REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 7: Deo Volente (DV)
Many of us are old enough to remember receiving letters that used the abbreviation DV after a line like this: “I am really looking forward to your visit next June (DV)”. This was a way of recognising that most wonderful Biblical doctrine, found throughout both Old and New Testaments, of God’s loving and purposeful Sovereignty. Perhaps the following passage helps us see the folly of thinking and living any other way.
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. James 4:13-17 NIV
What the Scripture teaches us the covid-19 reminds and potentially, reinforces. We really didn’t need a pandemic to help us resist the presumptive verse 13 in favour of the more trusting verses 14-15. However the things that we believers absorb from our bold, without-God, arrogant can-do culture, need to be exposed for the presumption that they really are. Here we can trace the gracious hand of God’s providence in alerting us to this folly and drawing us back into the arms of His most gracious care. A care that is encapsulated under this Sovereignty of God doctrine. John Piper in a very recent publication Coronavirus and Christ [Available as a free audio book (2 hours and 6 minutes) from desiringGod.org/askpastorjohn or as a kindle or hardcopy from Amazon] suggests that if we reject the doctrine of God’s loving Sovereignty in allowing covid-19, we will be forfeiting the very doctrine that alone can be our comfort in making sense and finding His all sufficient grace during the pandemic sufficient.
There have been many forces at work to draw us away from this gracious and comforting doctrine. It has sometimes been confused, wrongly, with fatalism. This leads to a stoicism built on deism (God created the world but has basically thrown away the key, letting it run down without any interest or help from Him) rather than on theism (where God who made the world, not only sustains it, but does so with a full control that is so loving, that His Son entered into the world and through His Spirit enters into our lives). Tragically, even some evangelical theologians have moved from the traditional view that God is Sovereign in all things, both big picture and in small details. Such a position is found wanting, in the painful circumstances of our lives and large scale events like the one facing our world at the moment and proves powerless to offer the comfort found in key passages and narratives like: (Genesis 50:19-21,Job 1:6-12; 2:9-10; 13:15; 19:25; Psalm 119:67/8,71/72,75/76; Matthew 10:29-31 and Romans 8:28-30). Good theology will always prove to be good pastorally. There is no need to defend God against charges that He allows, uses and is in complete control of this pandemic. Nothing is ever gained by jettisoning any major theme of the Bible, especially if our doing so intentionally or unintentionally removes from our thinking and experience the rock bottom sureties: that nothing takes God by surprise, nothing is outside of His purpose to grow us to be more like His Son, our Saviour (Romans 8:29 and Hebrews 5:7-10), that He not the Evil-one is in control and therefore nothing at all can separate from the love of God any who are in Christ (Rom 8:31-39).
Indeed the very basis of all our comfort, in all circumstances, personal, national or pan-national is based on our Sovereign Triune God who has only soundly defeated Satan, controls his influence, taken the sting out of death, opened our eyes, brought us to repentance and faith through a supernatural new birth, and continues to lovingly sustain, comfort and strengthen His children.
Joni Eareckson-Tada, recalled (on the 50th anniversary of the diving accident in 1967 that rendered her a quadriplegic) the 10 words that firstly helped her out of the crippling sadness, depression and bitterness with God and have sustained, energised and mobilised her in her lifetime of vibrant discipleship. Grounded in the loving Sovereignty of God they are true in every circumstance of life: God allows what He hates, to accomplish what He loves. To meet and be blessed by Joni visit: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5Ahuz2TiEpQ0y-DgaVHhcA
The letters DV meaning, God willing, far from being a convention, pious talisman or heartless fatalism, are a way of remembering and affirming, that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, not us, can be relied on, thanked and rejoiced in, in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:16-18). As we once surrendered our lives into His gracious care when we embraced His salvation and Lordship of our lives, we can continue to do so, whether it be in the economic and health challenges of this pandemic or the mundane expected, but not sought, aspects of life with its sicknesses, disappointments, reversals aging, death along with those of discipleship, like persecution, struggle with sin, let down of fellow believers or the refusal of loved ones to turn to Christ.
If the exhortation to never doubt in the dark what you have learnt in the light is true, then this wonderful teaching seen in the meticulous Sovereignty of God (to borrow Piper’s adjective), encapsulated in our Lord’s words are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid: you are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31), is one of those teachings from the light of God’s Word, designed by Him to keep us buoyant in our walking with Him, and un-ashamed in affirming His loving Sovereignty to a confused world.
God is reminding us in the pandemic, that we can trust Him in unexpected challenges every bit as much as in our hoped for and planned paths. The everlasting arms that underpin His holding both us and His world in place, are the nail pierced hands of our Saviour, whose death was every bit as planned as His bodily resurrection. Since God’s will is palpably good, our submission to it will always prove to be the best path for us. So we can pray with confidence that many whose plans have been thrown into confusion might turn to Him, and that we who are trusting Him, may delight in proving afresh His promises to never leave or confuse His children. DV is in reality our joy and security.
Peter Brain 21st April, 2020