Pandemic and Providence

  • Jeff Crotts
mountains and stars

When someone says, “God is sovereign,” to answer a viral pandemic, it is easy to hear this as code for passive resignation.  Lifeless determinism that says, “God has planned everything out, start to finish.  Simply accept what is happening from God who is a million miles away.”  Early in our nation’s history, several of our founding fathers subscribed to a philosophy supporting this way of thinking.  They were self-proclaimed deists, believing God took all creation in hand, wound it like a clock and let it go.  Our Bibles tell us that this is not the full story.  Not a real picture of God at all. 

Scripture teaches God is also near.  Active and working.  The half-truth of deism is that an all-mighty God did create and launch everything.  However, he never backed away.  God’s plans are never interrupted.  It is true that God is transcendent: an infinite being, above and outside of time.  However, this reality runs parallel with the Lord’s dynamic nearness!  Near the world he made and presently sustains.   

Without God, the solar system stops spinning.  Seasons glitch.  Homeostasis halts.  Eco-systems break.  Plants shrivel and animals die.  Laws forgotten.  The conscience hardens.  Society’s rebel.  Populations starve.  Atoms explode.  And, life as we know it ends.  With God, the opposite is true.  In fact, life itself proves God is present.   

God is near to his creation and even better, God is nearer to his New Creations.  Christians know God’s nearness in a way no one else can.  New creations with new hearts tuned into God’s mind.  God’s Word is lively and through it God’s Spirit communicates what we need to know about every day.  Scripture acts as an interpretive grid to discern what is happening around us and how we should respond.   

Raw determinism shies away from seeing God as this involved.  The Bible does not teach this kind of determinism but it does teach God’s sovereignty.  Experience-driven Christians might question someone like me (who subscribes to God’s absolute sovereignty) whether I believe God actually shows up in our day-to-day lives.  The short answer is, “I do!” 

Scripture ties together God’s absolute sovereignty (even over the corona virus) with God’s nearness.  This parallel reality is what theology calls God’s providence.  Hear the word “provide” in this?  Providence has two parts: “pro” from the Latin word meaning “forward” and “vide” from the Latin word meaning “to see.” God not only sees every need but also dynamically acts in real time to meet them.

We see this throughout the Bible.  Psalm 84:11 promises,

God will not withhold anything from those who walk uprightly.

Does this mean you somehow force God’s hand by being good?  God is reduced to a benevolent genie in a bottle, reacting to your every whim.  No.  Christians apply Psalm 84:11 by getting their heads up, seeing God’s provisions in the normal day-to-day.  Sometimes recognizing God’s hand is obvious with very little effort.  Like tuning your radio from AM to FM.  We re-see our circumstances through God’s eyes and involvement.

Our study in Hebrews 12 of late certainly appears coordinated by God’s providence.  Hebrews 12 answers questions being asked by our country right now.  “Why is life hard?”  “Why right now?”  “When will COVID-19 end?”  Seeking God’s Word helps us to reframe our questions.  “How is God working in my life through this unexpected pressure?”  “How can something born from sin’s curse grow my faith and promote personal holiness?”  I know thinking like this can be hard to swallow.  Still, God has us right here in 2020.  God is not far from our needs and knows exactly how to meet them.  Instead of doubting, acknowledge our loving Father, both sovereign and near (cf. Matt. 28:18-20).