As the COVID-19 epidemic tightens its grip on Memphis, it is helpful to think about God and His involvement in human affairs. Our young adult Sunday School class had just started reviewing the book The Will of God by Leslie Weatherhead when Covid-19 struck. Weatherhead’s book is a series of sermons he preached at City Temple in London during World War II. Weatherhead, a Methodist minister, definitely had “street creds” since his congregation was constantly faced with disruption of careers, loss of life, and overwhelming grief.
Weatherhead using the old Wesleyan principles – reason, experience, scripture, and tradition – defines God’s will in three phases – His intentional will, His circumstantial will, and His ultimate will. God’s intentional will is that each person lives his life to the fullest under God’s direction and love. God’s circumstantial will occurs when evils in this world destroy our plans, our loved ones, and even our bodies. COVID-19 is definitely one of these evils – a virus straight from Hell that leaped across animals to humans to sicken and to kill. God in a lemons-to-lemonade analogy helps us pick up the pieces and turn evil into good. Finally God’s ultimate will is the reassuring concept that nothing will defeat God. Because of His incredible love for each of us, His ultimate plan is to save us from ourselves.
How Does God Work?
Weatherhead gently touches on theodicy, the problem of how and why evil is present in God’s creation. Weatherhead rejects the idea that God causes evil to produce good. As the epidemic struck Memphis one pastor was quoted as saying that COVID-19 was all part of God’s plan. Weatherhead would emphatically reject that notion since he felt that God in his goodness would not cause evil. As we explore the progressive revelation of God in our Bible we see a God who initially seems to cause both good and evil become a God (in Christ) who is only love. This begs a deeper and unanswerable question of exactly how evil appeared in God’s good creation. Why, God, did you create the mosquito? That one disease-bearing insect is used as an argument for naturalistic evolution over a theistic one. Can God be omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving at the same time? If so, why does He not intervene to stop human carnage? How does He work within our fallen world? Our class has mentioned that perhaps instead of directly intervening, God works spiritually through us gently pushing our thoughts toward the example of Christ and using us to carry out His work.
What Could Be God’s Circumstantial Will?
That brings us to what might be the circumstantial will of God in the COVID epidemic. What might the circumstantial will look like? Taking advantage of physicians’ tendency to play God, here are my ideas that might fit within God’s circumstantial will:
- Improvement in healthcare with better advanced planning for disasters.
- Improvement in healthcare with better access and less financial stress for poor people.
- Less partisanship to prevent the ostrich-like, heads-in-the-sand behavior by public officials.
- An outpouring of American generosity to help each other through the epidemic.
- Worldwide realization by public officials that we are in this together and should help each other.
- Cooperation among scientists worldwide to conduct studies and hasten the development of effective therapies and vaccines.
- Sharing of personal protective equipment and ventilators nationwide and worldwide to combat the virus and save lives.
- Careful adherence to the stay-at-home rules to save the lives of our elderly and infirm.
- Improvement and simplification in on-line technologies with dissemination to all groups in our society.
- Breakdown of the increasing barriers between the haves and have-nots.
- An Increased prophetic role of the church to direct our compassion and energy toward the unfortunate, the isolated, the grieving, and the impoverished.
Implementation of some of these ideas is already occurring. We should not thank God for COVID-19. However, we should thank God for the good that is coming out of this physical and economic devastation.