We didn’t count on a pandemic. Who could have known it was coming? No one suspected. No one had any idea. Every pandemic in human history has been entirely unexpected. When Chinese scientists first encountered this latest SARS-related virus, they immediately recognized the danger. Prior to this, no one knew a pandemic was coming. When they saw it, they knew.
But God knew far before the scientists. He knew how it would start.
The fact that our God is sovereign and omnipotent and omnipresent is an anchoring reality in our lives, producing a sense of peace and confidence. God already knows. Not only is God present everywhere, but he is powerful beyond every force in the universe. He rules over all, already knowing even the things we don’t understand and may question all our days.
As a child, I was repeatedly told from pulpits and gravesides that, like us, God didn’t understand the whys and was unable to do anything about it. Yet, simultaneously, he loved me.
This depiction of a puny, powerless, hand-wringing God became confusing. As I entered adulthood, I accumulated trials, hurts, heartaches, and losses, which made me mad at God. Anger at God didn’t really get me anywhere, other than adding bitterness and loss of faith to the trial.
After devastating losses in 1993-1994, a Bible study by Kay Arthur titled Lord, Where Are You When Bad Things Happen? turned my life around. In that study, I discovered a startling truth in this passage:
“I am the Lord, and there is no other,
The One forming light and creating darkness,
Causing well-being and creating calamity;
I am the Lord who does all these” (Isaiah 45:6c-7 ESV).
Causing well-being and creating calamity? I couldn’t comprehend this. It took many years of theological study to even begin to grasp those truths. The book of Job gives us an example of the tension in this reality.
Job, having just been told that he had lost all of his children and all of his possessions, “arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and WORSHIPED. He said,
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
“Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God” (Job 1:20-22).
Anger at God is another way of blaming God. Job didn’t blame God, rather he blessed the name of the Lord, fell to the ground, and engaged in lament-laden worship that fills the rest of Job’s book. In lament, he poured out his complaints and yet returned repeatedly to praise and acknowledgement of the inscrutable and sovereign nature of God.
God superintends the storm. We don’t.
Throughout the Bible, God is called the Sovereign Lord, which means he rules over all. He superintends. He oversees. He always has a plan.
Calamities occur, for this is a fallen world. We humans don’t seem to learn without hardship. We’ve seen this repeatedly. Once we make a mistake, if we take note and learn from it, we’re far less likely to repeat it. Calamity is part of how we learn, and is, therefore, necessary.
Humans also have magical thinking, believing that nothing bad will happen to us. This is why we don’t evacuate, even after being told to do so. We seem never to learn that there are consequences. We don’t comprehend cause and effect.
And yet, God still orchestrates our lack of comprehension and its attending consequences for our good, because he knows we are but dust, living our lives with little understanding. His kindness in helping us through the outcomes and sparing us from ourselves is astounding!
We’ve seen the truth of this repeatedly. The thing that happened, bringing terrible pain, the empty grave dug into the red earth that will hold the person we hold dearest in all the world, the tragedy that will never allow us to recover everything that was lost — all of those things, God will work together for the good of those who love him.
Not “good” as in getting more money and toys, but good in that the Lord heals us from our mistakes, causing us to grow in kindness and self restraint. He draws us ever nearer in a relationship of love and trust. We then have richer and more incredible communion with our Savior, and thus, we are transformed, becoming more like him. We will be with him for all eternity, loving him and being loved forever and ever.
This is what is meant by working all things together for good.
Here’s the mysterious part. If a pandemic occurs or a fire or a flood, then in some way that is entirely unknown to us, God has planned all along to orchestrate this tragedy for our best outcome, our growth, our good, our character, and our faith. In short, we can trust the Man who died for us.God has planned all along to orchestrate this tragedy for our best outcome, our growth, our good, our character, and our faith. In short, we can trust the Man who died for us. #Faith Click To Tweet
We don’t know why a pandemic. We don’t know why 850,000-plus people have perished from COVID-19 globally, departing earth in this way. But, we do know that the Lord God has a purpose unknown to us. In some way we may never guess or even realize, he will orchestrate good from this collision of a novel coronavirus, public health, human actions, riots, hurricanes, and travel plans. With all of this at once, God certainly has our attention.
God is the Creator, the Author of the human story. As the Author and Creator, he is not capricious. Rather, the Lord God is unchanging, certain, constant, immutable, and kind. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
I am an author. When I write a novel, every scene, every character quirk or habit, every conversation, every loss, every gain, every tragedy — every single element is significant to the story. For my characters to grow and to discover their courage, they must fail badly and then come to a place of personal realization and growth. There must be trials, hardships, and difficulties for them to overcome. If not, it’s not a story worth reading.
Without an antagonist, whether human or circumstantial, and without hardship, there is no storyline. We don’t have a realistic life with all of its victories and its foibles attached. We have nothing.
Human beings love a challenge. This is how God made us. We want to win the battle. We want to score the winning touchdown with one second left on the clock. We love to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We thrill at the celebration afterward, jumping up and down for joy. This arc is what God established for humanity, for all of our lives, and into eternity.
We are challenged daily to do what is right, what is pure, what is obedient to the Lord, what is kind. We live the life that God has given us, each day completing whatever endeavor we face. We seek to do it to the best of our abilities, working with a good attitude, finishing our tasks, and thus acquiring the bravery of facing each new day, whatever our task may be.
For our satisfaction and the good of others, these challenges are essential. And then, when we see progress, when we reach a goal, we celebrate, we leap for joy. We go out to eat with our family, friends, and colleagues, patting one another on the back. We are made for this, which is one reason this pandemic has been hard. We’re isolated.
One day, this is the satisfaction we will receive. We will come to the end of our lifetime of challenge. We will stagger across the finish line. We will leave our bodies and walk right into Jesus’ arms.One day, this is the satisfaction we will receive. We will come to the end of our lifetime of challenge. We will stagger across the finish line. We will leave our bodies and walk right into Jesus' arms. #Faith Click To Tweet
He will tell us, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” And, O what joy and celebration will transpire! What rejoicing will occur! What triumph we will experience because of his enabling grace and his transformative mercy!
We will have completed the course, we will have finished the race, we will have kept the faith, and everything will be made right and whole and beautiful.
Though, we’ll never fully understand, the Lord superintends all of the struggles of human history for good for those who love him.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36 NIV)
Will we complete the course alongside our Savior as he leads the way, giving our all, doing what he has directed until we breathe our final breath?
Will we consider the glory of his presence as being what we need in every hardship, no matter the outcome?
Will we trust the Lord, no matter what happens?