“Permit us not, O Lord, to hear your word in vain. Convince us of its truth, cause us to feel its power and bind us to yourself with cords of faith and hope and love that never shall be broken. We bind to ourselves today, you our God: your power to hold us, your hand to guide us, your eye to watch us, your ear to hear us, your wisdom to teach us, your word to give us speech, your presence to defend us, this day and every day; in the name of the blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to whom be the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever and forever. Amen. ” – Patrick1
Haggai 2:10-19 Turning to God
10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, 11 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: 12 ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’ ” The priests answered and said, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” 14 Then Haggai answered and said, “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the Lord, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean. 15 Now then, consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the Lord, 16 how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. 17 I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord. 18 Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid, consider: 19 Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.”
What is the point of suffering? If God is good why are there bad things happening in His world? Is He not in control? Can God only cause the nice things to happen, but the evil of life is out of His control?
There are times when acknowledging God’s sovereignty makes our theology difficult. It’s usually times of great trial and suffering. Like being locked up in your house for two weeks because of COVID-19. It’s nothing nearly as bad as the Indonesian Tsunami of 2007, or the Haitian earthquake of 2010 in some ways. But in its widespread effect across the globe, it’s much worse.
My systematic theology professor, Derek Thomas, once noted that God’s providence is typically seen as the supplier of good things. Even in our Reformed and Presbyterian circles. When something good happens, we attribute it to God’s kind providence, but when we park on a hill and the car door slams shut on our fingers, well that’s not providence. It’s my stupidity.
The Westminster Confession acknowledges both truths. The car door slamming shut on my hand is both God’s providence and my stupid forgetfulness of the law of gravity. God ordains each result in life as well as the secondary means that accomplish this result (i.e. gravity).
These verses in Haggai 2 reflect one of those hard teachings of the Bible, that bad things happen because our good God causes them. The purpose for difficult times can be varied in their specific applications, but one thing is always true. Look at v. 17, God explains, “I struck you…yet you did not turn to me”. Israel didn’t honor God, they honored themselves leaving His house in shambles while living in their paneled houses. But then God called them back with the words of Haggai, and now God promises to bless them.
Not that God striking them was the absence of blessing, no it was evidence of his love. God strikes the son He loves to reprove him and bring him back. Our current state of affairs with COVID-19 isn’t due to anyone’s particular sin, but it is, like all calamities given by God for a purpose. Ultimately to turn our attention to Him.
Our quarantine reminds us of reality in many ways, I’ll name a few.
First, it reminds us of our inability and dependence on God. Our nation has been brought to a standstill by a microscopic organism that isn’t technically alive (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-viruses-alive-2004/; https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/mcat/cells/viruses/a/are-viruses-dead-or-alive).
Second, in it we see God’s power and ability. He orders everything and all things serve his command. This is a foretaste of the judgment that believers are spared, it should be a call to spread the gospel and treasure the gospel even more. M’Cheyne said, “the trials and sufferings of this life are all the hell the believer will have to endure”.
Finally, this too will pass or the end of it will be even better than we could ever imagine! What a thought! Think about all the catastrophes of history—none of them have been the end of the world. Think about what the Church has endured, horrific persecution early on, God used it to spread the gospel and strengthen Jesus’ bride, not to destroy her. Romans 5:1-5, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
And if it is the end of the world (I truly don’t think it is, but would love to be proven wrong), then Jesus is mounting His return as we speak! Which means we should be at work in faith, hope, and love for Jesus, His bride, and even His world—like the five wise virgins from Matthew 25:1-13.
Rest in the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus and in the sure hope of his return today and forever,
1Oden, T. C., & Crosby, C. (Eds.). (2007). Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle A (p. 86). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books. Patrick, here, is likely St. Patrick of Ireland though this particular book doesn’t specify.