Is AIDS a Divine Judgment on Sexual Promiscuity?

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2003
Almost no one today believes God singles out individuals or groups for special punishment in their lifetimes. On the other hand, Romans 1 states that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”[i] (v. 18 nasb) God’s wrath against human sin is consistently revealed throughout the Old Testament and in the book of Revelation. To say that God never visits individuals or groups of people with divine judgment for sin is false. The question is, “In what sense is AIDS a divine judgment?”

According to J. Gordon Melton’s Institute for the Study of American Religion, almost no one believes that AIDS is God’s punishment for immoral behavior. Melton reviewed the policies of some fifty groups, including Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists, for a new book entitled The Churches Speak on AIDS. His conclusion was that almost no one believes that AIDS is an expression of God’s wrath. “Almost universally, whether liberal or conservative, the groups are saying that it’s bad theology to say this is a judgment of God.” Melton concludes, ‘Almost no one today believes God singles out individuals or groups for special punishment in their lifetimes. God doesn’t work like that.”[1]

On the other hand, Romans 1 states that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”[2] (v. 18 nasb) God’s wrath against human sin is consistently revealed throughout the Old Testament and in the book of Revelation. To say that God never visits individuals or groups of people with divine judgment for sin is false.

The question is, “In what sense is AIDS a divine judgment?” We believe that AIDS is more a consequence of sinful lifestyle and hence what is properly termed an indirect rather than a direct judgment of God. In other words, God made men and women in such a manner that there are unavoidable consequences to sin. As Margaret Clarkson writes,

It is important, however, to distinguish between suffering as judgment for sin and suffering as the consequences of sin. Implicating God’s judgment against sin in general is the simple law of cause and effect: sin gives rise to consequences for those who indulge in it. Just as it is with the [penal] laws of our country, if we transgress against God’s natural, moral or spiritual laws, we will suffer the inevitable consequences. God’s judgment is set against sin itself rather than against the sinner. If we sin willfully and persistently, we invite the consequences that must follow sin, and this will involve suffering.[3]

Thus, the Bible teaches that it is possible to suffer either God’s direct punishment for sin or sin’s inescapable consequences. When God’s righteous judgment falls upon sin, people suffer the natural results. That is why God says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows this he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7 nasb).

So, whether we think AIDS is a direct or indirect judgment upon sin, it is still proof that there are consequences to violating God’s laws. God, of course, still loves the sinner and desires that those who are unrepentant will turn to Him for forgiveness of sin. Indeed, this is frequently the case when people suffer for their sins—life becomes so miserable that they do indeed turn to God and cry out for His mercy and salvation.

AIDS is primarily the result of sexual sin, whether homosexual or heterosexual. So the real question is, “Does God judge sin?” Biblically, the answer is yes.

Consider several examples. During the Flood of Noah’s day God judged the sin of the world, which at that time was violence and wickedness (Genesis 6:11-13). God condemned the Canaanites for a wide variety of evil practices, including rampant sexual immorality (Deuteronomy 18:9-13; Leviticus 20:22-23). He also judged the Egyptians, the Jews, and many other cultures (e.g., Jeremiah 44-52).

Thus, God judges sexual sins: “The Lord will punish men for all such sins” (1 Thessalonians 4:6). For example, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah; the primary sin of those towns was sodomy (Genesis 19). In fact, God has never ceased judging men or nations (Romans 1:18; Galatians 6:7), nor will He, as the book of Revelation so powerfully demonstrates (chaps. 9-18).

How can anyone say with certainty, then, that AIDS is not in some sense a divine judgment upon sin? But many do argue in this manner, and their passion has convinced many others.

Wendell Hoffman and Stanley Grenz comment, “As a society, we are now reaping the consequences of the attitudes we have developed over the last several decades. There is an undeniable connection between societal sin and the spread of AIDS.”[4] Hoffman and Grenz also note the unavoidable conclusion that AIDS constitutes a divine judgment.[5] This conclusion derives from several facts.

First, AIDS is a powerful reminder of the relationship between acts and consequences. Second, AIDS is a judgment upon the privatization of morality. (This is the idea that whatever is done between consenting adults is solely and entirely a private matter with no social repercussions.) AIDS forces us to realize that a clear relationship exists between an individual’s “private” acts and the public good. Thus, “No people can allow God’s norms to be ignored or eroded and expect to suffer no ill consequences.”[6] Third, AIDS may also be seen as a judgment upon the callousness of the church in its treatment of sexual offenders such as homosexuals and prostitutes. “To the extent that our unwillingness to become ‘community’ to persons whose lifestyles we see as abhorrent has contributed to their fleeing to unwholesome communities for fellowship, we contributed to the spread of the epidemic.”[7] In other words, “to what degree are homosexually oriented persons driven to the gay community, even to impersonal sex practices and promiscuity, because they are unable to find community within the wider society and more specifically, within our churches? To what extent have we as Christians been guilty of sinning against persons with a homosexual orientation because of our failure to show love and to offer them the true fellowship they are seeking?”[8] The church must show both compassion and mercy on the one hand and exercise a call for repentance to the wider society on the other.

What most people in modern America apparently do not understand is the specific reasons that God treats the sex act seriously. If they understood some of these reasons, they might have a better grasp of why, at some point, judgment becomes necessary.

