Few things make me more nervous and angered simultaneously than hearing evangelical speakers talk about how God told them something in a secret non-canonical manner that’s outside of the realm of holy Scripture. During this global COVID-19 pandemic such talk has arisen once again and it’s primarily centered upon the idea that God is judging his Church and calling us to repentance.
Could God be using this pandemic as a form of judgment? Sure. However, if we explore the secret providence of God and how our God governs all things at all times for his glory—we will find that he’s doing many millions of things at the same time in order to bring both judgment and joy in ways that we can’t hardly fathom.
According to chapter 5 and paragraph 1 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, we find the following explanation of God’s providence:
God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom, upholds, directs, arranges, and governs all creatures and things, from the greatest to the least, by his perfectly wise and holy providence, to the purpose for which they were created. He governs according to his infallible foreknowledge and the free and unchangeable counsel of his own will. His providence leads to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy.
The power and wisdom of our God is infinite. Such limitlessness is beyond our brain capacity to comprehend. He orders and rules over all things at all times. Our God is not only the divine creator, he’s likewise the divine ruler over his creation. He orders and controls everything from earthly monarchs to wild beasts. He raises up and controls marching armies and God is not absent from dark dungeons and prisons. Our God is sovereign over natural disasters and by his providence orders and controls every disease on planet earth—including the COVID-19 virus.
Through this pandemic God can call be calling one person to repentance while infusing great joy in the heart of another person at the very same time. He can be humbling materialistic self-focused rebels while bringing an overly busy Christian home together for fellowship and family devotion in ways that have not been possible in recent years.
What can God’s Church learn through this pandemic? One proper lesson would be that we must not underestimate or overly summarize God’s providence in the midst of such a pandemic. Why was Joseph thrown into a pit? Was it to bring Joseph to judgment or his brothers? Was it merely judgment that God was working out for the jealous sinful brothers of Joseph or was God raising up a faithful man in Egypt who would remember God’s people during the midst of a great famine? Often times in the midst of hard seasons such as our current season of a global pandemic we look to the negative rather than the positive and seek to pigeonhole God’s providence.
Look to the bright side of this pandemic and see what good God is doing in the midst of this strange season in church history. How many people have heard the good news of Jesus through online preaching during this time? How many people have been confronted with the frailty of life and the need for the gospel during this season of history? Perhaps we will never know the full scope of God’s story during this pandemic, but whatever we do we must remember that when Joseph was dropped into that small pit he was in the presence of a big God. No matter how dark the days become or how insurmountable the challenges appear—we can rest in the shelter of our God who is our rock and refuge and very present help in times of trouble. As the psalmist writes, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).
The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith goes on to describe God’s providence in chapter 5 and paragraph 7 by stating, “The providence of God in a general way includes all creatures, but in a special way it takes care of his church and arranges all things to its good.” William Cowper [1731-1800] was one of the great English poets and a prolific author of hymns. Although he struggled with anxiety and dark depression, God used him in a wonderful way. With the help and aid of John Newton, he produced the Olney Hymns in 1779. In 1774, Cowper wrote “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” which contains a great reminder of hope in the midst of darkness. In the fourth stanza, in describing the providence of God, Cowper penned these words, “Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.” Never underestimate or overly summarize the providence of God.
“God Moves in a Mysterious Way” — By: William Cowper (1774)
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform:
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour:
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own Interpreter,
And He will make it plain.