As we continue to discuss the divine and human roles in Ebola prevention and care in the series on whether Ebola is a curse or natural/man-made disaster, we will in this second article focus on divine judgment and how it might relate to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. What is divine judgment? What does it entail? Whom does God judge and why does he judge? The introductory article which put the series in context highlighted the following points:
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa baffles the countries directly affected and the international community. This is coupled with the hard fact that it has no known cure and vaccine to prevent anyone from catching it. Up to date it has killed at least a thousand and five hundred persons and a lot of people are incrementally being infected!
It is good to note that strenuous efforts (though belated in some instances) are being made and measures being put in place by the affected countries themselves and the international community through UN, WHO, Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Samaritan's Purse, Red Cross and the United States to fight and defeat Ebola. But they warn that the virus is out of control and it will take months to get a grip on it. We are tempted then to ask: “Is this virus a curse from God to punish the citizens of the affected countries for their sins?” Some clergy men and women and ordinary believers have answered with a resounding “yes”. But are they right? In my view Ebola is not a curse. It is a natural virus or possibly a man-made virus that is having devastating effects on lives and human existence and is testing our whole way of life.
Now we attend to the question of divine judgment. A divine judgment is simply God’s punishment of sin. When God causes a misfortune or a bad thing to happen to a person or a group because of some offense then divine judgment occurs. A divine judgment is a reward for disobedience to God’s command or instructions. It can take the form of a sickness, a family or national catastrophe or a series of terrible events or situations emanating from God as a result of people’s acts of disobedience. It may affect the offender directly and his/her descendants.
The question is “Does God ever curse anybody”? Or mildly put “Does God ever punish offenders”? And the answer is “yes” of course he can and has done so on a number of occasions well attested to in Scripture. He punished Adam and Eve for eating fruit from a tree they were told not to eat (Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-15). He caused a number of horrific plagues (ten in all) against the Egyptians for their maltreatment of his people and refusal to let them go at his clear command (Exodus 7-11). Aaron and Miriam, sibling of Moses, were struck with diseases due to their offense against their brother, Moses, the servant of God (Numbers 12), Achan and his whole family and Ananias and Sophia (husband and wife) were killed by God because of disobedience (Joshua 7; Acts 5). Jesus himself cursed a fig tree (Mark 11:12-25).
However, we must not be quick to point to every misfortune or disaster as punishment or a curse from God. God can allow sufferings of all sorts to come to people who have done no wrong. The reasons for their suffering may be for other purposes apart from their own sins (Job 1-2; John 9). We better be sure (unequivocally know) before we can describe a particular occurrence or calamity as a curse or punishment from God. In the instances we have cited God’s reliable servants, the prophets, declared them as divine judgments. But even in biblical times there were false prophets who told lies and the leaders and others who followed them bore the evil consequences.
There are instances when we suffer due to our own wrong choices or evil deeds. There is what one expert in HIV/AIDS calls “built in judgment”. We stand at the end of our actions. If we refuse to abide by rules given by health experts not to touch the dead bodies of Ebola patients unprotected and instead hold them in all sorts of ways we will contract Ebola. It is not God punishing us. Our foolish actions catch up with us. We reap what we sow, to borrow a biblical parlance. Ebola is a natural or man-made virus that we can, with divine assistance, fight and defeat and learn loads of lessons from about how we relate to one another and manage our affairs, and not necessarily a curse or punishment from God!