When Providence Brings a Plague
About the Guest
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Bob Lepine brings a wise and seasoned perspective to what God is doing in the world amidst COVID-19. He offers us two options on how to view the current crisis. Learn the practical comfort and profound implications of the “Providence” option, on FamilyLife Today.
When Providence Brings a Plague
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m Bob Lepine, along with our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson. We are keeping appropriate social distancing on the COVID-19 editions of FamilyLife Today, the special quarantine editions.
Dave: I think we’re way beyond appropriate.
Ann: Yes, I think we’re beyond six feet. [Laughter]
Dave: We are states away from one another.
Bob: We’re about 1,000 miles away from one another; Dave and Ann, at their home in Michigan, and I’m at our studios, here at FamilyLife®, in Little Rock. Our offices are closed down, but we’ve come in and opened the studio so that we can continue to connect with our listeners and can provide whatever encouragement and hope we can during this time—an anxious time for all of us.
Ann, you’re talking to a lot of women and a lot of moms, who are naturally fearful during this time—not that men aren’t—but a lot of moms are feeling it in a unique way.
Ann: Yes, I think we are. I think we’re thinking about our parents, and our kids, our friends. Honestly, I’ve been talking to my daughter-in-laws, and there is a lot of fear going on. I think people are anxious.
Bob: Your dad is in a retirement center, and he’s in total isolation at this point; right?
Ann: Yes, my dad’s 91; he’s in an assisted living. They can’t have any visitors, and now they’re at a point where they’re not even dining together. They are isolated in their rooms.
Bob: So you’re Face-timing with him; and nurses are coming in, or food’s being brought to them; but they can’t leave the room.
Ann: Yes, it can be a really lonely time for a lot of people. I think, too, [for those] who are living on their own.
Dave and I, just this past weekend, we asked people, “How can we pray for you?” We were inundated with so many prayer requests of people who are worrying; they’re fearful; they’re worried about their family. It was really cool; we spent a good part of our day yesterday, just going through those prayer requests and praying for people because they feel it.
Bob: Dave, as our church gathered this past Sunday, here in Little Rock, the question that was on my heart, and I think on the heart of a lot of people, is: “How do we understand the goodness and the providence of God in the midst of a viral outbreak in our world? Can God be trusted in the middle of situations like this?”
Dave: Yes, that is—if not the biggest question—it is almost the biggest question ever asked: “How can a powerful, and loving, good God allow evil and suffering to happen?” Now we’re in it; we need somebody with real wisdom to answer that for us.
Dave: I heard you found somebody! [Laughter]
Ann: We found the best!
Bob: We thought we would share with our listeners a portion of the message that I shared with our church, here in Little Rock, last Sunday. The title of the message was “When Providence Brings a Plague.” We talked about this issue of: “Is God there?” “Is He in control?” and “Does He care?”
Bob: I don’t know what your tweet, or your Facebook® posts, or news items you’ve been looking at, or even your personal experience, have been like this week. I don’t know how your heart has been stirred toward anxiety or if you’ve been troubled by what you’ve heard or what you’ve read. I think all of us would acknowledge that we know the Bible calls us not to be fearful, and to trust in the Lord, and to cast our cares on Him. We know that’s true, but there are seasons in our lives when our ability to do that is put to the test multiple times during the day.
I saw a video online this week—maybe some of you saw it—where a number of entertainment industry people had gotten together. One actress had thought it would be a good idea if everybody sang a different line from the John Lennon song, Imagine. I pulled up the video, and the first line in Imagine—here’s an actress, a cappella, singing, “Imagine there’s no heaven.” I’m thinking: “This is what’s bringing comfort and hope to you in this season?—that we would all get together and sing that there’s no religion, and there’s nothing but sky above us, and it’s easy to do this if you try? Is that really where comfort comes from?”
Listen to me—in this current moment/the crisis we’re considering, we have two options to consider. Option one is the option that the entertainment industry folks went to, which was to imagine that there’s no heaven, no religion, just sky above us. There’s nothing that governs the germs in our world; the universe is running on its own; viruses occur naturally; they can spring up on their own at any time; they can kill you; and our only hope is to somehow figure out how we can kill them. But we don’t have any resources to appeal to outside of ourselves; it’s us against them, and there’s no one else we can call on for hope or help. That’s the Imagine option.
But I want us to consider a second option, which is the traditional Christian option. I’m calling it the Providence option. Option two is the Providence option. Imagine that, in this situation, the world is functioning—not on its own, not mechanistically, not with no one or nothing governing—but the Providence option says: “No, the events and the circumstances of our world—including outbreaks of violence, including war, including famine, including disease, including the hard things we go through—those are happening under the governance of a wise and powerful God, who is merciful and who is in control.
