Connecting Beyond the Walls

Today’s word of hope comes from our own Rev. David Williamson, Associate Pastor for Worship, Arts and Administration.

On Tuesday of this week a group of us gathered (via Zoom!) to begin a study of the New Testament letter of James.  One of the first questions considered was, “Why study James?”  Since I chose the book, I felt obligated to give the initial reason – it was just about the right length for a four-week study!  But as I began preparation for the first session, I noticed the timeliness of the first few verses in this letter:

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it
nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces
endurance; and let endurance have it’s full effect, so that you may be
mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-3

Many of us might choose two of those words – trials and endurance – to describe this season of sheltering in place during a pandemic.  But, if we are honest, few of us would welcome trials with joy even if they lead to endurance and spiritual maturity.  And some may even come to question God’s role in a pandemic that, as of this writing, has sickened millions globally and taken the lives of over 70,000 in our own country.  Does God bring about a pandemic in order to “bring us to maturity”?

This is a heavy question that many have pondered throughout history (just go back and ask Job).  How does the providence and sovereignty of God fit into a discussion of trials and endurance?  It depends on how one defines providence and sovereignty.  One of the most enlightening definitions I have encountered is from George Stroup, Professor Emeritus of Theology at Columbia Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.  He writes:

Providence is the confession of those who are given the eyes of faith that in
particular events God works in, around, and through
those things that oppose God to accomplish God’s purposes.

I love that definition!  God works “in, around and through” those things that oppose God to accomplish God’s purposes. I would dare say that a pandemic that sickens millions and kills thousands works in opposition to the God of Life and Resurrection.  For those of us who have cringed at summary explanations of difficult circumstances with phrases like “It must be part of God’s plan” or “God is in control”, I am encouraged by Stroup’s definition.   May God give us eyes of faith to see God doing just such a good work “in, around, and through” this pandemic to accomplish God’s good purposes.  It’s called providence.

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