Sovereign…Yet Good

In the wake of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) there have been many helpful articles, blogs, and videos that church men and women have put forth to offer a biblical perspective on the entire issue. Most of them, thankfully, have mentioned the sovereignty of God in the midst of this pandemic. This biblical truth is often the anchor in the storms of life because it reminds believers that while things may seem out of hand and out of control, there is One who is governing it all. There is One who is still in control. This is what it means to be sovereign. The word literally means principle, chief, or supreme. When in reference to God it first speaks of His position as the Chief Being of the universe. But in addition to this, it speaks of the nature of His on-going dealings with His creation. Namely, after God created the universe it is not as if He lifted His hands and wished mankind “good luck,” choosing to no longer be directly involved in the world. God is not a great clockmaker who created the clock, wound it up, and let it go. Rather the Bible teaches that God is intimately involved in the world. Further, He is the one who is orchestrating each and every event that takes place in the world and without Him nothing can occur. But wait! Does this reality help us deal with the outbreak of COVID-19 or does it raise more questions?

It has been mentioned before that while stating the reality of God’s complete control in difficult times is helpful, it doesn’t go far enough in giving an accurate picture of the God of the Bible during times of trial. Quite recently, there was a pastor who preached on this very thing. The topic he addressed was the need to be biblically balanced in our presentation of the sovereignty of God. He painstakingly went on to clarify that he was not equating “being balanced” to compromising an essential biblical truth. Pastors must, he stated, preach on the sovereignty of God. This is the doctrine that Spurgeon declared to be the sweet pillow that every Christian lay their head on at night. But speaking of balance, he also encouraged pastors that while it is possible to be theologically precise as it relates to God’s power over all creation, if that truth is not explained in the light of the whole counsel of God, it is possible to distort who God is. He spoke very pointedly saying, “If you preach a totally sovereign God to your people, that He is in complete control over every square inch of their lives, but you do not also preach that He is good, you’ve preached to them a false god.” The late James Montgomery Boice might’ve agreed with such an assessment. During his last sermon to his congregation he expressed what the Lord had been teaching him through his bout with terminal liver cancer. The first thing he mentioned was the reality of the sovereignty of God. He said, “God’s in charge. When things like this come in our lives they are not accidental. It’s not as if God somehow forgot what was going on, and something bad slipped by.” But then he went on to add to this truth. There was another conviction that God had impressed upon him during his time of suffering. He said to the church, “What I’ve been impressed with mostly is something in addition to [God’s sovereignty]. It’s possible, isn’t it, to conceive of God as sovereign and yet indifferent? God’s in charge, but He doesn’t care. But it’s not that,” says Boice. “God is not only the one who is in charge; God is also good. Everything He does is good.”

So very essential to the reality of the sovereignty of God during trials is the goodness of God. Though this can be a hard topic to broach when considering sickness, it is a crucial one. God is indeed operating in every recent event in the world without exception. But in addition to this, it must be understood that He is directing all things for a good purpose. His intentions and motivations are always good. He always does what is right and the outcome of His plan is always wholesome. Therefore, God is not some wicked ruler smiling at the fact that His creation is being inflicted by a ferocious virus. Make no mistake, the Coronavirus is not a good thing in and of itself. But the Bible does teach that the all-powerful Creator is bringing about good from this particular sickness. Being that He is the sum, source, and standard of that which is beneficial and beautiful, His allowance of such a pandemic are those very things.

So with the sovereignty and goodness of God before us, how is God orchestrating these recent events for the good of His people and mankind as a whole? Or to ask it another way: What is the sovereign goodness of God doing amidst COVID-19? Most Christians realize that the ultimate answer to such a question is: He is bringing about His own glory. God’s glory is the ultimate purpose of both His complete control over all things as well as His goodness. But that answer is far too generic. So here are five things (not exhaustive) that the sovereign goodness of God is doing during this pandemic:

God’s sovereign goodness is conforming us to His Son

Romans 8:28 teaches that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him. This doesn’t mean that all things are good. COVID-19 is not a good thing. But Paul’s point is that God is even using this virus to bring about good. Specifically, that goodness is a conformity to the image of Jesus Christ (v. 29). God is sanctifying the church through various means through this pandemic. Possibly He is conforming us by causing us to fix our eyes on heaven (more on that below). Perhaps He is conforming us by showing us that we don’t trust Him as we ought to with food, finances, and other things. Or maybe God is making us more like Jesus in helping us get our eyes off of ourselves and to others in the heart of Philippians 2:3-4. However it may be that God is conforming us to look more like Jesus, this we know: He IS using this virus to make us more like Him. Perhaps ask yourself how God is shaping you.

