What is God doing? Why is this happening? We approach these questions with both confidence and caution. We can be confident that the Lord speaks to us about everything we need for “life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). So we search Scripture, read what others are saying, ask friends, and pray for wisdom. We expect insight. We are also cautious. We know our tendency is to overinterpret suffering and crave more specifics than Scripture offers. We want to know causes and reasons. Knowledge comforts. It gives us a sense of control and removes those nagging uncertainties. We assume that because the Old Testament prophets gave specifics, that we who have the Spirit should get even more clarity and certainty. The prophets, however, spoke to a nation that uniquely represented the Lord. We cannot lift their interpretations of plagues and pestilence and impose them on our present situation. What we can impose is that the prophets pointed to full redemption and rescue in Jesus Christ. In the cross we receive the knowledge of God, but its purpose is not to enable us to understand everything God does. Rather, its purpose is to move us closer, to fully trust him, even when—especially when—we don’t have all the answers we desire. Scripture always takes the question—What is God doing? —and moves us toward deeper trust.
Deeper trust? It almost seems counterintuitive. With this Covid-19 Pandemic, many are sick; many have died. Fear and grief and doubt are our daily companions. But the Lord knows what we need most in a crisis, and it is not the certainty of an explanation, but the certainty of knowing him. And so, in times of trouble, when it is harder than ever to listen to his words, he is simple and succinct, as if too many words will muddle us even more. In what follows, I will lead us through three of the certainties God speaks and asks us to trust in these times. I’ll suggest how you can personally respond in light of God’s reassurances. Though I cannot offer a direct answer to the question “What is God doing?” it does not mean the Lord is silent.
God says, I am with you. Speak to me. Scripture gives no prescribed starting point in discerning God’s ways, but here is a simple one. “Pour out your heart before him” (Ps 62:8). The kingdom of heaven certainly has room for quiet meditation, but its dominant feature is its abundance of good and important words. This, of course, is what we hope for in all of our close relationships. Words are the rule. To be silent, especially in the face of matters that weigh on our hearts, just seems wrong. Silence opts for independence over intimacy. In God’s house—and we have been brought into his house—we speak to him about what we deeply feel.
The psalms are a response to the Lord’s implicit and enduring request: “Speak to me about your fears, your doubts, your enemies, your feeling alone and in the dark, your sins, your desires, your thanks, your praise—speak to me about what is important to you.” Sounds easy, and, for some wise saints, it is. I so admire those who speak naturally to the Lord, often speaking out loud to him. Yet what they are doing is far from natural. What’s natural is silence, fretting, scheming, binge watching movies, playing one more video game, general dawdling, a distracted mind, and then more silence, and more fretting. Speaking to the Lord is not natural for sinners. It is supernatural—a gift from the Spirit and evidence of the Lord’s closeness and power in our lives. Expect to encounter resistance along the way. If your words to the Lord over the years have been few, simply get started. “Lord, I want to talk to you about this, but . . .”
Silence has its reasons: guilt from past or present sins, shame from the sins of others that persuade us that we are too worthless, embarrassment because we speak to him only when we are desperate (as if the Lord were our last option), general ineptness in speaking from our hearts to anyone, and so on. These reasons lead us back to discover the true knowledge of God in Christ.
He speaks to you. Stop and listen. “Behold,” he says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and sup with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20). The image is not of an impatient king who allots you five minutes to present your request, and he might punish you if he is in a bad mood. Instead, the gospel of Jesus is summarized in these words from Revelation 3. God has always pursued us. Now, in Christ, he has removed all obstacles to life in his presence. He forgives in one fell swoop, done and over. This forgiveness is yours when you simply open the door. When he comes in to be with you, speak to him.
Jesus never turns away from those who do. The psalms are filled with requests, such as “Give ear to my words, O Lord” (Ps 5:1), because psalmists know God will incline his ear to listen (Ps 10:17). His desire is for us to seek him. “Here I am, here I am” he says in Isaiah (65:1). Even to those in overt rebellion, he is welcoming: “I spread out my hands all the day” (Isa 65:2). Jesus, by the Spirit, is with us. On this rests all the promises of God.
Having learned more of the Lord, we get back to speaking to him as we do a friend. Some people who feel less than adequate with words will buy a card and let the card speak on their behalf. We can do similarly: we can take words from Scripture that speak for us, and speak those words back to the Lord. Make them your own. “When I remember you God, I moan…and my spirit faints…Has your steadfast love ceased? Have you forgotten to be gracious? Have you shut up your compassion?” (Ps 77:3,8–9). Or consider these words spoken in a Civil War movie by a child who had been mute for months. As her father was going off to battle, he pleaded with her, “please, honey, say something” and she remained silent. When he was almost out of sight, she was suddenly overcome and began to run after her father.
“Something,” she said. “Something, daddy.”
We are the children of God, saints who have been brought near, even called friends of God. Say something. Say anything.
What is God doing in this pandemic? He is inviting you to speak to him, so he can bear your burdens with you. Start with the hard things first. The people lost. The fear of losing more. The possibility of infecting others, or even dying. Then bring the rest. The financial uncertainty. The sheer length of time isolated. The likelihood that so much will be changed on the far side of the pandemic. He is the God who hears (Gen 16:11).
God says, I am over you. Fear me. When trouble persists, our words to the Lord are increasingly coupled with the fear of the Lord. This means that we acknowledge that God alone is God. He is over us. We humbly submit to his will, which we know will express his faithful love toward us (even if we are afraid of what his will might be). An early mentor in the fear of the Lord is Job, who, with less knowledge of God than we have, spoke these words after his crushing loss. “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). The fear of the Lord is the founda-tion for all wise and fruitful living.
