I wrote this post while there were still quite a few unknowns about COVID-19. President Trump had just declared a National Emergency. Local schools began closing all over the world. The NCAA canceled important sporting events and subsequently all spring sports. And most tragically, many presumably unconverted people entered into eternity.
This post does not seek to make light of our current crisis. Rather, it seeks to consider it in light of the overarching doctrine of God’s glorious providence.
Providence is the precious Christian doctrine that asserts that not only is the triune God the creator of the universe, but also its sustainer in such a way that He is sovereign over every molecule bringing the world toward the end for which it was made, namely His own eternal glory. The providence of God is the working out in time of His eternal decrees.
Thomas Watson wrote, “Providence is the hand that turns all the wheels in the universe; it is the pilot who steers the ship of the creation. Providences are sometimes dark—often difficult to decypher: God often writes in shorthand—his providences are often secret, but always wise.”
Martyn Lloyd Jones notes, “The doctrine of providence does not just mean, therefore, that God has a foreknowledge of what is going to happen, but is a description of His continuing activity, of what He does in the world, and what He has continued to do since He made the world at the very beginning.”
Providence in Prosperity
It’s much easier to discuss God’s providence in times of prosperity. When the boss gives you an extra bonus check. When the child is born healthy. When all is well.
And truly, we ought to praise God from whom all blessings flow. The danger when providence prospers us is to forget God and trust in riches. We must not do this. We must give Him thanks for His undeserved kindness to us.
Providence in Adversity
It’s much more difficult for many professing believers to praise God for His providence in times of adversity. When you’re not sure how the ends are going to meet. When one man treats another wrongly. When the car won’t start.
The context of Philippians 4:13 actually speaks to this. When Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” he means that he can face plenty or want trusting the Lord and being grateful for His providence in his life.
Providence and COVID-19
A robust understanding of providence means that we trust a God who does “govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least” (1689 LBC). Sometimes providence goes viral.
Where we have to be careful in the doctrine of providence is claiming that we know all the immediate reasons for why an event happens. The truth is, we don’t. The secret things belong to Yahweh (Deut. 29:29).
What we do know is that God is in ultimate control of COVID-19. He once sent a pestilence upon Israel for David’s sin that killed 70,000 people (2 Samuel 24:15). All I mean here is that God is free to use whatever means He desires for His purposes.
God says, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isaiah 46:10). And He will. One thing COVID-19 should remind all people is that our lives are only a vapor and unless men repent, they will all likewise perish.
Providence does not mean we sit back and “whatever happens, happens.” No, a healthy understanding of providence means we also understand our responsibility in the world to act wisely, humbly, justly, and with compassion to our neighbors all to the glory of God.
Wash your dirty hands even as you trust His holy heart!
Providence and the Church
Again, we dare not pinpoint all the precise reasons we are dealing with a virus like COVID-19, because honestly, we don’t know. But we do know God is good. And we know that He is working all things for good for His people, the church.
Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
This verse does not say that COVID-19 is good. It does not say that all things are good. But it does say that God works together all things for good, even COVID-19—even if in the immediate we can’t know all that the Lord is doing.
We know that in a pandemic like this, we are called to be faithful and to trust God’s goodness. We are called not to panic. We are called to love those around us and even use special opportunities we have due to this situation to proclaim the glory of the Lord and call sinners to repent and believe the gospel.
We are called to remember our own lives are feeble and that the Lord sweetly reminds us of these truths during times like this. Use this time to refocus areas of your life that perhaps were crowding too much of your heart.
Remember, as John Calvin said, “As the providence of God does in general reach to all creatures, so after a more special manner it takes care of His church, and disposes of all things to the good thereof.”
The Lord has not forgotten His church. He will not. And even now He is working all things together for Her good, even COVID-19. He is sovereign over the vastness of all the cosmos as well as the viruses in every country.
May we learn from Him. May we trust Him. May we love others well. May we shine as lights. And in all things may we say, Soli Deo Gloria. I will close with a quote from Matthew Henry:
“The intentions of Providence commonly do not appear till a great while after the event, perhaps many years after. The sentences in the book of providence are sometimes long, and you must read a great way before you can apprehend the sense of them.”