Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Edgar Rice Burroughs famously wrote, “We are, all of us, creatures of habit, and when the seeming necessity for schooling ourselves in new ways ceases to exist, we fall naturally and easily into the manner and customs which long usage has implanted ineradicably within us.” Burroughs was right. If we are not forced to adapt and do things differently, we fall into the same patterns and habits. We find comfort in doing things at the same time in the same way day after day. We like predictability.
This fondness for predictability produces in us an assumption that consistent patterns of the past are guaranteed to continue uninterrupted into the future. Progress will continue unhindered, we tell ourselves, and things will necessarily go from good to better.
In this worldview, there is little room for viral pandemics and national lockdowns. These things introduce unprecedented interruptions that are not supposed to happen. They rudely awaken us to the fact that God does not, in fact, promise that a consistent pattern from the past will continue into the future. Technological advance and economic growth are not promises. History testifies to the fact that decline and regression are a part of the collective human story.
Christians sometimes fall into this error when they look at the way that God acted toward his people in the Bible—usually favourably—and assume that he must continue to do so in the future. After all, is God not the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8)? This attitude fails to take into account the fact that God is not a measurable, controllable, and predictable force, but a person who is free to act as he pleases—at times unpredictably.
The COVID-19 pandemic would be far easier to navigate if it was predictable, if we knew for sure what was to come. American prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland claims recently to have received a word from the Lord regarding the virus:
This disease, called CODV-19 (sic) will be over much sooner than you think. Christian people all over this country, praying, have overwhelmed it. Give me all the glory, saith the Spirit of grace, and many, many people will come to know me through it. I’m still Lord over this nation. I’m on the throne and faith in me changes things.
This past Lord’s Day, he publicly rebuked the disease as a work of Satan and declared, “standing in the office of a prophet of God,” that, at exactly noon on 29 March 2020, the pandemic was over.
The audience, of course, erupted into applause on both occasions, betraying, once again, the desperate thirst that humans have for certainty. But faith is not about predicting with certainty the way that God will act. It’s not about reading God’s past actions into the current situation and guaranteeing each other with out-of-context Scriptures that things will soon be better. Faith means entrusting the future into God’s hands, whose character, and not actions, are the same yesterday, today, and forever. Let’s face the future in a faith-filled, rather than presumptuous, way.