I’ve sometimes been hesitant to describe sin as like a disease. I think that’s because, being Reformed, I want to be sure I properly explain the doctrine of sin. To admit that sin is like a disease can sometimes imply that somehow we are able to help ourselves in the midst of our sinfulness. That’s why it’s common among Calvinists to say, “A dead man can’t believe!” and things of that nature. And to describe our spiritual state in this way is certainly accurate. We are dead. We can’t will our way to God. It’s only by our being born again by God’s Spirit that we believe. “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Eph. 2:1–2). Nevertheless, sin is often connected with sickness in the Bible (Ex. 15:26; Ps. 103:3; Matt. 8:17). As COVID-19 has spread so rapidly around the world, I’ve reflected again on sin as a disease. I admit that sometimes I have used disease as a metaphor—especially in describing original sin.
Original sin is a difficult theological concept to convey to people today, particularly in the United States. We vote for our leaders, we choose where we’ll buy a home, and we decide what church to go to. Burger King for years even had a well-known slogan, “Have it your way.” How could it be that something so significant as my status before God was decided by somebody else? It’s un-American! Nevertheless, the Bible says, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). That is, it’s not just that we actually sin but that we’re now sinful by nature. We are counted as guilty in Adam, and we are also born with corrupted minds, wills, bodies, and affections. Here’s how I describe the effects of Adam’s sin on our moral and physical constitutions in Bible studies: “Adam became diseased. His disease was passed to us. We’re his kids. There’s an inherited sickness that now attends every generation of humans.” Often when I explain things in this way, I see several light up with understanding: “Oh, I get it now.”
Perhaps the reason that this metaphor is helpful is because people generally understand how disease spreads. We don’t decide who catches a cold, the flu, or COVID-19. We can try to keep disease from spreading, and we can seek to alleviate its affects, but the decision to “be sick” is outside our control. It’s especially outside our control when a disease is passed from a parent to a child before birth. That’s why, even now, we listen with rapt attention to the news cycle as doctors and scientists explain to us the way that COVID-19 spreads and the ways that we can prevent it.
COVID-19 spreads, but so does sin. It spreads from generation to generation. Until people recognize the depths of their sickness, they will not entertain a solution. This is why we pray for repentance even during these catastrophic times—that people would see the depths of their sin and turn from it. Perhaps God’s Spirit will use these circumstances to enliven people’s hearts. Certainly, this disease has taught us that it’s not just my decisions that matter. Social distancing and stay-at-home measures work because when everyone decides to stay home, everyone’s decisions affect everyone else.
Meanwhile, as the chaos continues, it is clear in terms of the long-term future that we do have hope: a vaccine and cure. Until then, we can take measures to prevent the spread of the virus, but we cannot stop it. We all await a solution, be it a vaccine or cure. This solution is that savior that we hope will give us a measure of our lives back. It will usher in a new era in which we can go to the grocery store unafraid again, we can laugh with our friends in their homes again, and we can visit family members again. Life will return to the way it was supposed to be.
Yes, this world is sick. It’s not the way it once was. But, so long as we’re waiting for that vaccine or cure, it’s good to remember that Jesus Christ is the ultimate solution to sin and sickness. The world was sick even before this virus came along. Spiritually, it was worse than sick—it was dead. It still is dead. Easter morning represents the dawning of a new era in Jesus Christ. He is not subject to death, and we who trust in Him no longer need fear death. Death will come to us all, barring Jesus’ second coming. But death will not have the final word. We have inherited spiritual life. Our bodies will be raised in that new life, just as Jesus’ was. In that new life, we will no longer be diseased—physically or spiritually. We will dwell together in a city, God will be present with His people forever, and no disease or sin will frustrate and terrify us with its silent spread.
So, hope and pray for a solution in this present crisis. May it come quickly. But remember this Easter that the great cure for sin and death has already been delivered in Jesus Christ.