cannot be a Christian and refuse to repent, nor is the truth of Christ in you if you say that you are without sin. It is by grace that we are reminded of our wretched state before our God whenever consequences of sin beset us with suffering, as if God was saying to the world, “Wake up, and turn from sin, lest something worse befall you!” It is a common and effective rebuke of His towards us. Just as the whole Created Order with its wonders and its dangers testifies to the nature of God, so COVID-19 is a warning, raised out of God’s kindness towards us, intended to make us stop and consider our lives, our mortality, and our standing before Him.
I often hear (albeit less frequently the older I get) that my nation, the United States of America, is a Christian nation. “Really?” I say, in genuine surprise at the absurdity of the proposition which has crossed into the theater of my mind. Which parts of this nation, exactly, are the Christian parts? Is it our sexual promiscuity? Our fondness of drink and drug? Our overt and shameless celebration of homosexuality and transgenderism? Is it the fact that we murder 1 in 5 of our unborn babies, each of whom is made in the image of God? Or is it the fact that half of our marriages end in divorce? Or, perhaps, is it the crippling debt slavery which enraptures our young people through the Biblically prohibited practice of usury? Or, maybe, is it the rapid export of the false gospel known as “health, wealth, and prosperity” a.k.a. Word of Faith, which emanates from the pulpits of false teachers littered across our land? Or is it the false worldview of moralistic therapeutic deism, held by many professing “Christians” who believe that God will reward them with Heaven for their good works? It must be, then, our cowardice in refusing to stand against these things and preach the truth, or else our ignorance of what God’s word really says, no?
I ask again: which parts of this nation, exactly, are the Christian parts?
If the United States were a Christian nation, we would have been compelled to our knees in repentance for our vile and Godless deeds at the first report of the impending pandemic. Indeed, we would have long since done so. Lord knows our actions have warranted us a punishment far worse than COVID-19, and such wrath is being stored up for the Day of Judgment. Instead of revering and fearing God, we chose to serve ourselves, having long since abandoned hope that God would be gracious to repentant souls. As a result of this, our leadership declared the weekly gathering of believers to worship the Almighty Creator of the Universe to be a “non essential” service, and further, boldly proclaimed in pride that “God did not do that” as the disease showed signs of slowing its spread. Even as states are “allowing” believers to return to worship, they may only do so in certain numbers, and in some states singing praises to God is outright prohibited for fear of viral proliferation. This is how little we hope in God: we would sooner trade the riches of repentance and the joy and eternal security, for panicked survival tactics.
For clarity’s sake, I do not mean that repentance will guarantee that God will eradicate this virus, nor do I mean that we ought to repent for the sake of eradicating the virus. He may do this, or He may choose in the event of widespread repentance, to sanctify the nation through the means of letting the pandemic run its course. We repent in order to be made right with Him, because He commands us to repent and put our faith in Christ alone, and to do so with the intent to obey Him forevermore, no matter what circumstances He allows to come our way. With this in view, which is more important: to gather together to encourage each other towards repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and to collectively worship Him for His greatness, or to prohibit such gatherings for fear of viral infection? The former have consequences which are eternal, and involve obedience to One who can affect anything, even the eradication of an entire disease or the resurrection of the dead. The latter involves disobedience to God, and has unknown consequences with respect to the disease.
In the book of Hebrews, chapter 10, believers are admonished to not forsake gathering together to edify and encourage one another in the worship of God, not as a matter of “Christian living”, but as a logical consequence of the Gospel. Gathering together to lift our voices in prayer and in praise, and to listen to the preaching of the word of God, are means by which we testify to ourselves, and to others, and to the world, the unfathomable greatness of Christ emptying Himself to the point of death, and rising from the dead, so that we may have life with Him. We do this, in keeping with the tradition set forth by our Lord Himself, who gathered with His followers to break bread, to fellowship, to weep, to pray, and to join together in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. By doing these things, we proclaim that God is able to save us from our sin, and if He can do that, how much more is He able to deliver us from every calamity which could befall us?
Repent, my nation, and repent, my brothers and sisters; gather together to weep, and to turn to God in sackcloth and ashes, not over the calamity which has befallen us, but over our sin, that we may be forgiven, cleansed, and delivered from it.