Our later mentor is Jesus Christ. In his darkest hour, he said to his father, “not my will, but thine be done.” At the cross, he claimed Psalm 22 as his own, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Jesus’ delight was the fear of the Lord (Isa 11:3) and he knew the Father’s abandonment was not his final word. Jesus was confident that his father heard him, and he freely submitted to his father’s will.
Psalm 22 is for all those who fear the Lord—the One who is over them. They know the strength of their God, their own weakness, and their need for him. “Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.” (Ps 22:23–24) Note the word awe. It is a reliable sign of the fear of the Lord. And notice his presence with the afflicted.
God is with us; we speak with him as we would a friend.
God is over us; we submit to his will.
We cannot endure hardship without both. We need to know he is with us in our distress, so we can trust him for the outcome.
Psalm 130 follows the same pattern. The psalmist begins with grief, “Out of the depths have I cried” The bridge to contented submission is the assurance that his sins are forgiven and now nothing can separate him from the Lord and his promises. God offers forgiveness (v.4). Having joined God-with-us and God-over-us, the psalmist can then wait patiently and trust him during affliction.
Another way we acknowledge God is over us is by identifying ourselves as God’s servants. Moses was a friend of God, but his prominent title was servant of God (Josh 22:2; Rev 15:3). Joshua was first known as the son of Nun but was eventually rewarded with the title servant of God (Judges 2:8). Jesus, himself, was a servant of God (Matt 12:18). He came to serve rather than be served. As did the apostle Paul. “Let a man so account of us, as of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4:1). He identifies himself this way especially when he is called to endure hardships (2 Cor 6:4). A servant of God fears God. A servant of God accepts God’s plans.
What is God doing in this pandemic? He is leading you into his love by teaching you to fear him—to submit to his loving sovereignty—above all else. Having spoken your griefs and troubles to him, acknowledge him as Lord over you and Lord over COVID-19. Freely submit to his good will. Contentment becomes possible when you remember that, like the psalmist, your sins were the only thing that kept you from his presence, and in Christ you have been forgiven. His promises of blessing are sure. Now your father gives you the prized mantle of servant. A servant, in all circumstances, simply asks, “What is your will, Lord?”
God says, live by faith. Depend on me when I test you. God is with us. God is over us. These two prepare us for the trials that test our souls, and COVID is certainly a test of our souls. The book of James is insistent that we keep this testing in view.
God-with-us is clear in James. The tone is familial. God is our father; we are beloved brothers and sisters, children of the Most High God. James also emphasizes the companion to God’s nearness: he alone is God and he is over all his creation. We see this immediately when James introduces himself as God’s servant. Then the theme continues. James leads us in a determined obedience before and under the Lord. He calls us to patience and endurance—humble dependence—in our hardships. Our primary problem is our tendency toward pride and feeling superior to others. “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God” (4:6–7). When we make plans, we begin and end those plans with “if the Lord wills” (4:15).
This instruction prepares us for the testing we experience from the trials of life. The banner of the book is James 1:2–4: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing”. Here we find a third and certain answer to the question: What is God doing? The twin themes of God’s familial closeness and his transcendent power and authority merge in God’s testing of his royal children. He tested his children before sin entered the world, he tested his son, and he tests us. That is what kings do when their children ascend to significant responsibilities. Children who leave the kingdom are no longer tested. But God takes those who follow him through a maturing process in such a way that, having grown, we lack no good thing. Since testing is a sign of belonging and hope, it is reason for joy.
Consider David Powlison’s useful illustration: a person is carrying a cup of water, gets bumped by another, and water splashes out of the cup. What happened? The occasion for the spill was the jostling from someone else, but what came out of the glass revealed what had been in the glass. That is, the trials of life test our souls in a way that reveal what is inside of our hearts. My snarky comments to my wife or complaining spirit say something about the contributing events, but they usually say even more about what was already in me. God tests me to bring it to my attention. It does not feel good at the time, but I am joyful that God cares enough about me to identify where my unbelief is hiding.
What is God doing in this pandemic? He is testing your soul. That’s the nature of painful and unpredictable circumstances like this. Such tests reveal growing faith, little faith that can quickly lose sight of spiritual realities, or no apparent faith in that we live as though God is absent. One encourages us—we are growing and want to grow even more. One surprises us—we didn’t think that our rest in Christ could be so quickly disturbed. One leads us to confession of sin—the sin of turning from the Lord when he doesn’t give us what we want. Each of these lead us back to the pleasure of knowing that we are his.
What Is God Doing?
As promised, we did not answer the question we started with. Scripture does not tend to explain specific events with prophetic certainty. But we did discuss three certainties that will sustain you in this time of peril. God says—
I am with you.
I am over you.
I am maturing you.
Though we can enter into these in any order, there is a natural progression. The Lord brings us close through his loving faithfulness and many promises, and we speak to him from our hearts. In prayer, we can thank him for being close, and then we tell him what we are concerned about. As trials persist and defy our expectation of how the Lord should treat his people, he reveals his greatness, glory, and majesty, and we grow in humble obedience, awe, and patience. We remind ourselves we are his servants and can trust him. This trust can be expressed in small acts of faithfulness today as we know that “the earth is the Lord’s” (Ps 24:1). Then we learn how trouble and trials are no mere troubles. For us, they are troubles that reveal and mature, to the end that we are complete and satisfied in Jesus Christ.
Adapted from an article by Ed Welch