COVID-19 calls us to learn again from our forbearers, who looked to Scripture’s descriptions of God’s agency in times of disaster as a compass for their own times. One obvious place to turn is to the story of the plagues visited upon Pharaoh and Egypt at the time of the Hebrews’ deliverance from slavery. There are key differences between Moses and Pharaoh – Moses recognizes God in extraordinary events, Pharaoh does not. When God shows up in the burning bush Moses recognizes something bigger than him and listens to and heeds God’s voice. Pharaoh refuses to recognize any power larger than him. He tells Moses, “Who is the LORD that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.” (NRSV, Exodus 5:1-2). The history of God’s peoples demonstrates that what other people meant for evil against them, God turned to their good (Gen. 50:20). When Scripture tells us that even the hairs on our heads are all numbered (Matt. 10:30) and that all things work together for our good (Rom. 8:28), we know that there is no such thing as chance or fate but that God works all things according to the counsel of his will. The ten plagues which follow (Exodus 7:14-12:26) cause economic, natural and personal hardship and devastation. They are an opportunity for both the King of Egypt and for the Hebrew people to recognize God’s sovereignty over creation and their own lives. God tells Pharaoh as much just before the seventh plague. God says to Pharaoh, “For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But this is why I have let you live: to show you my power, and to make my name resound through all the earth” (Exodus 9:15-16).
It is with great care that we look at the COVID-19 pandemic in light of God’s actions. I never thought there would be a time when the whole world would experience a pause on human activities; businesses, entertainment, sports, religious practices, social and political gathering etc. The advent of COVID-19 really taught us that the whole world is nothing; nothing can save us but God. God describes the purpose of the ten plagues clearly: they are not punishment. They are an invitation to know God: “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out from among them” (Exodus 9:15-16).
God’s provision of manna in the wilderness for the anxious Israelites included provision for food on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:1-36). God’s provision (bread for all seven days of the week) is characterized by its sufficiency—and no more—for all. “Those who gathered much [manna] had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed” (Exodus 16:18). As we pray, sing, and rejoice, we also participate in God’s promised provision by working to provide for those who suffer: either financially from the pandemic or emotionally from the social isolation and dislocation.
Peter Heslam writes concerning God’s providence that; recognizing such providence for what it really is – God at work through human work – can have transformative power, replacing a scarcity mentality with one of abundance. Manufacturers of cars and vacuum cleaners producing ventilators, and major multinationals assigning vast resources to assist struggling healthcare services and small businesses, are just two examples of what can happen when an abundance mindset goes viral. Life situations do not happen by chance, God is in control of everything and he divinely sustains it as Calvin asserts “Anyone who has been taught by Christ’s lips that all the hairs of his head are numbered [Matt. 10:30] will look farther afield for a cause, and will consider that all events are governed by God’s secret plan.” (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, p. 199) Lets create a heart of worship even when we face trials, temptation, distress and persecution; for we know that God still cares and will provide for us.
Martin H. Kamaidan
Saved by grace