In the face of a crisis that impacts and disrupts the whole nation, Christians have been quick to quote 2 Chronicles 7:14:
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 I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Besides the fact that people often sort of rip this passage out of context and apply it to America, I have also noticed that people tend to blame shove.
What I mean is, I have felt that we sometimes apply the part about “turning from their wicked ways” to the secular culture. They are the ones who have destroyed our Judeo-Christian values in this country. If those people—the liberal, sexually immoral, greedy, addicted sinners—would turn from their wickedness God would bless our nation again.
When we do this we fall into the age old trap of pushing blame. Adam did it. Eve did it. We do it.
When I say “we,” I want to be clear, I am identifying with the collective “we.”
I do it.
The problem with this interpretation is that the passage is directed towards a specific people. “…if my people, who are called by my name.” This is not addressed to everybody. This is a call to God’s people to return to covenant faithfulness. The command and promise is for Israel.
But, I would still go so far as to say that while it is to Israel, it contains a principle that applies to God’s people today. Israel was the “my people, called by my name” in this passage then. Today, the Church as a collective whole is God’s New Covenant people called by His name.
Church, we should lead the way in humbling ourselves, praying and repenting (turning from our wicked ways).
“But, but… I don’t drink, smoke, support sexual immorality, or hang out with people who do…I mean… I am of course a ‘sinner’ … we all are… but, turn from my wickedness, that is a little extreme isn’t it?”
Maybe. Maybe not.
Our culture is so hyper-individualistic that I have actually seen Christians say or post things against collective repentance. I have usually seen it in relation to racial issues. The line of thinking goes something like this, “I didn’t own slaves. I can’t help what my ancestors did. I can’t help that I am white. I have nothing to repent of.”
Now, before you get politically “triggered,” please keep reading. This is important.
Put aside your opinions about the political nature of racial reconciliation and hear me out. There is precedent in Scripture for collective repentance regardless of individual, specific guilt. The prophets often pleaded on behalf of the people when God removed His hand of protection from them because of their unfaithfulness. Prophetic writings are full of pleas to Israel, as a whole, to repent.
The clearest passage that gives precedent to collective repentance is in Daniel 9. Daniel prays on behalf of his people. “I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed… But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled… We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets.” Daniel prays not for those wicked Babylonians to be judged for their sin, but he prays for God to forgive his people. And, he identifies with the sins of his people regardless of his individual culpability.
I think the CV-19 outbreak is a result of the broken and fallen world we live in. I do not believe God caused it. I do not believe it is “God’s will.”
I do believe that God uses and works through and orchestrates his will even in the midst of the brokenness of His good creation. I also believe God can speak to us in our pain, suffering, and struggle.
In The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis wrote,
We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world….No doubt pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul.
I believe God could use this crisis to get the attention of a deaf world. But, I believe He first must get the attention of His church.
This virus has upended every aspect of our society. I believe it has exposed several sins in my life and in the lives of God’s people for which we can collectively repent:
Americans, as a culture of people, are somewhat prideful. I don’t mean for that to offend you. We tend to think we are better than the rest of the world. Christians are also susceptible to self-righteous pride. We are more “spiritual” than that person because that person struggles with addiction. We are true followers of Jesus because our doctrinal beliefs are more conservative and sound. Our church is better than XYZ church down the road—just look at our numbers. These things are all soaked in pride. We must confess of collective pride. We also must confess of personal pride. I hate to admit it, but I can be prideful about my way and my perspective and my education and my abilities. God, please forgive.
Idolatry of Money
So many of us were thankful for the prosperity of our economy, but just like that, our “recession proof” economy was exposed to be sinking sand. We are a very affluent society. We have so many luxuries that we take for granted. The average American is believed to spend about $165 per day while about half of the rest of the world lives on less than $2 a day. That is over 80x more! Could it be that money can easily take over the throne of our hearts? Could it be that it is a danger even for God’s people? I think so. I know much of the stress I experience is related to financial concerns. Money consumes my worries. Money has too high of a place in my life at times. God, please forgive.
Idolatry of Work
The government recommendations and mandates have forced our culture to come to a screeching halt. We don’t know what to do with our time. I would dare say that we are addicted to productivity. Many American Christians would not condone or advocate breaking any of the Ten Commandments except for one—“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…” (Ex. 20:8-10). God’s people have assimilated to the culture of performance and productivity condoning it as a “good work ethic.” We don’t have time to spend in God’s presence, we don’t have time to serve others, we don’t have time to be the sort of husbands or wives that God calls us to be, and tragically, we don’t have time to be present with our kids. Why? Because we work an unhealthy amount of hours avoiding the other callings in our lives and bowing to money as we make more over-time pay. We have been forced to SLOW DOWN. Maybe there is something to be discovered in our discomfort of slowing down. God, please forgive.
Idolatry of Self-sufficiency
We often pride ourselves in picking ourselves up by our bootstraps and making our own way. We were not created to be independent and self-sufficient. We were not created to be lazy or apathetic either. But, we were created to be dependent on God for our sufficiency. We were created to be in relationship with other people. Oh how this stay at home stuff has revealed the value of in-person interaction. We need God. We need people. God, please forgive.
Idolatry of Comfort and Control
Of all the things that humans have faced and suffered in the history of the world, what we are going through now is lower on the scale. Don’t get me wrong. This is hard, tragic, and even scary. But, most of what I have been dealing with is the disappointment and frustration of my plans being disrupted and my comfort being messed with. I don’t think I am alone. We love comfort. We love control. God, please forgive.
Indifference to the Poor and Vulnerable
Sadly, some people have actually articulated on social media that they are not in the most vulnerable group, therefore, they do not see the precautions as a big deal. This thing spread so widely because our actions never just affect ourselves. That is why sin is such a big deal in the first place. It always has a ripple effect. The call to “self-distance” isn’t about just our own personal risk. There are elderly people in my congregation who are genuinely concerned and fearful. It is my calling to be sensitive and compassionate—to bear the burden with them. That is our calling. Our indifference to those most vulnerable to this virus may also expose our indifference to the poor and marginalized. This is not a liberal agenda thing or a progressive Christian thing. It is a biblical, gospel issue. We are called to care about the plight of the poor, to stand up for the oppressed, and fight against injustice. I won’t hammer this point too much more, but take a look at what the prophet Isaiah wrote. Notice, he is not calling out their sins of pagan worship or immorality, although that was part of Israel’s sins. It would seem they are going through the motions of worshipping Yahweh while neglecting something God sees as crucial:
“The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! … Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
During this time, we need to be sensitive and compassionate to those who are most vulnerable. After this time, we need to always be concerned with the vulnerable, marginalized, and oppressed. God, please forgive.
God, forgive the sins of we, your people. Please hear our cries for mercy and grace. Heal our land.