The coronavirus and prayer for repentance

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Revelation 9:20,21[i] shows that the plagues God unleashes upon the world have as purpose the repentance of mankind. So, we should pray that, if it may please the Lord, He will grant repentance; that He would turn the hearts of the leaders to honour Him and that He would bring people to acknowledge their dependence on Him. The need to pray for the world is for believers self-evident. But in the face of what’s been happening in the church, there is a need to pray also for the church. And finally there is the need for self-reflection and repentance of each individual believer with the prayer that our God and Father would keep us in the truth and in faithfulness to Him.

Pray for mankind

In a recent notice, Rev R Bredenhof wrote:

“COVID-19, like every disaster, comes from the hand of the Lord (Amos 3:7). What is more, the Lord God puts this disaster on our country (and indeed the world) for a reason. He is holy and of purer eyes than to look upon evil (Habakkuk 1:13). He already told us in Paradise that the wages of sin is death (Genesis 2:17; Romans 6:23), a principle that remains true through world history (cf. Deuteronomy 28:15ff; Matthew 24; Romans 1; Revelation 6). His hand presses heavily upon populations that disregard him and his word. Today’s world – whether it’s China or Italy or Australia – has little regard for the Creator and his Word. As God is unchangingly faithful to his Word, we cannot be surprised that the Lord expresses his displeasure on the nations.

And so a disaster is a wake-up call for the whole world. When the world is brought to its knees by the sudden arrival of a virus, that is meant to lead the world to repentance. We live in a society that has forgotten God: God’s blessings are not acknowledged, God’s sovereignty is ignored, and God’s laws are set aside. What God calls good, the world now calls evil and what God says is evil, the world calls good. When the world becomes godless, then God speaks to everyone through adversity. Adversity tells the world that it is dependent on God, that it can’t solve its own problems and that it needs to seek the grace and mercy of God.” [ii]

How true! However, one looks in vain for any sign that this pandemic is seen as an act of God intended to get society to repent. To be sure, there has been acknowledgement of God by Mr Trump.[iii] And our prime minister Mr Morrison, a ‘Pentecostal Christian’, said that “while you may not be able to go to church, the synagogue, the temple or the mosque, I most certainly call on all people of faith for you to pray”. And he added, “I can assure you, my prayer knees are getting a good workout”.

But no confession that we are living in sin and need to repent and turn to God. Nothing that acknowledges our dependence on God, the creator of heaven and earth. No words to stimulate remorse and renewed allegiance to the eternal Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to whom was given all authority in heaven and on earth. Instead, the Christian faith is compromised by urging Judaists and Muslims to pray. Would our triune God heed those who reject our Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour? Moreover, the humility that ought to be associated with prayer seems to be undermined by a trust in man’s ability to conquer the virus. We hear rallying cries that we are “a strong nation and a strong people”, that we will “summon the spirit of the Anzacs”, and that together we can beat this pandemic. Hardly the sound of penitence.

It’s all the more reason for us to heed God’s call to pray for mankind. He says: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplication, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:1, 2).[iv] Supplications, intercessions—these words embody the idea of urgent appeal. The love towards our neighbour compels us to plead with God not only that the pandemic may be extinguished but above all that God may be acknowledged and revered by society in general. That there may be a wholesale turning back to Him and His Word.

One might argue that praying for society to repent is futile because Revelation says that despite the plagues “the rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues did not repent of the works of their hands: their worship of demons, their idolatry, their murders, their sorceries or drugs, their sexual immorality or their thefts” (Rev. 9:20,21). Moreover, we’ve read about that unwillingness to repent when Jesus told the church of Thyatira he’d given the prophetess Jezebel time to repent from her fornication but she would not (Rev. 2:21). Likewise the people upon whom his wrath was poured actually cursed God and refused to repent (Rev. 16:9,10).  

And we must admit that from a human perspective it would seem impossible for man to repent even in the face of pandemics. After all, society has replaced God with a revolutionary theory of evolution which does not accept that one lives beyond the grave. Hence society’s focus is on finding pleasure on earth. From an evolutionary perspective, wars and pandemics, earthquakes and tsunamis, bush fires and volcanic eruptions, etc., are necessary hiccups in the evolutionary process.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t alter the positive intent of calamities that befall society. Each plague can be seen as an act of mercy, a call to yet turn to faith in God and from wicked ways. And our prayers for society’s repentance are an obligation Christ lays upon us. We have a mighty God who wants to be prayed for those things He commands us to pray for and assures us in His Word that, “although we do not deserve it, God will certainly hear our prayer for the sake of Christ our Lord” (LD 45:117).

For what should we then pray? For God to bless the spreading of the holy gospel so that it is received everywhere and that there may be a turning back to God and the true Christian faith, and to loving obedience. There needs to be a repentance from godlessness and all the evils spawned by it. One thinks of how unbelief has been accompanied by the murder of millions of unborn babies, the acceptance of homosexual lifestyle and gay marriage, the widespread sexual promiscuity, the introduction of euthanasia, materialism, etc.

