Poorly Interpreting Providence

Whenever a crisis arises, there always seems to be some guy who comes out of the woodwork to tell everyone that he knows for a fact that the current crisis is (a) the beginning of the end, (b) the judgment of God on homosexuals/Democrats/Republicans/evolutionists/etc., and/or (c) some random offshoot of global warming. So far, in the current crisis, I have had the singular misfortune of being exposed to all three of these, and have felt the need to address each in turn, with particular emphasis given to the middle theory (b).

A. It’s the End of the World

This one is fairly simply put to rest. Are we living in the end times? Yes! We have been since Christ ascended into heaven where He is now seated at the right hand of the Father. The author of Hebrews writes, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Heb. 1:1-2). When confronted with the whole of the canonical witness, we must reckon that, as the work of the Redeemer has been accomplished on the cross, and as He has been resurrected and ascended into heaven, the next big event in salvation history will be His return – which will be the end of the world as we know it, and the beginning of the fully consummated Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. As far as the time and hour of His coming, if He didn’t know (Matt. 24:36; Mark 13:32), neither does the televangelist who is trying to line his pockets with the monetary “seeds” you send to his ministry. The question isn’t “Are we living in the end times?”, it’s “Are you prepared to meet God?”, or, more straightforwardly, “Is your living faith in Jesus Christ?”

B. Crisis X is God’s Judgment on Specific Group Y

Has God, in His providence unleashed the coronavirus as a judgment on a specific group of people? The response to this theory is a bit more complex. Is an epidemic a judgment on, say, the atheists, idolaters, or abortionists? Well, probably not. At the same time, yes. The fact that there is such a thing as sickness and the decay of the body and death in the world is part of God’s judgment against human sin. Had Adam never sinned, there would be no coronavirus; it’s a part of the fallen creation, not the perfect creation, and it will have no place in the new creation.

We need to be clear that, quite frankly, we’re not always the best readers of God’s providence. Scripture shows us this. Take, for example, the blind man in John 9. The disciples, thinking they had a grip on the situation, asked the Lord Jesus if the reason the man had been born blind was because he sinned or because his parents sinned. Note, this is an A or B question; there was no room for a third option. If this man was born blind, to the disciples the specific cause for it must have been either something he had done, or something his parents had done. Again, we can state generally that, had there been no sin in the world, the man would not have been born blind; blindness is a symptom of a broken world. But, can we state without reservation, as was the case with the disciples, that the man was born blind because of God’s punishment of a specific sin? No. In fact, Jesus tells His disciples, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3). This wasn’t a specific punishment for a specific sin. God, Who makes the seeing and the blind (Ex. 4:11), willed that this fellow would be born blind for the express purpose that God’s glory might be displayed in Jesus’ work of restoring his sight. No doubt this threw a wrench in the presuppositions of the disciples! It very well may be – and no doubt is in part – that God has allowed the coronavirus to spread in order that He might be glorified in healing those who are sick, and through His people taking advantage of novel (pun intended) opportunities to show the love of Christ to their neighbors; many who do not know Him will look on their good works and glorify the Father! (Matt. 5:16).

Another helpful example that can be given from Scripture as how best to read God’s providential hand in a crisis comes from the Gospel of Luke:

“There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.'” Luke 13:1-5

This is not the “pastoral” response that many of the people were expecting, but it was the response that they needed. When you see suffering in the world, what is your first thought? Is it, “Those people must have done something heinous”? or “That’s God’s judgment on [insert sinful group here]”? Neither of these are gospel responses. Christians aren’t people who think that they belong to Christ because they are somehow the cream of the crop; consider your calling, brothers! (1 Cor. 1:26-31). When we see suffering in the world, the gospel teaches us that we deserve that suffering, and worse because of our sins. That God has spared us is according to His free grace and infinitely wise decree! Not because we are better than those who have sinned. What the coronavirus teaches us isn’t that homosexuals or abortionists or drug dealers, etc., need to repent; it teaches us that we are all sinners, and apart from repenting and turning to Christ, we are all under the just wrath of God! Unless we repent, we will all perish… and coronavirus is just a shadow of the substance of God’s everlasting judgment against sin.

Let’s say you are a Christian and you contract the coronavirus. Is this because you have somehow sinned your way out of God’s favor? For goodness’ sake, READ YOUR BIBLE! There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Do you need to repent? Absolutely! The whole of the Christian life is repentance. But, ultimately, what can we say about God allowing affliction of any kind to come into the lives of His elect? We know that He is in control and that affliction can only go so far as He allows it. (Job 1:6-2:10). We know that He loves us in Christ. (Heb. 12:6). We know that He causes all things (including coronavirus) to work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). We know a lot of things, because God has revealed them to us in Scripture. We don’t have to sit around guessing at specifics; He has shown us, generally, what these events are for – basically, to draw you out of who you used to be and to make you who you are, to burn away the dross and conform you to the image of Christ. God means to make you holy and happy in Him – even if that means He has to use coronavirus (or any number of afflictions) to break your grip on the lesser joys to which you hold.

Perhaps it would be more helpful, then, to not look at the crisis and speculate, but to open our ears to the megaphone of suffering and examine ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word.

C. Global Warming and Such

Not everything is related to climate change. Some things are related to climate change. Is coronavirus related to climate change? Ask a scientist… or, if you don’t really care about an authoritative and scholarly answer, ask an angry Swedish kid. Either way, see above.


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