Is God angry with us? God and COVID-19: PART ONE

By Fr Joseph Lam OSA, 31 July 2021
Image: Liza Pooor/Unsplash



This week, thousands have taken over the streets in Athens, Paris, Jerusalem, Washington, Melbourne and Sydney to protest against the COVID-19 lockdown rules and restrictions. Like in Europe, the US and the Middle East, the latest protest in Sydney was anything but peaceful. Protesters have identified two chief reasons for their revolt. In their opinion, the governmental lockdown on the one hand has deprived them of a sense of control and on the other hand, has disrupted their normal way of life and freedom. Furthermore, many of the protestors were anti-vaccinators.

An increasing number of Christians have joined the protest, demanding that the States uphold the fundamental human right of freedom of religion [1]. Occasionally, such demand is accompanied by a complete disregard of the public health order. Instead, certain Christian groups have promoted the view that God is ruler and judge, not the State. Referring to the prophetic and apocalyptic, i.e., Is. 26:20, Jer. 29:17, Ezek. 5:12 or Rev 6:8, and a number of New Testament passages, such as Lk 21:11, they based their view on the theological conviction that God is angry and that the pandemic is a sign of God’s wrath and punishment for the sins and rebellion of humanity against God. Hence, the call for repentance and conversion from sins echoes throughout the streets.

The lockdown has given me space and time to study closely the Scriptures and other related disciplines and to examine these claims. As such, I would like to explore how the faith community can continue to grow, even though churches are closed, and people are protesting out on the streets.

The Bible and Anger

According to the psychology of emotion, anger is a normal emotion involving a strong, uncomfortable and emotional response to a perceived provocation [2]. Indeed, there are various biblical passages that seem to affirm God’s anger and wrath against a rebellious and provocative Israel. Aaron, the brother of Moses, had triggered God’s anger by inciting the Hebrews to worship the Golden Calf (Ex. 32:4). Because of this idolatry, God pronounced to Moses his intention to punish these “corrupted and stiff-necked people”: “Now, don’t try to stop me. I am angry with them, and I am going to destroy them” (Ex. 32:10).

Prophets from Moses to Malachi point to sin and the need for repentance as reasons behind various disasters. Likewise, John the Baptist and Jesus launch the New Testament with prophetic warnings and calls to repentance.

This divine action not only concerns Israel, but also the nations. Amos is the prominent prophet whose oracles attacked the nations (Amos 1:3; 2:1) [3]. The book of Deuteronomy contains a divine pronouncement of destruction against the nations intrinsically disposed to the prideful chase of profits and indifference towards God (Deut. 8:10–14).

In his Letter to the Romans, Paul clearly associated the wrath of God with the ungodly lifestyle of the people when he stated: “the wrath of God is being revealed … against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.” (Rom 1:18). Paul sets forth the Old Testament theology of the Covenant through which Israel was bound to a set of rules regulating and determining its ethical and religious behaviour toward God and neighbour.

Israel was cognisant that sins would violate the Covenant and would trigger God’s punitive correction. In this regard, the Old Testament is also dominated by cause and effect pragmatism. Because Israel had not kept the divine ordinances, God had to do what He has said He would do. Hence, Israel bemoaned the consequences of the divine rejection: “Unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure” (Lam. 5:22).

Similarly, the book of Daniel identified Israel’s disobedience as the principal reason for its misery: “We have rebelled against Him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following His law, which He set before us by his servants the prophets” (Dan. 9:9f.).

Walter Brueggemann calls this straightforward causal chain of reward and punishment a “transactional mode of the Covenant”, meaning that a direct causal relationship exists between Israel’s behaviour and historical outcomes: “in a tightly ordered world ‘good people prosper’ and ‘evil people suffer’.” [4] Typically, the bad outcome takes the form of pestilence, sword, famine and captivity (i.e., Jer. 15:2). God’s anger/wrath is hence a divine reaction against the breaking of the covenantal rules and restrictions. Yet, the ultimate goal of divine anger is not Israel’s complete destruction. Rather, its main objective is to correct and educate Israel’s future generations to avoid a repeat of the sins of their forefathers. [5]

So, it appears that the Scriptures affirm the anger and wrath of God against Israel and the rest of the world. However, there are also passages that do not accept this straightforward ‘transactional mode of Covenant’.

Psalm 73 reflects on the daily reality in which the psalmist has witnessed that the wicked often “do not suffer pain, they are strong and healthy. They do not suffer as other people do. They do not have troubles that others have” (Ps 73:4). Hence, there are voices questioning this tit-for-tat covenantal mechanism.

Psalm 44 recalled the past liberating deeds of Yahweh only to make their case before God who appeared to unjustly punish Israel, though it had not broken the Covenant: “All this has happened to us, even though we have not forgotten you or broken the covenant you made with us. We have not been disloyal to you. We have not disobeyed your commands. Yet, you have left us helpless among your wild animals. You have abandoned us in deepest darkness” (Ps 44:17-19). In this passage, the psalmist was not only confused at God’s action but appeared to be angry with God whom he accused of gross injustice against a faithful Israel. Not only is God angry with us, but we are also angry with God!

John and Kathleen Scott Goldingay have demonstrated in their essay that the Old Testament also includes narratives in which God was not the cause of disasters or epidemics, because they just happened as part of a long history of the universe. Accordingly, the famine in Genesis 12 (the setting of the story being when Pharaoh takes Sarah into his harem) is not linked to God; it just happens! Hence, they concluded: “Our epidemic is not a beginning, and nor (please God) will it be an end, but is part of an ongoing story. If epidemic issues from our stupidity, this fact does not mean that God abandons us or declines to weave it into his story.”[6]

Read Part Two here.

Read Part Three here.

Fr Joseph Lam OSA is the parish priest of St Finbar’s Parish, Glenbrook.


[1] Javier Martínez-Torrón, ‘COVID-19 and Religious Freedom: Some Comparative Perspectives’, in Laws (2021) 10/2, 39-55.

[2] Sheila L. Videbeck, Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing (Philadelphia: Williams & Wilkins, 2006).

[3] Tzvi Novick, An Introduction to the Scriptures of Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdman, 2018), 88-93.

[4] Walter Brueggemann, Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Uncertainty (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2020), 4.

[5] Brueggemann, Virus, 5-10. describes this divine action as Yahweh’s purposeful enactment of force that He used to achieve a specific goal. In the case of Pharaoh, the ten plagues were aimed at the liberation of Israel.

[6] John Goldingay & Kathleen Scott Goldingay, ‘Thinking with the Old Testament about the pandemic’, Theology (2020) 123/3, 195.


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