I suppose, technically, there’s a third option; it would be the Deist option. This is the idea that was popular about 250 years ago: the idea that there is a God, who is able to exercise control over the world; but He’s typically not engaged in what’s happening. He only intervenes if things get really out of control. Honestly, there are a lot of people who live their lives as what I would call “functional deists”—it’s when the illusion of control bursts that a lot of people call out to God.
If you think about the coronavirus, you have three options to consider:
The Imagine option: “There’s no God; viruses happen; we’re on our own.”
The Providence option: “There is a God; He cares for us, and all things are under His control.”
And the Deist option that: “There is a God, but He’s not really paying attention to what’s going on in our lives.”
I want us to look at that Providence option, because that’s what the Bible teaches. I want us to ask: “Is this clearly taught in Scripture? Can we believe that God is providentially caring for us? Does the Bible really teach us this?” And then, secondly: “What are the implications of that for our lives? If in fact God is in control of everything, what are the implications of living in a coronavirus world when God is in control of everything?”
The first question: “Is this what the Bible teaches?”—that’s pretty easy to answer—“Which view does the Bible teach?” It teaches the Providence option. Let me show you where we find this in the Bible. It’s all over the Bible; but I’ll take you to the passage I pointed you to, at the beginning this morning; that is, Psalm 103, verse19: “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens; His kingdom rules over all.” That’s the declaration that God is indeed sovereign and providentially caring for His people. The God who created the heavens and the earth is the same God who—today, right now, in the midst of the coronavirus—is ruling His creation from His throne in heaven. The coronavirus is not out of His control; it’s not spreading beyond His borders or His allowance. He is the sovereign God; His throne is established in heaven.
Now, we should note here there’s a difference between what the Bible teaches about God being sovereign and what it teaches about providence. When we say that God is sovereign, we’re saying that He has both the right and the power to rule and reign over His creation; He is the sovereign over us. When we talk about His providence, we’re saying that He uses His sovereign power to accomplish good and wise purposes. So, even the coronavirus, and the implications that are a part of this, are a part of God’s providential care—His good, wise care for us.
That word, “providence,” is not found in Scripture; but the idea of providence is everywhere in Scripture. You know the story in Daniel, where King Nebuchadnezzar, who was the king in Babylon: Nebuchadnezzar had rebelled against God. He had pride in his heart; he looked at everything and said, “I’m the greatest king in the world.” God humbled him and had him out, eating grass, as a result of that. Nebuchadnezzar repented and then bowed down before the Lord.
After he did that, here’s what he declared to be true about God—he said, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion”—as compared to my [the king’s] dominion—“He is eternal. His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing. He does according to His will among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand, or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’”
God is sovereign; He is wise; He is in control; and He can be trusted. John Calvin said: “Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries. The highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it.” If you don’t have hope in the providence of God, you are miserable. If you are singing, “Imagine there’s no heaven, only sky above, no religion, no God,” that will lead you to misery, to a loss of hope, to a lack of joy. But blessedness comes in the knowledge of the providential care of God: everything is under His control.
That does raise some questions in your mind, right? I mean: “This thing, this deadly coronavirus, which brings suffering and death in our world, how can we say that this comes to us from the hand of a good, and loving, and kind, and merciful God?” This is the question that has plagued people for generations, right? It’s referred to by some as the theodicy: “How can a good and kind God, who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, allow evil and suffering in our world?”
The Bible’s answer to that question is unsatisfying for a lot of us; because the answer we want is: we want the knowledge and the understanding of God’s purposes and His plans; so that, we can understand why He’s doing what He’s doing and find comfort in that. God does not give us understanding of all of His ways and His plans. He simply says, “Trust Me.”
What does all this mean for us? How do we live in a world that coronavirus is infecting? Even when hard things are happening, how do we live and how do we respond? I’ll just give you two thoughts here. First, if it is God’s will for us to go through trials and hardship, we need to be ready to embrace those trials and that hardship by faith. Embrace the trials and hardship by faith.
Here’s what I mean by that. Most of us have become very accustomed to comfort, and convenience, and ease, and plenty. I have lived my whole life in comfort, and in convenience, and ease, and plenty—never been a time when I wanted a sandwich and there was not bread available. That’s unique to our circumstance; that’s not how most people in the world live, and it’s not how everybody throughout history has lived.
I know that we’re going through times that have been periods of real disappointment and sadness for people. I know that there are students, who were looking forward to the spring: to sports schedules, and games, and being able to have tournaments; to the high school plays and productions; to the band concert was going to go on. There are students, who have moved back home; they’re not with their fellow students anymore on the college campus—they’re disappointed by that.
