In January of this year, COVID-19 was first diagnosed in America. First detected in China in late 2019, by January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global health public emergency. By March 11, it was declared a pandemic. Per government orders at the federal, state and city levels, preventative methods have been put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 or to flatten the curve. These methods include self quarantining, the prohibiting of community gatherings of 10+ people, closures of non-essential business, limiting the operation of essential businesses (i.e closing dining rooms of restaurants), regulating social distancing measures (i.e. standing 6 feet apart), reinforcing good hygiene (i.e. washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, using 60% alcohol based hand sanitizer, coughing or sneezing into our arms or tissue, no handshaking and not touching our faces and eyes) and mandatory shelter-in-place and stay at home orders.
While COVID-19 does not possess a high mortality rate (see history of pandemics), many have died from COVID-19. Those with pre-existing health conditions and compromised immune systems are the most vulnerable, but many generally healthy people have succumbed to the virus. Without a doubt, COVID-19 has affected our daily lives profoundly – rescheduling of weddings, vacations and sporting events, the inability to attend funerals, inability to gather for corporate worship, shortages of essential household items, reduction of employment, the burden on our economy and overwhelming the healthcare industry, etc. and not to mention the angst felt due to the uncertainty of when life can or will return to normal as we once we knew it. In times like these I suspect many people, including Christians, have questioned the goodness, the power and even the existence of God. Others are trying to navigate what faithfulness looks like in such bleak times. In other words, how should Christians generally respond to the present distress? As with any trial, Christians must remember who and whose we are and the hope we have, which should inform how we respond.
Who and Whose We Are
Having been redeemed by the blood of Jesus and being forgiven of our sin (Eph. 1:7; 1 Cor. 6:20, 7:23), we are the adopted children of God (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). However, unless we have an accurate understanding of God, the significance and implications of our adoption will not fortify us as it should. Some wonder if God is truly knowable. I believe He is, and yet He is incomprehensible. We have the ability to know God, but we don’t have the ability to know Him exhaustively simply because He has chosen to keep some things hidden (Deut. 29:29). Also, He is infinite and perfect and we are finite beings affected by the fall. But what He has chosen to reveal to us about himself is plenty to be in awe of and confident about. One of the most gracious acts God has done is to reveal Himself to man. He is a self-disclosing God. God has disclosed himself in creation (Gen. 1:26-27; Ps. 19:1-6), in His word (Ps. 19:7-14) and finally and most clearly in His Son, Jesus Christ (Jhn 14:1-9; Col. 1:15). Through these ways, we can know God’s character or particular attributes about Him. Two particular attributes revealed in Scripture that should strengthen us and reassure us during this pandemic are God’s sovereignty and his providence.
To be sovereign means to be a supreme ruler possessing ultimate power. God’s sovereignty means that He is the self-governing supreme ruler possessing ultimate power over all of creation. We first see God’s sovereignty at the very beginning of Scripture. Genesis 1-2 tell us God spoke creation into existence in six days. To call into being that which was not – ex nihilo– is a great demonstration of the supreme authority and power of God. For his own purpose and glory, God created the material universe from nothing by the very word of His power. That ought to make us pause and worship.
Scripture also shows us many places where God declares his sovereignty. Perhaps most known is the account of Job. Job was nominated by God to be tested by Satan (don’t miss God’s sovereignty in that) and after a series of conversations with his friends about his suffering, the LORD approached Job with a series of questions that do not directly clarify Job’s suffering. Rather, the LORD clarified his sovereignty to Job in two speeches (38:1-40:2 and 40:6-41:34), which purposed to humble him. Note how God begins to declare his sovereignty to Job in chapter 38 –
1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Are you comforted by God’s sovereignty? Are you comforted knowing that our wise and holy God is absolutely in control over everything seen and unseen, including COVID-19? No being or circumstance is outside of God’s authority or control. God reigns over all things in all places for all time and eternity (1 Chron. 29:11-12; Ps. 50:10-11; 1 Tim. 6:13-16).
Not only ought his sovereignty give us confidence, but also his providence. Whereas God’s sovereignty speaks of his absolute authority over all things, his providence speaks of his active involvement in creation to bring about his purposes for his glory and the good of his people. God is not unconcerned about us. We were created to know him and have everlasting fellowship with him. Rebuking Judah for their idolatry (literally worshiping inanimate sculptures), the LORD reminded his covenant people who He was in Isaiah 46 –
8 “Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
9 remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
11 calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it.
