Regardless of the form they take, crises give rise to legitimate questions about God’s providence: Where is God when we suffer? Has He forgotten us? Is He punishing us? Does He still have things under control?
I don’t think that a treatise which fully answers these questions has ever been or will ever be written. The lack of satisfactory answers in times of crisis most likely results from our inability to penetrate, evaluate, and draw definitive conclusions about God’s interactions with people and their infinite possibilities of choice. There are, however, some sure points that frame the debate, providing a balanced perspective on God’s care. In the following, I will mention three of them.
“God has spoken once, Twice I have heard”
Providence operates long before a crisis even begins. This first form of God’s care is expressed in the collective knowledge which divine wisdom has generated over time and which has worked like a first aid kit, indispensable in critical times. Biblical legislation sets out precautionary measures to prevent several types of crises—for example, preventive measures to isolate lepers (Leviticus 13:45-46) or to arrange for a restroom outside the Israelite camp in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 23:12–14). The norms of quarantine and hygiene that were offered to humanity from earliest times are still the basis of the race against the clock when it comes to epidemics or pandemics. They make up the essential kit and are available to anyone. We are warned that when God speaks to us once, it is good to hear twice (Psalm 62:11). Or three times. Or whenever a contagious disease visits the planet.
Hidden and yet present
To a large extent, providence remains hidden from us, mostly because of the underdeveloped or atrophied receptors which we use to try to recognise the divine presence. In some cases, we are the ones who wrongly reprogrammed these receptors, so that we feel the touch of divinity only in the super miracles of life. Crises give us the opportunity to reset our receptors, to redefine divine intervention, to rediscover the miracle of living another moment, another day, another week, and so on. And, if we have the favour of being among those who come out of a crisis by a miracle, let us not express the cheap thought that it is because we are better than others. The message of the miracle is just the opposite: God has lent us moments to fill them with content. I know of no other ingredient more able to fill our moments with substance than love—expressed in gratitude to God and empathy for our fellow human beings. Moreover, if every moment is seen and lived as the last, the effect would be that we would reach the ideal of ethics, the apex of life, the serenity that results from harmony with the Creator and His creation.
In the fire, even when He does not put it out
I am still debating what the greatest miracle would be: for God to put out the flames of the crisis or to join us in the fire. However, I would opt for the latter option, for two reasons. First, it reminds me of the clear and calm confession of the three young Hebrews as they stood in front of the fiery furnace: “…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18, NKJV). Secondly, it reminds me of the biggest pandemic ever to hit our planet—the contagious disease of sin. To save as many as possible, Jesus left the safe place of heaven, stepped into the sickroom of sin, and experienced the fever and convulsions of mankind, “being made sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The example of the three young men and of Jesus highlights a goal far superior to the primary instinct of preserving life. More important than achieving the goal of survival is to live a clean, undefeated life, untouched by compromises and deviations from the target.
Daniel Olariu is a doctoral student in the Bible Department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The video was created by a network of Seventh-day Adventist communicators in Europe and beyond [GAiN Europe].