As our nation struggles with a coronavirus pandemic, there is an eternal truth found in Psalm 103:19 that gives me great assurance: "The Lord has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything." Simply put – God is sovereign, even over this pandemic.
Some people might find it difficult to see God's sovereignty in this pandemic. They might think God has lost complete control, or that he never had control in the first place. Others may think God created the world long ago, but he's been on a long vacation ever since. Still, others will conclude that God is preoccupied or indifferent to our plight – he doesn't care at all about us. But all of these predications do not reflect the truth about God or his sovereignty.
In fact, pandemics and plagues are common in the Bible. And, it may surprise you to discover that God is directly involved in those plagues. Let me draw your attention to the Old Testament for a few moments, where we can find examples of God's sovereignty in plagues and pandemics. You might ask, "Why the Old Testament?" Well, the Apostle Paul warns us that the examples written down in the Old Testament were for our benefit today:
These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.” And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day. Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and then died from snakebites (1 Cor. 10:5-9).
When Israel's pagan revelry and sexual immorality resulted in a plague that killed 23,000 people, and when Paul tells us that this example was a warning to us, then we need to take that warning seriously. And when Paul also warns us not to put Christ to the test, as some of them did, he is clearly connecting this Old Testament story to our present day. And, just to be clear, this is not the only example in the Old Testament of God bringing a plague upon Israel for their sin and rebellion. (For other examples of why God brought plagues see: Exodus. 32:35– for idolatry; Numbers. 11:33 – for grumbling against God; and Numbers 16 – for disrespecting spiritual leaders).
In Deuteronomy 28, there is a list of blessings and curses that God would pour out upon Israel for either their obedience or disobedience. God warned Israel there would be consequences if they broke their covenant with him. In particular, here's one of those consequences or curses – “If you refuse to obey all the words of instruction that are written in this book, and if you do not fear the glorious and awesome name of the Lord your God, then the Lord will overwhelm you and your children with indescribable plagues. These plagues will be intense and without relief, making you miserable and unbearably sick (Deut. 28:58-59)."
Imagine, God was willing to send an overwhelming plague to address Israel's disobedience. He was prepared to make them "unbearably sick". And, get this, he was also kind enough to let them know ahead of time what he was going to do if they were disobedient. He was saying in effect, "Don't say I didn't warn you."
Now, some might think that these curses were only for Israel. But there are numerous examples in the New Testament where God will use plagues, pestilences, famines and even earthquakes to judge the world and to get the world's attention. (See: Matt. 24:7; Luke 21:11 Rev. 6:8; 11:6; 15:1; 16:21; 22:8.).
So, what's my reason for pointing out God's use of plagues in the Bible? Is it to scare you? No, not at all. I believe these verses are capable of accomplishing that all on their own.
The real reason for writing this blog is to point out that God is sovereign; he can and will do whatever he pleases. He can use plagues or pandemics at will. He does not need to consult with us for our opinion, or ask for our permission, or wait for our consent. God is in control at all times. The prophet Daniel wrote, "He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings (Daniel 2:21)".
The Apostle Paul also said this about God's sovereignty, "From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:26-28)." You see, there is a purpose to everything that God does. That purpose is so that "people would seek him and perhaps reach out for him!"
I understand that some will want to disconnect God from having anything to do with this pandemic. That's because they have been conditioned to think of God as only a loving God; and as such, they could never see his purpose for this pandemic.
Seeing God as a Judge may be foreign to many. Yet, the Psalmist said, "The Lord reigns forever, executing judgment from his throne. He will judge the world with justice and rule the nations with fairness (Psalm 9:7-8)." Thankfully, God is not just any ordinary judge. He is a judge that will administer justice fairly – at all times and for all people.
Yes, there is no question that God is loving and kind. But his love must never be seen as something separate from his justice. His love and justice complement each other. In fact, the Apostle Paul tells us that God's love and kindness should cause everyone to turn toward God – to avoid his anger and judgment. Listen to what Paul says:
Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on doing what is evil – for the Jew first and also for the Gentile (Romans 2:4-9).
Did you notice that Paul starts out by reminding everyone how kind, tolerant and patient God is with the world? In other words, God is not trigger happy. He is not impulsive in executing judgment on people who reject him.
No, the reason God shows his love is so that everyone will turn away from their sin and turn towards him. Surely, no one in their right mind would want to be on the receiving end of God's judgment. But just in case people want to be dismissive or cavalier about it, Paul reminds them that, "He will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness."
Unfortunately, even plagues can fall short of getting the attention of rebellious people. God spoke long ago through the prophet Amos and said, "I sent plagues on you like the plagues I sent on Egypt long ago. I killed your young men in war and led all your horses away. The stench of death filled the air! But still you would not return to me,” says the Lord. . . . Prepare to meet your God in judgment, you people of Israel (Amos 4:10-12)!
So, we know that God uses plagues, among other things, is to get our attention. He uses these things to draw us closer to him. He wants us to turn from our sin and rebellion.
The greatest attempt by God to get our attention was when he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross. Listen to what Jesus himself says about God's great display of love and kindness:
For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son (John 3:16-18).
God certainly showed his love for us by sending his Son to die for us. And the good news is – God will never judge anyone who believes in Jesus. But the bad news is – that if anyone rejects Jesus Christ and chooses not to believe in him, they will bring God's judgement upon themselves.
Over the years, I have witnessed God trying to get the attention of many people. I have also watched those same people spurn God's love and kindness. Rather than turning away from their sin and rebellion, they took delight in it. And this pandemic will prove no different. Some will turn towards God and embrace his Son, while others will continue to resist all attempts by God to get their attention. But even if people spurn his love, the Apostle Peter reminds us that God is being patient for the time being with all of us. He does not want any of us to be destroyed but wants all of us to repent (2 Peter 3:9)." That's an unwarranted and merciful response from a loving and just God.
It would be wrong to think that this pandemic caught God by surprise, or that it found him scrambling to regain his composure and control. No, God is not befuddled by this pandemic; he is still very much in control. He is using all the anxiety, fear and uncertainty surrounding this pandemic to get our attention. He wants us to trust him. He wants us to draw closer to Jesus, so that we would find salvation in him.
Pandemics have a way of exposing our frailty. They make us confront our finiteness. They give us perspective on our mortality, and they remind us that life is short. The Psalmist says, "Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows, and we are gone — as though we had never been here (Psalm 103 :15-16)." James also reminds us that "our life is like a mist. You can see it for a short time, but then it goes away (James 4:14)."
Because our lives are short, we cannot afford to be like Israel and rebel against God. Just like God tried to get Israel's attention, he's trying to get ours today. He loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. Why not heed the advice found in Hebrews 3:7-8, “Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested me in the wilderness?"
Pandemics provide us with a choice of fear and anxiety or of trust and peace. I've learned the secret of the latter. The prophet Isaiah said, "You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock (Isaiah 26:3-4)."
What is your mind focussed on today? Is it the pandemic or God? Why not put your trust in God? And not just during this pandemic. No, do what Isaiah says, "Trust in the Lord always."
Isaiah also gave us some very timely advice, "Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously (Is. 55:6-7)."
Don't harden your heart today in the midst of this pandemic. God is desperately trying to get your attention. Open your heart to him.