In these verses, the LORD declares his incomparable nature, his rule over time, events and creation and his purpose to bring his will to pass. As Christians, we must understand that nothing happens outside of the decretive and permissive wills of God. Since God is, there is no such thing as coincidence or luck. God is always actively working out his will even through people who directly oppose his rule and through circumstances that seem hopeless and insurmountable. Remember Naomi in the book of Ruth? She and her family experienced famine and hunger and fled from Bethlehem (the house of bread) to Moab, longtime enemies of Israel, for food. While in Moab, her husband, Elimelech died, her two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, married Moabite women, which was forbidden (Deut. 7:1-3; Num. 25:1-7) and they died. After hearing the LORD had visited her people with food, Naomi went back to Bethlehem, but urged her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to remain in Moab. Orpah conceded, but Ruth clung to Naomi in what amounted to Ruth’s conversion to the LORD. After a series of events, and through an honorable Ephrathite, Boaz, he redeems and marries Ruth and they have a son, Obed. Obed became the grandfather of David (Ruth 4:22), who was the ancestor of Jesus (Matt. 1:1-17; Lk. 3:23-38).
God was working through famine, hunger, death, and forbidden marriages to eventually bring about our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. That is his providence! He purposed to bring about a redeemer and it came to pass! God is continually working to bring about his redemptive plan through Christ (Jhn 5:17), even through COVID-19.
A Christian Response
Considering the rapidly changing COVID-19 data, its impact on our daily lives and these truths about God’s sovereignty and his providence, how should we respond? The numbers are staggering. To date, 1.2M+ people globally have tested COVID-19 positive. There have been over 66,000 deaths globally, with Italy and Spain leading the world in those deaths. The United States is third in COVID-19 deaths. Infectious disease experts have said that Italy and Spain seem to be making some progress with flattening the curve, but the United States has yet to reach its peak. Let’s pray their modeling proves wrong.
As a first response, we need to be wise about COVID-19. We need to understand the disease and respond accordingly. Two of the wisest courses of action are practicing good hygiene and submitting to governing authorities by following social distancing guidelines and the shelter-in-place or stay at home orders. Because of the way the virus spreads, it’s important that we take heed so as not to potentially contract COVID-19 or infect others and continually overwhelm society and the healthcare system. This is loving our neighbor.
Secondly, while concern and caution are proper responses, we should not be fearful or anxious (Matt. 6:25-34; Phil. 4:4-6). But if we find ourselves fearful or anxious, we are to cast our cares on God because he cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). Jesus taught that anxiety cannot change our circumstances. Instead of being weighed down with anxiety, we are to entrust ourselves to our Father who knows all and has purposed to take care of his children. In the midst of this pandemic, we are to entrust ourselves to the God of all comfort.
Thirdly, we are to walk worthy of the gospel by being light in such dark times and loving the household of faith. What does it say to a watching world when Christians are not full of panic and anxiety? Our faith is demonstrated when the world gives way, we remain steadfast. When the world cries in fear, we sing. When the world hoards, we give. When the world blames God, we praise him. When the world feels hopeless, we offer hope. We offer Jesus, the one who has conquered sin and death (1 Cor 15:54-55; Rev. 1:18). Walking worthy of the gospel means we also love the brethren. The love of God ought to compel us to love other believers various ways to the end that the truth of Jesus is clearly witnessed (Jhn 13:34-35) and in ways that proves our salvation (1 Jhn 3:16-18).
Lastly, and perhaps most important, we are to have hope because we are a people who have been born again to a living hope (1 Pet. 1:3-5) and we are loved by God. That living hope is eternal life with Jesus in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21). It is obvious that life in a fallen world will not be free of problems. Jesus said we would have tribulation in this world, but for us to take heart and have peace because he’s overcome the world (Jhn 16:33). Whether it’s persecution or pestilence, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection has served to reverse the effects of the curse, which will be actualized one day. Consider these words of hope for believers from Paul in Romans 8–
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As Christians, we must know God and his word if we are to respond in a way that steadies our souls and glorifies God.
My wife and I were talking recently about what God is doing through COVID-19. As John Piper once said, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” Obviously, I don’t know all that God is doing through COVID-19, but Scripture gives us some idea of what God does in and through trials –
- God uses trials to discipline his people and to mature our faith preparing us for eternity with Him (Heb 12:6, 10; Jas. 1:2-4, 12; 1 Peter 1:6-7).
- God uses trials to humble us and make us dependent on God (2 Cor. 12:1-10).
- God uses trials that give opportunity for the gospel to be proclaimed to unbelievers (Phil. 1:12-14).
Life, as we know it, perhaps will never be the same. COVID-19’s global impact is astounding. The impacts on us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, at times are overwhelming, but God is greater than COVID-19. COVID-19 is subject to his authority and purposes.
For his people, God is working COVID-19 for our good (Rom. 8:28) and ultimately his glory. Amen.