God’s sovereign goodness might be humbling us

According to 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, we are given a paradigm for how God works as it relates to difficulties in our life. In that passage Paul mentions how he was given a “thorn in the flesh” for two purposes. First it was to keep him from being prideful. Paul had received a tremendous privilege of being caught up to a heavenly scene, and it is doubtful that such an experience would produce humility in him. Therefore, to keep him from exalting himself, the Lord used the thorn to keep him low. Although Paul’s was a unique scenario, a principle that can be taken from this is that the Lord uses trials to humble us. 

A second purpose for Paul’s thorn in the flesh was to highlight God’s sufficient grace against the backdrop of Paul’s weakness. This, of course, is a different side of the same coin. But in and through Paul’s weakness, God wanted to demonstrate His own strength to sustain Paul. It was not Paul who was sustaining Paul. It was not something or someone else who was sustaining Paul or providing him strength. This was all the Lord. So for the believer who has been inflicted by the Coronavirus, or any sickness for that matter, God uses their illness (or time of weaknesses) to demonstrate that He is truly their strength. This is not intended to be cliché. Oftentimes when I have something as small as a sore throat I am first reminded that I am not invincible. I am reminded that God doesn’t have limitations like I do. But I am also reminded that as an earthen clay pot, who is frail and weak, my strength has to be the Lord. My body will fail me, but the Lord’s grace will never fail.

God’s sovereign goodness is focusing us on heaven

I am sure that this recent pandemic has caused the church to look above. This is something that we are commanded to do in general (Col. 3:2). But unfavorable times have a way of refocusing wandering eyes on things of eternity. In Philippians 3:20 Paul speaks of our heavenly citizenship through which believers are eagerly waiting for the Lord Jesus Christ to return. In Romans 8:23 he speaks of a longing that suffering Christians have for the redemption of their bodies. This is the glorified state. So when we are facing difficult times, or the world seems to be in an uproar, God focuses the believer on eternal things. He provides for them a heavenly gaze that implants in them a longing to exit the chaos and be at home. 

God’s sovereign goodness is giving us opportunities to share the gospel

Now while Christians are the individuals who long to depart from this world and be with the Lord, it is equally true that they are the ones who plead with people to join them in heaven. At the most basic level, the Christian existence is for this very purpose. We are to be fishers of men (Matt. 4:19). We are to be disciple-makers (Matt. 28:18-20). We are to plead with people to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20).This is true regardless of the daily circumstances, but our evangelistic senses must rise in tumultuous times. We have a prime opportunity at hand. Now more than ever, the world is thinking about sickness, death, and the afterlife. Thus what an opportunity to speak to them the truth of Scripture. We ought to be telling them that sickness is a terrible reality. But it is a reality that was brought about by man’s rebellion against God. And because of this death will come to all. Some will die due to Covid-19. Others will die of natural causes. But the Bible is clear that all will return to the dust (Gen. 3:14). Yet this is not what’s most important. What is essential is not how we die but the state of our soul when we die. This affects our afterlife. All people will live forever, but it’s a matter of where they will be in eternity: either in the presence of the Lord or away from the presence of the Lord. This, of course, all depends on their relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is God in the flesh. He came to earth two thousand years ago, lived a perfect life, and sacrificed Himself for the world, according to John 3:16. Therefore, the question we ought to be asking everyone during this outbreak of COVID-19 is: have you believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ?

God’s sovereign goodness is allowing the church to be the church

This perhaps is one of the sweetest ways in which the Lord is sovereignly working through these interesting times. Not only has he refocused the church on heaven and used them to share Christ with the unbelieving world, He is also providing opportunities for the shepherds to lead their sheep in a different way. He is giving the young and able-bodied individuals a way to honor the old and needy through grocery shopping and attending to others’ needs. Through GBC’s Basic Needs Ministry there has been, in a sense, a reenactment of Acts 2:42-47, where the early church in Jerusalem all came together and shared with one another as each had need. This wasn’t socialism by any means; this was sacrifice. And it has been sweet to see and hear of young and old in our body sacrificing for one another. It has been sweet to hear how certain individuals are making time to appropriately fellowship and pray with other believers. This is the church being the church. 

Church family, God is in control and He is good. Rejoice and take rest in how those two realities are manifesting itself in our current events.

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