A Present Lesson in Providence1
COVID-19 cuts against the grain! We are not accustomed, you and I, to prolonged disruptions to our ordinary, everyday routines. We find such disruptions to be a nuisance, both frustrating and annoying. Indeed, we dislike most anything that presents itself as an obstacle to what we want, to the achievement of our desired goals. And the longer, moreover, such obstacles persist, the more intense, as well as the more expressive, becomes our frustration and annoyance!
However, as is often the case, the biblical writers of the God-breathed word point us to a radically different perspective! Consider the language of the Apostle Peter who speaks in the first chapter of his first epistle of the preciousness of such trials. He tells us that we are to regard them in an altogether different light, and he hastens to call them precious, indeed “more precious than gold!” (v. 7).
Now, to be sure, Peter does not hesitate to underscore the painful nature of such trials, for he acknowledges that his readers “have been grieved by various trials.” The word “various” has been translated in the old Authorized Version as “manifold.” This word means “many-colored,” and it points us to the reality that the trials which we experience come in many colors and shades, in different shapes and forms. Thus, the Apostle does not ignore the reality of suffering that accompanies the trials of Christians; they do cause pain and grief. Peter himself was all too acquainted with pain and sorrow! Therefore, like Peter, we do readily acknowledge the pain and sorrow of trials! We see and feel the trial of COVID-19; It cuts against the grain! COVID-19 troubles and disturbs us! We see and feel with the world around us the reality of this present crisis! We know the trouble and the loneliness of it! We sense very acutely the isolation and distancing!
But, in contrast to the world, are we maintaining the two-fold aspect that the Apostle Peter underscores with respect to the “various trials” through which we pass and are passing? Peter directs us to something more, something above and beyond the present sorrow and suffering! God calls His people, through the Apostle Peter, to approach this present trial in the way we are to approach all trials and to do so in a manner in which His apostle instructs us. For he says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary . . .”
What does Peter mean by that extended phrase? He is not simply offering a general statement that such trials must take place in a fallen world like our own, though that in itself is altogether true. Rather the apostle is declaring that such trials do not occur by happenstance; they take place by divine design and purpose. They are part and parcel of God’s divine providence in the ordering of the affairs of His world. God has a very definite plan and purpose for His people in these trials. In agreement with the Apostle Peter, the Westminster divines underscore this truth when they wrote the last paragraph of chapter 5 of our Confession of Faith: “As the providence of God doth, in general, reach to all creatures; so, after a most special manner, it taketh care of his church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof.”
If we rejoice in “gold that perishes,” how much more ought we to be rejoicing in the trial of our faith, “though it is tested by fire⸺may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ! You see, far more important than the need to understand the purpose and design behind such trials, is our response and reaction to them! Can we rejoice in the providence of our all-wise God, that even in this particular trial we are being brought into conformity to the Son of God, even our Lord Jesus Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us?
Dear people of God, the eyes of the world are upon us. What in the church will the world see?