Guilt, Grace, and the Global AIDS Crisis

All sin comes with a price. And many pay the bill who never did the sin. This means that we must speak carefully about the cause of AIDS. If any epidemic ever spread because of disobedience to God’s Word, it is AIDS. But millions are infected because of someone else’s disobedience, not their own.

But be careful here. Even this way of saying it could lead to a simplistic, unbiblical response. The abused are not innocent. And the guilty are not hopeless.

We are all sinners, which means no one does not deserve AIDS. When the Bible says that "the creation was subjected to futility" by God (Romans 8:20), it means that a sin-permeated creation will be a suffering-permeated creation. God ordains that there be suitable signs in the physical world of the moral horror of sin. All of us are sinful. And all of us cry under the fall of creation. All of us groan in this "bondage to decay" as we wait for "the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Romans 8:21). Therefore, if we have AIDS because of a blood transfusion or a promiscuous spouse or a drug-using mother, we are not innocent.

But neither are the guilty hopeless. Mercifully, homosexual relations are made illicit by God. Few ancient texts are more stunning with modern relevance to AIDS than Romans 1:27: "Men gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error." Mercifully, prostitution and every form of extramarital sex is forbidden by God. "Flee fornication" (1 Corinthians 6:18). "Thou shalt not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14). Mercifully, God warns us against drug abuse. "Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things" (Proverbs 23:31) "I will not be enslaved by anything" (1 Corinthians 6:12).

But the mercy does not stop with divine prohibitions. God will hear the cry of the guilty who have brought misery upon themselves. Psalm 107:17-21 is mercifully relevant to AIDS in this regard:

Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of men!

Self-inflicted misery does not put a person beyond hope. That is the only kind of guilt God forgives. It’s the only kind of guilt there is. The fact that any of us is healthy after sinning is owing to Christ’s mercy. Therefore, the fact that some are sick after sinning should bring out Christian mercy. And there is need for extraordinary mercy. Christians should pray and work toward research into cures, medical and hospice care, orphan ministries, education, moral challenges for abstinence and recovery, and above all, the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

According to the Center for Disease Control, "Today, 40 million people are estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS. Of these, 37.1 million are adults. 18.5 million are women, and 3 million are children under 15." The cumulative number of AIDS cases reported to the CDC in the USA is 816,149 through December, 2001. The Minneapolis StarTribune reported (12-4-02, A22) that the fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemic is in Eastern Europe and Central Asia with up to 90% of the known infections in Russia coming from drug injections. Sub-Sahara Africa is the worst-affected region with 29.4 million people infected. It is breathtaking to read that in Botswana the HIV prevalence is 38.8% of adults and in Zimbabwe 33.7%.

The magnificent message of Christ is that there’s hope—in this life for love, and in the life to come for new pain-free bodies in fellowship with Jesus. My prayer and challenge to the Christian church is: May the Lord raise up researchers, doctors, nurses, and tens of thousands of caring people to make the light of Christ shine through mercy. Freely we have received, O that we might freely give.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org