Coronavirus and God’s Immensity
Carl F. H. Henry, a towering figure in my life and in the history of the church, began his magnum opus, God, Revelation and Authority, with a deep concern about what he termed a “crisis of truth” within the contemporary world. Among other things, in the beginning of this six-volume work, Henry wrestles with the impacts of mass media upon the Western culture and church. He writes, “[i]n this mass media age, the church’s main mission is to overcome the eclipse of God…to uncover the currently obscured Word and truth of God.”
These words were first published in 1976. How much more relevant are they to us now? The information age and the 24-hour newsfeed permeate our lives on every possible front. It’s hard to even wade through all the information anymore. What is truth? Who is telling the truth? Where can you go to trust anyone anymore? It’s exhausting.
Let’s say that Henry is correct. Let’s say that in light of the mass media’s influence, the church’s main mission is to overcome the eclipse of God. How do we even begin to take that on? How can the church (big “C”), even begin to scratch the surface of something like this? Part of the answer lies in God’s immensity or His omnipresence.
God’s immensity (or omnipresence) means He is not limited by space and is fully present everywhere. God is a spiritual being, thus He cannot be contained. We know God is immense (or omnipresent) because of His relationship to creation. We understand the reality of His immensity because He has all power, knowledge, and ability to act upon the world. Not only does He possess these abilities, He can utilize them simultaneously everywhere. There is nowhere in the universe that God lacks involvement. God is inescapable. If He seems distant or indifferent, it’s your misperception. If you’re not already confused, chew on this one: It is difficult to find where God is, but it is even more difficult to find where God is not.
One of the ways in which God’s immensity is seen by us is the way His grace breaks through even with unsaved people and their efforts. This is called common grace. Generally, God’s grace arrives to creation in two forms: (1) common grace and (2) special grace. Special grace is the grace that God gives in conversion and salvation. Common grace, on the other hand, is what he pours out to all of creation—believers and non-believers. Common grace is present in all spheres of life—intellectual, moral, physical, creative, etc. This is why Christians can (and should!) enjoy/appreciate the work of secular people and things. We can appreciate the writings of Ernest Hemingway or the creative genius of Steve Jobs. We can read the lyrics of a Bob Dylan song and be amazed as his command of the art. We can experience joyful bliss when Deshaun Watson throws the game winning pass to seal a National Championship for God’s chosen people, Clemson University. Or, we can stand in awe as Tiger Woods overcame numerous back surgeries, a fall from grace, and all sorts of other issues to win the 2019 Masters. All of these accomplishments are a reflection of God’s common grace. Common grace is beautiful, and it shows the kindness and mercy of God. Common grace demonstrates God’s justice and it speaks of His glory. Most importantly for today, common grace reverberates God’s immensity. He is involved in everything, everywhere. As Christians, we not only embrace common grace, we rejoice over it because it speaks of the Creator God.
As we look out over the current situation of coronavirus, we realize the effects are compounding. The two largest issues out there right now are: (1) healthcare and (2) economics. The cascades of pressure and uncertainty within these two spheres are immense. On the periphery of these two central battles are constitutional and human rights issues. There is a lot at stake right now. The good news is that we seemed to gain some ground this week with the virus, but the next two weeks will be telling in terms of where this is all heading. In reality, the next two weeks may be the most important two weeks we’ve seen as a country in years. Certainly, the most important two weeks of the President’s life.
What you should take comfort in today is that God is immense, and He is present in every corner of this entire situation. This is how the church (AKA kingdom of God) pushes back against the eclipse of God. Circumstances like coronavirus are situations where the eclipse of God weakens. You should rejoice in this truth because when trouble and uncertainty arrive, God shines. This is God’s design, which is linked directly to His immensity. And, His immensity is always in the form of light because “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
Joe Hutto, in his book Illumination in the Flatwoods, documented his raising of a brood of wild turkeys on his farm in central Florida. Likely the most striking quote from the entire book was his remark about the observative nature of the wild turkey in the face of persistent danger. If you didn’t know this, the wild turkey is a delicacy for other non-human creatures! According to Hutto, “in an environment where so many hazards exist [for the wild turkey], ignorance has no survival value.” He’s speaking of the wild turkey’s keen circumstantial awareness. In hazardous circumstances, situational awareness is a premium in order to survive. In other words, you’d better be paying attention when it gets thick (which is all day long for a wild turkey), or you’ll never make it.
Parlaying off Hutto, I’d say being unaware of God’s immensity in the subtle acts of common grace is a receipt for disaster (and depression) right now. There is no survival value in ignorance. You must look for God’s common grace, as a direct indication of His immensity, or you’ll go off the deep-end during this ordeal. This is where the light is right now.
Look for the light this week in the people all over this country and world. It’s there. It will brighten your day. The silly creativity in the lives of people locked in their homes is hilarious—look for it. There are Uber Eats drivers hustling to make a buck by delivering your online food order, so you don’t have to masquerade around Costco as though you are fearless. There is common grace in that somewhere.
Saved and unsaved people are doing the right thing in light of a bad situation. There are people leaning from the windows of their homes in Brooklyn to cheer for healthcare workers as they march toward the daily uncertainty of their jobs. There are federal judges holding fast to American moorings with resolve and vibrant reasoning in light of the unprecedented onslaughts to religious freedoms. There are men and women taking on odd-jobs, and sacrificing themselves, to make ends meet and provide for their families. There are police, EMT, and firefighters in every borough of New York giving themselves to service of others in spite of high infection rates. There are farmers awake at all hours of the night in persistent mulling over how to produce food and make a living from their soil in the face of slowed demand. There are children spending their free time at home sewing masks for medical workers throughout the country. I could go on. All of this subtly speaks of God’s immensity. He’s everywhere!
God is immense and inescapable. He created this world in all its beauty and wisdom, and though He might seem distant, He’s not. And, most importantly, it’s by grace that we overcome the eclipse of God and unveil the truth about Him. Stand firm my friends and be the people of God.
Augustine, The Magnitude of the Soul (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2002), 4:144.