Living in the COVID moment: providence, the end of history, and moments of crisis in Christian perspective

In the second week of March 2020, it became clear that the world was changing. The World Health Organization declared the COVID outbreak a pandemic. Land and sea borders were closed, planes were turned around mid-flight, citizens were evacuated from foreign countries, public gatherings were prohibited, and vast populations were placed into lockdown. Rising global death tolls and infection statistics were reported not just daily or even hourly, but in a continuous stream of live news. All around the world people had the peculiar sensation that we were living in the middle of a turning point in history. A perception like that tends to be generative. It propels some into extraordinary feats of rapid planning and decisive action, while others are driven into the frenzied clarities of conspiracy theory and apocalyptic expectation. What can be said theologically about the experience of living in a turning point of history? My paper will offer some answers to that question using the work of the seventeenth-century poet and political revolutionary, John Milton. Milton lived during one of the most turbulent periods of English history. Each of his poems centres on a single moment in time, a moment of historical change that seems to illuminate the ultimate meaning and direction of history while raising fundamental questions about the justice and providence of God. I will try to show how Milton’s providential account of “the moment” can help us to reflect on our own experience of living in the COVID moment.