People had trips planned; people had weddings planned. I know there are people, who are frustrated by empty shelves at the stores; or the gym closing; or people who are wondering, again, “Am I going to have a job in a few weeks?” People have seen retirement savings drop by 30 or 40 percent.
Look, it’s probably going to get harder before it gets easier. Can we be people who—in the midst of this emotional rollercoaster that we’re riding on right now—be people who are trusting and clinging to God; and looking to Him and saying, “His plan is good; and I will trust in Him, even when it’s hard”? Can we be that kind of people?
That doesn’t mean that you pretend like you’re not feeling what you’re feeling; I’m not saying that. But it does mean that, when you have those feelings, you take them to God; and ultimately, you land in a place, where you say, “I don’t understand, but I’ll trust You.” Can we be people who find our hope, and our joy, and our strength in Him?
I shared with many of you this week that my mom, when she was still alive, would often tell me about growing up in the Depression and about going through World War II. She would look at me and she would say: “You kids/your generation—you don’t understand what it was like for us. You don’t understand bread lines; you don’t understand rationing. You don’t understand quarantines or not being able to travel.” She said: “We did all of this because we didn’t have any choice. We embraced a time of shared suffering; and we did it with hope and joy, not with grumbling, because it’s what we had to do.”
We’ve lived in comfort for so long that the question for all of us is: “Can we live with joy and peace in a time of disruption? Can we live with shared suffering?” I shared that note, and I got a note back from Curtis Thomas. As I talked about World War II, he said:
“I was born near the end of the Depression. I can remember how poor our family was. We often wondered if we were going to have food or kerosene to cook the food with.” I read that and I thought, “I’ve never wondered if I was going to be able to heat my lunch.”
He went on to say: “I’m reminded of what occurred during World War II, during my grade school years, when many vital things were rationed. Some families could not find a home to live in.” He said: “At times, my grandfather, my uncle, and my five cousins lived with us in our two-bedroom home; and that was with the seven of us in my own family. One bathroom that we used, and we shared that with the people who lived next door.”
He said: “Those were some tough times; but back then, we looked out for one another. We never locked the doors; strangers were welcome. There were homeless people/people who didn’t have a home of their own. They were always taken in by somebody, often total strangers.” He said: “I remember waking up one morning and there was a stranger sleeping on our couch. Dad had found him sleeping in his car and brought him into our house that night so he could sleep in our home.”
Curtis says, “Some have stated that the virus is a curse upon our nation and other countries because we’ve forgotten God; maybe so.” Curtis, again, wisely saying, “We’re not going to ascribe the motive of God, because we don’t know what the motive of God is.” He says, “Maybe that’s it; but maybe it’s being used by God to help us see our need for one another, sort of like we did in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s.”
Again, we don’t want to speculate; because we don’t know what God’s purposes are here; but the question is: “Can we be transformed people in the midst of this?” If things get really hard for us—and you may think, “Oh, can it get harder?” “Yes, it can get a lot harder,”—if things get really hard, can you maintain peace? Can you maintain joy? Can you maintain hope and love for others? You can, if you’re drawing from the reservoir of the Spirit in you, not looking at your circumstances to define your life. Job said, “Will we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil also?”
Here’s the second thing to remember as we embrace providence. If it’s God’s will for us to go through trials and hardship, we need to be more ready than ever to tell people about Jesus, and the hope, and comfort He provides for us. Be ready to say to people this week: “Can I pray for you?” “Can I pray with you?” Make that something you do comfortably and easily.
Say to the person at the grocery store, as you’re checking out: “Thank you for serving us. Thank you for risking to be here so that my family can have food. What’s your name, and how can we pray for you?” That’s a simple way that you can reflect the fact that your trust is in the Lord. Be generous and kind with people, who are serving us right now; and be bolder than maybe you’ve ever been in your life.
In fact, I’m going to be bold for just a minute. Some of you tuned in here this morning, you’re looking for help and for answers during confusing times. I want you to listen to me carefully. If you found out later today—you started to have a dry cough and a sore throat, and you were eventually diagnosed with COVID-19 this week, and then your condition started to deteriorate, and you were facing death—“Do you have a confidence that, if death came, you’d be in heaven when death arrives? Do you have that confidence?”
