As we were contemplating this series, Kyle sent a list of questions he had thought of—some he wondered himself and some he’d heard from others. The one that stood out to me the most is this:
Why has God allowed this deadly virus to infect the world?
There’s a lot packed into that question, certainly more than will fit in this post. And yet I do want to unpack two key aspects of it: 1) The assumption that God is in charge of the world, and 2) The assumption that he is exercising his charge for some moral purpose. In another attempt to help us all think well, and then feel well, and then act well in this extraordinary time, I’d like to briefly consider each of those underlying beliefs about God’s involvement in the pandemic.
The Sovereignty of God
Again, the first assumption in the question above is that God has the power to single handedly cause or prevent or start or stop or slow or otherwise directly effect the coronavirus. No one is asking why Mike Maruska or Kirk Cousins have allowed the coronavirus to infect the world because everyone knows that neither our pastor nor our quarterback are powerful enough to do anything at all about it. Again, the question is, is God really different? Does he really have the ability to control such things.
Several years ago Justin Taylor compiled a simple list of biblical passages describing the things God is said to be sovereign over. I’ve found myself going back to that list many times and for many reasons. I’d encourage you to check it out if you have time. The simple summary of it all, however, is this: God is entirely sovereign (in control) over the entire created world including seemingly random things (Proverbs 16:33), the heart of the most powerful person in the land (Proverbs 21:1), our daily lives and plans (Proverbs 19:21; 20:24), salvation (Romans 8:29-30; 9:15-16), life and death (Deuteronomy 32:39), disabilities (Exodus 4:11), the death of God’s Son (Acts 2:23), evil things (Amos 3:6; Isaiah 45:7), and all things (Ephesians 1:11) including disease (Leviticus 14:34).
The simple fact is that we cannot read the bible well and miss the fact that God is in charge of every aspect of his creation, including the coronavirus. But that leads us to a second question and the second assumption in Kyle’s question: Why would God sovereignly allow such a tragedy?
The Sovereign Goodness of God
The second assumption is that God is not only involved (by either causing it or not stopping it), but that he’s involved for a particular purpose. God’s activity or inactivity are assumed to be tied to a goal or a moral decision. Is that a fair assumption and, if so, what is his goal? There really are only two things God’s Word allows us to say with confidence about this.
First, on the greatest scale and in the most general terms, the bible tells us that God is using the coronavirus for his glory (Isaiah 48:9-11) and the good of his people (Romans 8:28).
Isaiah 48:9-11 “For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. 10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. 11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Again, the bible tells us that God is always, and in everything working for these two purposes. If we will receive these promises of God, then, we will find rest and peace and freedom to endure every (coronavirus) trial.
And second, as much as we’d like to, we cannot know with any certainty exactly how God will get glory in any particular situation or how a specific event will be for the good of his people. God rarely gives his people the ability to know the inner workings of his plans. He has determined that it is enough for us to know that he will be glorified and we will be helped by everything he does.
Our aim, then, must not be to waste time trying to find out for certain whether this is an exercise of God’s judgment on unbelievers or discipline for Christians or a display of His power or an international call to repentance or an unusual act of mercy (it’s probably some measure of all of those thing and more). Rather, our aim must be to learn to trust in God’s promises and obey his will as he has revealed them to us in his Word. In other words, rather than worrying about exactly why God is doing this or when it will end or what this will mean next year, God’s people need to be seeking God in prayer, fasting, Word, and worship, encouraging one another in (virtual) fellowship, proclaiming the Gospel to the ends of the earth, sacrificially loving the lost, discipling our kids, and … (you get the idea—doing the things God has explicitly called us to regardless of our circumstances).
Because God is sovereign and good in all that he does, including in his oversight of the world’s infectious diseases, let us humble ourselves before him as we stand amazed at his authority and our weakness before it, and then let us give ourselves more fully to obeying all that he has called us to in that same good authority.
How do we practically lean into God’s sovereignty in this season? Words like sovereignty and providence can seem abstract and big (well, they are big).
Create a thankful journal. As an individual or family, take time to write down the things you are thankful for: Family, church, chocolate cake, playing outside, having enough TP, rain that makes flowers grow, etc.
Look for ways that you are thankful but it may have been the result of difficulty or suffering. If ____ hadn’t happened, I would have never experienced _____.
This could be a regular part of family worship or devotions, or an occasional thing that you pull out when you realize things to be thankful for. As you build a collection of things to be thankful for, it’s a neat way to see God’s provision in our lives. And a powerful way to respond in worship of the LORD who holds all things in his hands.