Leviticus, Leprosy, and Lent—in the Light of the Coronavirus Crisis (Part 2)

Okay, I’m going to go ahead and tackle one big question, right away, already in just this second article.

Did God Cause the Coronavirus?

Without any further suspense, here is the answer I am going with: Yes he did.

I realize there are some out there who believe this is a horrible answer, and that it portrays God as an absolute monster. Nevertheless, I believe it is in fact the right answer, and that it is the right answer because it is the biblical answer. Furthermore, it is not only the biblical answer, but it is also clearly and overwhelmingly so. The biblical text reinforces this perspective time and time and time again. And it never suggests any other answer.

But in this series, we are dealing in particular with Leviticus 13-14. There is one particular verse in this passage that is important for us to consider. As mentioned in the last article, these two chapters are dealing with skin diseases and house molds. Interestingly, the term for skin disease and mold is actually the same Hebrew word in both cases (we’ll have more to say about this word in a later installment). This is why the house mold problem is dealt with along with the skin diseases. When, in the latter half of chapter 14, the text begins with to deal with the house mold issue, here is the way the topic is introduced in verses 33-34:

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “When you enter the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, and I put a spreading mold in a house in that land …

Did you catch that? The Lord, in this section, is about to give instructions for dealing with this house mold. And yet he starts off by saying that this mold is one he himself put there! Furthermore, many commentators on Leviticus argue that we can extrapolate from this and say that the statement actually covers the entirety of these two chapters. After all, as I mentioned above, the word for this house mold is the same as that for the skin disease. So, whether it be the spreading house mold or the infectious skin disease, the Lord is the one who put it there.

Now, of course, you are going to want to know why God would do this. I will deal with this question in the next installment. For now, I want to deal with the “that,” rather than the “why,” though I will address that in the third article in this series.

I said above that this is in fact the overwhelmingly biblical perspective on this issue. I do not have the time to provide a full survey on this. Indeed, this understanding is the case in so many passages of Scripture that, if I desired to do so, I could write a 365-day devotional based on these texts. But for this article, I will just call attention to just one other text.

In Isaiah 45:5-7, we have these words, recorded for us by Isaiah, but the words are the Lord’s own:

I am the LORD, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God. …

I am the LORD, and there is no other.
I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the LORD, do all these things.

For those of you grew up on the KJV, you might remember that where the NIV has the word “disaster,” the KJV has the translation, “evil.” And, indeed, the Hebrew word here can, depending on the context, refer to either moral evil or calamitous evil, i.e., disaster. Some commentators actually opt for the idea of moral evil. But probably the vast majority of translations and commentaries translate identically or similarly to the NIV. And we should also note the rather strong verb, “create,” which is indeed the same word as in Gen 1:1 when God created the heavens and the earth. So it is pretty clear here. The Lord claims here that he creates disaster.

This is very important for understanding these two chapters in Leviticus. The Lord gives direction as to how the skin disease is to be examined and dealt with. The Lord gives instructions as to how the house mold is to be addressed. The Lord also gives instructions for animal sacrifices which are to be offered in order to make the skin-diseased persons ritually clean. And yet, the Lord himself is the one who put that infectious skin disease and the house mold there in the first place.

Of course this raises a number of questions, including the one we’ll address in the next installment, the “why” question. But for this article, I want to direct your attention to a book authored jointly by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes. The book is titled, When God Weeps:Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty (see additional note about this book at the end of this article). Many of you will know the history behind this book. Joni Eareckson, at the age of 17, had a diving accident, the result of which was that she became a quadriplegic. In this book, very early on, Steven Estes recounts his first meeting with Joni, two years after her paralyzing accident. They had been introduced to each other, by a mutual friend, as two persons who might “have a lot to talk about.” Steven describes their first meeting:

Once we were alone, it wasn’t ten minutes before the question came. “So, Diana says you’re big into the Bible. Tell me, do you think God had anything to do with my breaking my neck?” She casually brushed a wisp of hair from her forehead with the back of her wrist, but those eyes were anything but casual.

Here is the crux of the book you’re about to read.

I am a sixteen-year-old nobody, a paper boy, sitting across from perhaps the most popular girl of her huge high-school class from two years earlier. The crowd she ran with I saw only from across the gymnasium. Now look at her. I tap my foot to James Taylor in the background; she just bobs her head. I eat my own lunch; someone has to feed her. I’ll be walking out that screen door in about thirty minutes; she’ll stay sitting in that chair till the Grim Reaper comes. And she wants to know if I think God put her there? Who am I to open my mouth?

I know what the Bible says about her question. A dozen passages come to mind from years of church and a Christian dad who taught his kids well. But I’ve never test-driven those truths on such a difficult course. Nothing worse than a D in algebra or puppy-love-gone-sour has ever happened to me. But I think, If the Bible can’t work in this girl’s life—it never was for real.

I clear my throat and jump off the cliff. “God put you in that chair, Joni. I don’t know why, but if you’ll trust him instead of fighting him, you’ll find out why—if not in this life, then in the next. He let you break your neck because he loves you.”

The rest of the book is about dealing with the implications of that question and the answer which Steven gave to Joni that day.

God was the one who put an infectious skin disease in the bodies of Israelites, and spreading molds in their homes. God is the one who forms the light and creates darkness. God is the one who brings prosperity and creates disaster. God was the one who did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all. And, yes, I believe that God was the one who sent the Coronavirus.

This answer is not palatable for many people, indeed, many Christians. One particular theologian has recently argued that not only did God not send the Coronavirus., but that God was actually powerless to prevent the Coronavirus. Indeed, this theologian goes so far as to say that God is powerless to prevent any evil. In his opinion, this actually provides the perspective from which to do pastoral counselling for someone who is going through a time of suffering. He argues that the truly pastoral and comforting thing to tell the suffering person is that God was powerless to prevent the evil that has come upon them. For my part, I consider that answer to be completely non-scriptural, and I believe that to tell the suffering person this is pastoral malpractice.

I much prefer the by-far better and by-far more biblical perspective on this question, one that is represented so beautifully by the first question and answer provided by the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q. What is your only comfort
in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own,
but belong—

body and soul,
in life and in death

to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

Lent, March 25, 2020

*(Let me add that I believe you would find the book by Tada and Estes a tremendously helpful treatment of this subject. In addition to the narrative recounted in the book, there are also provided several appendices in which they survey some of the plethora of texts that I referred to above. I highly recommend it.)