[first published in the monthly congregational Notes for April, 2020.]
Right now I am sure we are all looking forward to the end of what effectively is a low level ‘lockdown’ brought on by the common fear of what this coronavirus might do if left unrestrained and allowed free course. No-one knows for sure what that would be but we are told that it would be severe. New laws have appeared out of nowhere as authorities plead with us to ‘flatten the curve’ so that our ability to cope with the virus’ effects is not swamped. Add to that the complicating factor that some seem infected with the virus yet show no symptoms! Meanwhile the world is devoting its collective medical wisdom to finding a cure, and if not, a vaccine at least. But perhaps there will never be one, as there is no vaccine against SARS or the common cold (also a coronavirus)! In that case we may have to adjust to living under these laws for some time.
All of this reminds me of parallels in the Biblical narrative of Sin and Redemption.
Sin is not a medical virus but perhaps, without in any way diminishing its seriousness, we could liken it to a spiritual one. The difference is that sin is not caught (i.e. no-one is born without it) but is now inherent in natural human existence so that it is already in every one of us. We all carry it, even if to our weak human eyes we don’t seem to show any symptoms. God’s tests confirm it. The only question is when will it kill us?
Adam might have thought his initial infection only a light dose in that it took more than 900 years for him to die (Gen 5:5), but within a generation it gave rise to false worship, jealousy, hatred and murder, and lying to God (Gen 4). By a strange irony, Cain realised that ‘social distancing’ alone would not be sufficient to guarantee his life (Gen 4:14) and although God graciously granted him a degree of protection (Gen 4:15), it was still an external mark and not sufficient to restrain sin in the human heart. The whole world was speedily infected and even within Seth’s line, godliness was found only in one small branch. God’s judgment washed it all away in the flood but the ‘sin virus’ was still there (even in Noah) as every chapter from Genesis 9 on makes clear!
God had promised a solution but it would take time. Until then He would call people to keep properly apart from unrighteousness to ‘flatten the curve’ so to speak, so that sin did not again reach its fullest evil. From Abraham onwards the call rang clear, “Depart! Depart! Go out from there, Touch no unclean thing; Go out from the midst of her, Be clean You who bear the vessels of the LORD” (Is 52:11). The 10 Commandments now focused on keeping sin’s effects to a minimum even as they also showed that no-one could keep them fully. Sin was everywhere, even in Israel. They might enter the Promised Land, but never Heaven; its gates may be open but its borders are always closed to all unrighteousness, even to those with no outward symptoms. (This is why even today, living ‘a moral life’ without any apparent evidence of sin is not enough. Lk 18:10-14, Rev 21:27).
God’s cure involved introducing a second Adam, a ‘virus resistant’ Adam in the person of Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God. He would suffer all the consequences of sin and die at the Cross, but in the process destroy sin and render death powerless (Heb 2:14, Rev 20:6). His resurrection is proof that sin has been overcome and that He is the sole cure. This is the ground for all Gospel hope! Death has been defeated, but only for all those who are united to Christ in repentance and faith. So what about you, dear reader? Will you live?
This coronavirus leaves scars on the lungs of those who recover, just as sin always leaves its scars on the soul (and often the body as well). This is no less true for the Christian; sin may be forgiven but its hurtful consequences remain. It’s part of the burden we bear to keep us close to Christ and to remind us not to stray again. One day, however, even those scars will be removed! That is the second resurrection. No sin, and no lockdown! Be there!