The Covid-19 crisis and ensuing problems have disrupted the entire world. One cannot help but wonder if what we have gone through is on some level a message from God. If so, what is He saying?
Throughout time, God has spoken to people through prophets, visions, angels and other messengers. And He has also spoken to mankind through the events we go through. A time of calamity wakes us up to reality and motivates us to think more clearly. In the current period of trouble, we need to grasp that God is indeed speaking to us, and that His message is clear.
Drawing lessons from unexpected tragedies
Jesus Christ made use of certain crises of His time to draw a lesson about the unexpected. In Luke 13 He referred to two contemporary tragedies to make an important point. The first one concerned worshippers from Galilee massacred at the Jerusalem temple on the orders of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. The other event was a building collapse that killed a number of people. Notice the account in Luke 13:1-5:
“About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. ‘Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?’ Jesus asked. ‘Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too’” (New Living Translation, emphasis added throughout).
The Greek word translated “repent” here is metanoeo, which means to change one’s mind—to think differently. Jesus is telling us that unless we experience a major change of direction in our minds, hearts and lives, we could perish like the victims caught up unexpectedly in these two catastrophic incidents.
It’s a sobering lesson for today, when an epidemic has unexpectedly cut short the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and millions are out of work, with society reeling.
God’s plea to man throughout the Bible
One of the chief themes of the Bible is repentance. Jesus Christ’s ministry began with: “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent [change your thinking—think differently], and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15).
Repentance—thinking, acting and living differently—became the primary message of the early Church: “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39).
This message continued in subsequent sermons: “Repent therefore and be converted [change the direction of your life], that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19-20).
The New Testament word for the act of repenting, metanoeo, is complemented by the Old Testament Hebrew word shuv. This word is commonly translated as “turn,” and often carries the sense of “turn back,” “go back” or “return.” It occurs more than 1,000 times in the Old Testament. The plea from God to man throughout the Bible is to turn to Him and to turn away from evil.
When you understand that God is calling out to man to think, act and live differently, you will understand one of the great purposes of life. You will also come to see why our world is filled with suffering and sorrow. The story of the Bible is a chronicle of man’s corrupt thinking and its consequences and God’s message to change our thinking and be freed from the enslaving grip of evil.
Disturbing history of wrong thinking and tragic results
In the Garden of Eden our first human parents were given a choice between the fruit of two different trees. Taking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would bring death. Tempted by the evil serpent, Adam and Eve disobeyed their Creator and were subsequently barred from the tree of life. We have all followed in the same error and penalty: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
For the next 1,600 years man’s pattern of thinking became worse and worse: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
This pattern of thought so corrupted mankind that God decided to restart civilization with Noah. Noah had a mindset of thinking differently from the rest of society and found grace in the eyes of God (Genesis 6:8). God used Noah to repopulate the earth through his descendants after a catastrophic worldwide Flood.
About 400 years later, God started working through a man named Abraham and proceeded to his son Isaac, and then to his son Jacob and the sons he fathered. Jacob was renamed Israel, and his sons became the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel.
This fledgling nation migrated to Egypt and after several generations found itself enslaved there. God delivered the Israelites under the leadership of Moses. God then made a covenant with them involving their obedience to the law He gave to them, particularly the Ten Commandments, a guide for proper moral thinking.
But the people had great difficulty aligning their thinking with the mind of God. They consistently violated God’s laws and brought on themselves the consequences and curses God had warned them about. Joshua, Israel’s next leader, told them in an impassioned farewell speech to think and live differently from the nations around them (Joshua 23–24).
However, the nation repeatedly veered from this exhortation over the next 300 years, known as the time of the Judges. Of that time we’re told, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). The fruits were not good—wanton murder, theft, rape, oppression and violence. People wonder why there is so much violence in the Bible. The answer, as especially seen here, is that man’s rejection of God produces such consequences.
The Israelites went on to call for a human monarchy, and the people still failed to obey God over the next 400 years when their kings ruled over them. The nation split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, and both fell to foreign empires, with the people carried away into captivity. Why? Because their thinking succumbed to that of the nations around them. They chose to break God’s laws and violate His covenants.
Repeated calls for repentance
Through the prophets God reached out to both nations with a message pleading for them to turn and choose a different way of thinking. Here are just a few of the many admonitions:
• “‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11).
• “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
• “‘Now, therefore,’ says the Lord, ‘turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’ . . . Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm” (Joel 2:12-13).
• “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die [?] . . . Therefore turn and live!” (Ezekiel 18:30-32).
The Israelites as a whole never understood what God commanded them to do for their own good. They never had a sustained period of obedience and adherence to the covenant their ancestors agreed to. So the reasons for the captivity of both nations are spelled out clearly:
“For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God . . . and they had feared other gods, and had walked in the statutes of the nations whom the Lord had cast out from before [them] . . . Also the children of Israel secretly did against the Lord their God things that were not right . . . They set up for themselves sacred pillars and wooden images on every high hill and under every green tree. There they burned incense on all the high places, like the nations whom the Lord had carried away before them; and they did wicked things to provoke the Lord to anger’” (2 Kings 17:7-11).
A message for all of us
God’s call to repent and turn to Him remains. It continues throughout the entire Bible and still goes out today. It is a command not just to Israel but to all mankind. When the apostle Paul preached in Athens, he concluded with these powerful words: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
This is a message we all need to heed!
What is God trying to tell us through the crises now gripping the world? Is this not a time to give our full attention to God and what He offers us? Is it not a time to think about where we’re heading? Is it not an opportunity to change our thinking and turn from the way we now live to the God who loves us? What do we have to lose?
You can change your thinking and change your life by submitting to God and receiving His forgiveness and ongoing help. By doing so you will embark on a life that is ultimately fulfilling, entering a relationship that will prepare and protect you in facing whatever is yet before us.
God’s desire for all of us is expressed so well by the apostle Peter: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise [regarding Christ’s return to judge the world], as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
God is still calling on us to repent. He is giving you that opportunity right now. Make good use of it! Think differently. Turn your life around, and believe the good news Jesus preached!