Now we might look around and say, my neighbours are decent people. Revelation 9 speaks of people worshipping demons, but I don’t see my neighbour doing that. As for idolatry, okay, they love footy and cricket, but they’re not into false religions. Murders? Never seen them commit one. Sorceries? Well, they merely ‘read the stars’. Gambling, nothing to speak of but a few TAB bets. Sexual immorality? They have an attitude of live and let live. Thefts? They might bend the truth a little to get the best tax returns, but they’re not what you’d call robbers. They’re nice people, helpful and friendly; they just don’t want anything to do with religion. They’re not really anti; they just say: “If it works for you, fine; but I can manage without”.

However, at base, all this is idolatry: “having or inventing something in which to put our trust instead of or in addition to the only true God who has revealed himself in His Word” (LD 34:95). As Kistemaker says: “Throughout the Old and New Testaments, idolatry is mentioned repeatedly because it replaces the worship of God.”[v] In God’s mercy He sends prophets to warn the people to repent. And when the Lord sends plagues it is again a kindness, a clarion call to repent before it’s too late. Likewise, when the six trumpets are blown to warn the people of the impending judgement and to call sinners “to repentance, conversion and a new life” it is an act of mercy on God’s part. Now is the time to repent. But as Kistemaker says, when people harden their hearts in sin and unbelief and ignore the trumpet calls, they have no one to blame but themselves. When they stand before God’s throne on the Judgement Day, they will have to take full responsibility for their unbelief and idolatry.[vi]

Pray for the Church and its members

Okay, so we need to pray fervently for society. But what about our churches? Do we also not need a reveille, a wake-up? We’ve seen how our ex-sister churches in The Netherlands, the GKv (RCN), deviated from the paths of the Lord, and this website has published warnings about following the same trends.[vii] The desire to exchange our position in the antithesis and to water down our distinctive identity as churches faithful to the Lord is continually under attack. It’s so tempting to compromise the truth of what we confess, for example, in article 27-32 of our Belgic confession and to embrace denominationalism.[viii] And isn’t it appealing to fight against the forces of secularism united with those who, whilst not faithful to doctrinal truth, at least believe in Jesus Christ? So let’s pray that as churches we may see and confess our errors and, led by God’s Word and Spirit, repent from them.

And what about the members? Rev R Bredenhof says, “there may be a temptation to contrast the unbelievers of Australia with the believers, as if the unbelievers provoke God’s judgment while Christians do not. It certainly is a fact that Christians may know themselves wonderfully forgiven of all their sins through the blood of Jesus Christ. But Christians are not perfect, and that includes an inability to recognize our sins and to repent of them. When we read the letters of Jesus Christ to the seven churches of Asia Minor, we learn of congregations that had lost their first love (Ephesus) or had become lukewarm (Laodicea) or had lost their zeal for doing good works (Sardis) or were tolerating sexual immorality (Pergamum, Thyatira). In each case, when Christ finds his churches failing to continue in faith and in godliness, he says, ‘Repent!’ So it will not suffice to attribute this expression of God’s displeasure on the unbelieving of our land without humbling ourselves on account of our own sins.[ix]

So let’s carefully examine ourselves. Are we testing our lives on the Word so as to walk in truth and faithfulness? Or are we perhaps losing sight of what it means to be church of the Lord Jesus Christ, holy, dedicated to the Lord in walk and talk? Are we following the ways of the world? Consider how much time church members devote to entertainment whereby attitudes and values contrary to God’s Word are sown into our and our children’s minds. There is a battle going on for the hearts and lives. Satan, the father of lies, opposes Christ who is the Truth. The devil is out to mould our minds but Christ calls us to let God’s Word determine our thoughts, words and actions.

So, let’s pray for society at large. And let’s not neglect to pray for the FRCA, for our brothers and sisters in the faith, and to help and encourage one another to walk in the ways of the Lord. And let’s pray for ourselves—so that we all submit in humility, love and faithfulness, and repent from our waywardness, knowing that …

“He comes, he comes to rule the nations,
and every wrong he will redress.
The mighty God of our salvation
will judge the world in righteousness
.”[x]

 

[i] See also Revelation 16:9, 10.

[ii] Rev R Bredenhof in a notice sent on behalf of FRC of Mt Nasura’s consistory with regard to a Day of Prayer by the FRCA.

[iii] When President Trump announced a day of prayer, which occurred on March 15th, he tweeted: “It is my great honor to declare Sunday, March 15th as a National Day of Prayer. We are a Country that, throughout our history, has looked to God for protection and strength in times like these,” the president tweeted. “No matter where you may be, I encourage you to turn towards prayer in an act of faith. Together, we will easily PREVAIL!” https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1238599373417787394.

[iv] See also https://defenceofthetruth.com/en/2018/08/pray-for-mankind-1/ and https://defenceofthetruth.com/en/2018/08/pray-for-mankind-2/ for further explanation of 1 Tim. 2:1,2.

[v] Simon J Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Revelation, Baker, Grand Rapids, 2001, p. 301.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Some examples: https://defenceofthetruth.com/en/2019/05/rcn-deviating-and-deluded-a-warning-for-us/, https://defenceofthetruth.com/en/2019/01/interview-with-rev-van-gurp-about-causes-of-deformation-in-rcn/, https://defenceofthetruth.com/en/2019/10/is-the-gkv-a-false-church/.

[viii] https://defenceofthetruth.com/en/2020/02/denominationalism-1/.

[ix] Rev R Bredenhof, op. cit.

[x] Psalm 98:4 Book of Praise: Anglo-Genevan Psalter, Premier, Winnipeg, 2010.