In 2020, it seems appropriate that we should reflect upon the divine providence of plague as it relates to the fate of people and nations. As might be imagined, these are matters that cut multiple ways, and sometimes plague is a divine providence for the people with the plague, and sometimes for the people who are able to take advantage of the plague that others have to deal with. And let us not look a gift horse in the mouth–if we should find ourselves with an advantage because others are dealing with a plague, let us use it to the utmost, even if it is rather wrong to deliberately attempt to inflict others with any sort of plague. The ways in which plague serves the interests of God, and therefore serves as an agent of divine providence, are diverse, and so it is worthwhile from time to time to reflect on how it is that plague and disease can express the will of God for people and for nations. Let us note that this is not an exhaustive study, since a great deal more could be said about it.
Let us not from the Bible that God makes it explicitly clear that diseases are an aspect of His divine providence for Israel and for other nations. Exodus 15:25b-26 tells us, for example: “There He made a statute and an [a]ordinance for them, and there He tested them, and said, “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you.”” Here we see God stating that He brought disease upon the Egyptians and if Israel obeys Him, then He promises not to put those diseases for disbelief onto them. 2 Kings 5 gives us a detailed and complex example of divine providence where a heathen general of Syria, Naaman, was led through the plague of leprosy that he suffered to a faith in the God of Israel and into what appears to have been baptism and salvation . Here we can see the Bible giving a detailed look at the divine providence for plague for individuals, and even individuals who are given various diseases .
As Americans, it behooves us to recognize the hand of divine providence when it comes to disease. After all, it is precisely this divine providence that allowed us to become a great nation. Over and over again, perhaps first and most decisively in 1617, the wide difference between the resistance to disease of the native and European population opened up large amounts of space to free the demographic pressure faced by European colonists. Indeed, when the small band of Pilgrims came to the current site of Plymouth, it had been but a few years earlier a thriving native village that was rapidly depopulated by disease, and the depopulation of the area before the settlement of the Pilgrims and Puritans gave the newcomers a decisive edge that they used to consolidate their presence over the course of the 17th century. Nor was this the only time that this has happened over the course of American history, as disease frequently emptied the American lands of tribes or weakened the resistance of tribes to the westward expansion of American settlers, thus providentially allowing our civilization to fill the country that was left into our possession. We have, thankfully, not been slow in taking advantage of this providential development, even if we have not necessarily been sufficiently aware of or grateful for it.
It is important that we remember these things because this is a year where plague has had a huge impact on our lives even if the numbers have not been as dramatic as they have in previous pandemics. Looking at the places where Covid has had the strongest effect–New York City, Michigan, and so on, is a reminder of the judgment that God brings to places and to the behavior of those whose actions (including forcing sick people upon nursing homes that had a large vulnerable population and refusing the federal help that was available to them to care for those who were sick) clearly exacerbated matters. It may be true that the full understanding of what providential aspects of this plague (or others) awaits future discovery, but we should be alert to both individual as well as societal aspects of divine providence in such circumstances. In part, this is so that we respond with faith instead of fear to whatever strikes us as a people or as people, and also so that we can be on the lookout for insight and wisdom about the aspects of judgment or providential healing or the gracious and merciful removal of people before even worse times that these sorts of matters involve. The fact that our lives and well-being are in God’s hands ought to lead us to reflect upon what it is that God is bringing us through and why.
 It should also be noted as well that sometimes the opportunities that God gives to people to build faith through suffering disease and plague that God sends are sometimes missed. As it is written in 2 Chronicles 16:12: “And in the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa became diseased in his feet, and his malady was severe; yet in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians.” It appears that God sent gout or a disease like this to Asa in order to prompt Asa to seek the Eternal, but instead Asa sought the physicians and did not recognize the divine providence that his disease was offering him to be a truly godly king. As someone who suffers from periodic and immensely painful outbreaks of gout, this is an example I am rather sensitive to personally.