The first reason God treats the sex act seriously is because, having created us in His own image, He knows the consequences of illicit sexual activity—physical, psychological, and spiritual. Some of these have been outlined in this book, but they are far from the whole story. In essence, we were not created to be able to withstand sexual immorality without suffering consequences. Sexual immorality not only leads to such things as divorce, unwanted pregnancy, abortion, AIDS and other STDs, infertility, guilt, and other serious problems, it also leads to estrangement from God. It separates us from the best that God has for us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The sex act is meant to be an expression of the deep love two people hold for one another; to share that essence with others indiscriminately is to profane the relationship of love that it symbolizes. Most who think about it will acknowledge that intercourse is far more than just a physical act. It also has deep emotional and even spiritual undercurrents. In fact, we would say that sex is equally or primarily an emotional/spiritual act before it is a physical act. That is why to treat it as anything less than something holy is to profane it. God intended it to be holy, and that is how it is treated in the Bible.

Perhaps the clearest illustration of the sanctity of the sex act is to understand how it parallels the relationship of Jesus Christ to His church. The Bible itself parallels sexual intercourse with Christ and the church. In Ephesians 5:31-32 we read, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (see 1 Corinthians 6:15-18). Thus, consider the parallel between the sexual act in marriage and what God has done in Christ for His church. A man and a woman will leave their families, come together socially, and before the world make a public declaration of their love for each other at the marriage ceremony. Afterward, a man goes into a woman, and there is joy, unity, and eventually new life. Here we see the parallel to what God has done in the incarnation. Jesus left his “family” (the Father and Spirit) and came to earth to make a public declaration of His love for mankind at the cross. When a person receives Christ, Christ goes into that person, there is joy and unity and a new spiritual birth. Perhaps one reason God treats the sexual act so seriously is because He intended it as an illustration of His own love for mankind. Again, to profane the sexual act is to profane that which it represents.

Some argue that denying AIDS as a punishment from God is part of the thinking that helps perpetuate sexual sin and the diseases it causes. Only when people really believe that God judges sin will they be willing to consider change. Otherwise, change will be forced on them.

Depending on the severity of the sinful conditions, divine judgment may be either complete and retributive (e.g., Noah’s Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah; Genesis 6, 19) or partial and remedial (e.g., Nineveh, the Babylonian Captivity). AIDS seems to be a mixture of both. Thankfully, the disease does not end life immediately. But it does send a strong message about the importance of changing behavior. Perhaps that is why the homosexual community has changed its behavior at all. One must ask the question, Would their behavior have changed without a tragedy of sufficient proportions to get their attention? The same reasoning holds true for the sins of the heterosexual community. By asserting that AIDS is not in some sense God’s judgment or wrath upon human sin, one may be downplaying God’s holiness as well as human responsibility.

Others have argued that AIDS cannot be a divine judgment because there are so many innocent victims, such as hemophiliacs and children. But the fact that innocent victims exist is not a logical argument against AIDS as a divine judgment. Unfortunately, innocent victims always suffer whenever there is judgment. In fact, it could not be otherwise. Consider the illustration of Daniel. Daniel and a godly remnant within Israel were taken captive to Babylon; both the righteous and innocent suffered for the evil deeds of the majority of the nation.

In the same manner an innocent woman, by virtue of being a wife, must of necessity suffer the consequences of her husband’s alcoholism or criminal activity—so innocent individuals in an evil society likewise suffer the judgment upon that society. Just as the family is a unit wherein the whole suffers for the sins of one member, society is also a unit. There are many innocent victims of drug abuse and drunk driving.

Without consequences to evil, evil would flourish all the more. With the consequences of AIDS, the principle is the same—God exalts His righteous character in the midst of human sin and in love strikes out in judgment to remove evil. It cannot be doubted that the end result of the AIDS epidemic will force a return to monogamy and godly sexuality. In the process, the great tragedies produced by the “sexual revolution” will be curtailed.

In spite of all this, it is important to remember that, whenever God does judge, His mercy is also operative. This, too, can be seen in the history of His dealings with the Jewish nation in the Old Testament. Though Daniel and his three friends suffered exile, they had such an influence in the court of Nebuchadnezzar that the entire Jewish Diaspora were granted special safeguards.

There is little doubt that AIDS is God’s judgment upon sexual immorality. Whether homosexual or heterosexual, the consequences of such behavior over the past thirty years have been appalling. Literally tens of millions of lives have been ruined by sexual promiscuity. Would we expect God to sit back and do nothing while millions more are destroyed?

Nineveh finally repented at the preaching of Jonah and was spared judgment. Israel, on the other hand, was warned by God through the prophets to change her ways; because she did not, captivity fell upon the nation. But this judgment was successful in that it eradicated the rampant idolatry and other evils that had been practiced to that point and changed the national conscience from that time onward. Hopefully AIDS will do the same.

God loves us and desires His best for us. That is why He has told us how to live—what to do and what not to do. If we do what He tells us, our lives will be blessed. If we disobey His commands, we will suffer the natural results.

The Bible teaches that it is God’s will that the sexual act be reserved for a committed lifelong relationship between a man and a woman in marriage. Not once does the Bible say that sexual intercourse is permitted outside of marriage. That is why the thrust of human history and in particular the last half of the twentieth century has proven the importance and legitimacy of the Christian view of sex. When God says that sex is to be reserved for marriage, because He made us we can trust Him that He knows what is best (Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21; Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25; Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:13, 18; 10:8; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Jude 7; Revelation 2:4, 20; 9:21).


  1. Kim Painter, “Religions: AIDS Isn’t God’s Wrath,” USA Today, 2 October 1989 (citing J. Gordon Melton, The Churches Speak on AIDS [New York: Gale Research, 1989]).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Margaret Clarkson, Destined for Glory: The Meaning of Suffering (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 75.
  4. Wendell W. Hoffman and Stanley J. Grenz, AIDS: Ministry in the Midst of an Epidemic (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 165
  5. Ibid., 169.
  6. Ibid., 170.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid., 166.

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