If you look at that and say: “Well, I think so. I think I’d be in heaven,”—and I say: “Why do you think so?” or “Why are you confident?”—and you say, “Well, because I’ve tried to live a good life,”—or you say—“Well, because I’m not really a bad person,” or “When I was a child, I prayed a prayer; so I’m trusting that that got me in.” Listen carefully—your trying to live a good life is not what gets you or anybody into heaven. The thought that you’re not a bad person—it’s worse than you realize. I mean, all of us have evil; all of us have grumbling; all of us have bad thoughts; all of us—we’re infected with selfishness. We want to be in control of our own lives. All of us are in that circumstance, and God’s standard is perfection, and we all fall short of God’s standard.
There is a way to have a certainty and a confidence that, if you were to die—whether it’s from the coronavirus or from something else—a certainty that you would be welcomed by God into His family, and you would live with Him eternally in heaven. Here’s how you can have that confidence:
You can recognize that you can’t save yourself; and you can turn to the only one who can save you, and that’s Jesus. Jesus came to earth; He lived a perfect life, and then He died a death on the cross that He did not deserve. He did that in our place, taking our sin on Him. He comes to us and He says: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden. I will give you rest,”—“I’ll give you salvation,”—“Take My yoke on you. Follow Me: deny yourself, pick up your cross, follow Me. I will give you rest.”
If you don’t have a hope or a confidence that you’d be in heaven, that can be settled here today. There’s no more urgent issue facing you right now than the urgent issue that you can be welcomed home by God. All it takes is to pray a prayer; you cry out to God and you say, “God, I need You.”
In fact, it’s a prayer that would go something like this:
Lord, I need You. I’ve been trying to control my own life; life is out of control. I need You to take care of me. I confess to You that I’m a sinner: that I’ve been trying to run my own life, that I’m selfish, that I care more about me than I do about others. Lord, I need forgiveness for that. I need the forgiveness for my sins that You offer through Jesus. Thank You that Jesus came and died on a cross for me; so that, I can be with You in heaven.
So Lord, now I surrender my life to You; I pledge myself to You. I will be Your follower; I will be Your child; I will live for You. Teach me Your ways. Help me to be the kind of person You want me to be as I surrender my life to You.
You pray a prayer like that, God hears you and He promises to forgive your sin—to welcome you into His family. He will begin the process of transforming your life and making you like His own child, making you to become a Christ-follower.
Bob: Well, what we’ve been listening to today is an excerpt from a message that was shared with the congregation at Redeemer Community Church in Little Rock last Sunday. The entire message is available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s a link both to the audio and the video of that message if you’d like to hear it in its entirety.
Dave, there is no more urgent issue for people today than the question of the state of your soul in this moment; because there are people, who are facing not just sickness, but death in our day.
Dave: Yes, I actually believe there could be quite a homecoming, during this time, of people coming to Jesus—maybe a revival in our homes/in our cities. I mean, when it gets dark, you need light.
Bob, you did a great job of pointing people to the Light—it’s Jesus. So many of us know about Him; we don’t know Him/we’ve never surrendered to Him. I’m hoping that people responded in your message; but I’m also hoping people respond today, as they listen to this broadcast, to give their life to Jesus—that is eternity. It’s more important than anything going on right now—is taking care of your soul—and Jesus is the answer.
Bob: Yes, on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, we have resources to help you settle the issue. If you’re asking the question: “Do I really know Christ?” “Am I saved?” “Do I have confidence that if I were to die today I would go to heaven?” you can go to FamilyLifeToday.com; and there are links there that can help you resolve this issue in your own heart.
Ann: Bob, I think this is a really good time, too, for us, as moms/as dads, to have talks with our kids about this. You know, when it comes to eternity/when it comes to Jesus—Easter’s right around the corner—for us to talk about, “Why did Jesus have to die?” I think these are great conversations that we can also have around our dinner table.
Bob: I hope that listeners are making it a priority, as you come to the weekend, to still gather with your local church. Most of us are doing it virtually these days, but folks can go online. If you’re not a part of a local church, this is a good time for you to connect with a church in your community that’s having online services. Make this a priority in your weekend.
I also want to say—a lot of churches are facing financial challenges; because a lot of people in the congregation are facing financial challenges; or just because the routine of showing up and putting money in an offering plate, we’re not doing that the way we were doing it a few weeks ago. Remember your local church and their financial needs, and be as generous as you can be.
At the risk of sounding self-serving, remember ministries like FamilyLife Today as well. Because these are challenging times for all of us, those who are able to be generous now, be especially generous with your local church and with other ministries that are serving in this season.
Well, we hope you can join us back on Monday. We’re going to talk about the importance and the power of our words in our marriage relationship. We need to be careful with our words during this season. Rob and Gina Flood will join us to talk about healthy marital communication on Monday. I hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch. Our entire broadcast production team—they have been working really hard this week; thank you, guys. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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