THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 126
Our providential way
[Archived material can be found at tonycrosscolumn.org.uk]
Decades ago, when an old person sent you a letter - a letter? you remember those things that people created with a pen and paper before there was email and texting and phoning - it was not entirely unusual, if they were Christian, to see them use the letters D.V. somewhere in the letter. Often, when they talked of their plans for next week or next month they would add the letters D.V. in brackets. These letters stood for Deo Volente - God willing. In those olden days there were many people who believed that God was in control and that all that happened in the world came about as a result of his intention and oversight.
Nowadays of course we have moved on from such a naïve idea. Nowadays we know that the suffering all around is so great that there cannot possibly be a good God in charge of the world. Nowadays when we hear of earthquakes and tsunamis we dismiss the idea that there can be a beneficent God up in heaven directing affairs. Otherwise how could he possibly allow such things to happen? Or we hear of people with awful cancers or we read of paedophiles abusing young children and our minds close to the concept of a loving father overseeing his world.
And anyway we are in charge of our own lives nowadays, aren’t we? In olden days men had to work long hours six days a week and had no time for anything but home and family, but nowadays we live much fuller lives. We are better educated and have a higher standard of life, don’t we? So we are not ground into submission by the need to find the means whereby to live. Nowadays we can have hobbies, interests, amusements, skiing and entertainment. Life is so much richer for us - fuller and better than in the old old days. Well it is, isn’t it?
We also understand our world so much better these days. We understand that the sunspots affect our weather. We understand that pollution causes global warming. We understand that democracy is the only way to go. We understand why our marriages crack up and why we need to have more and more choice and variety. Newspapers, books, the internet, - we learn about everything from a hundred different sources and all this knowledge just lies there, waiting to be picked up. You want to learn about Genghis Khan? No problem. There will probably even be a society somewhere devoted to understanding him and his hordes better.
So for all these reasons we have progressed way beyond the idea of D V - the suggestion that God is in charge of our world. We just don’t think like that anymore. Our ‘world view’ is different. We prefer to get busy and involve ourselves in this and that. God helps those who help themselves, we say to ourselves. Isn’t it better to get stuck into some problem than sit around praying about it? We have come a long way. Some might say that humanity has grown up in these last few hundred years. We have passed the teenager stage. Now we are adults who have command of our destiny - can make a difference in any direction we choose. We don’t like Saddam? Invade Iraq!
Of course we still have no real answers to the great questions of life. We still have absolutely no idea why we are here - why human beings inhabit the earth. Nor why there is such pain and suffering. The old Christian response that pain and suffering is a mystery is still true. No one can give any better explanation. Because if you try to account for it all by materialistic explanations - evolution, psychology etc - you still get back eventually to the why question: why are we here. To that basic question - way beyond anything that Richard Dawkins can talk about - there are only two answers: either everything is without reason or everything originates from a creator who had a purpose. There are no other answers that even start to provide an acceptable meaning.
And out of those two answers we each have to choose one. You can choose to believe that the whole bang shooting match is senseless, purposeless, an accident of some sort. Or you can decide to go the God believing route.
Only if you go the faith in God route can you even begin to understand the DV matter. And even then you must start by accepting that pain and suffering is a mystery. Something we cannot understand at our present level of development. Indeed, probably, we will never fully understand while we are on earth!
But if you go the God route, and if you accept that some things are and will remain a mystery, then a rich panorama opens out in front of you. And at the heart of this new world lie the letters D V.
These letters encapsulate a whole philosophy of living. Some Christians have never even heard of them! Other Christians find their faith cannot stretch that far - yet. But many Christians find in the D V idea a rich source of spirituality and peace and joy. Lets look at what they believe.
The very first idea to accept is the reality of free will. Every Christian believes that we have moral and spiritual choices. They may differ about the degree of choice that we have - some think the choice is almost infinite, while others think that although we all seem to have infinite choice actually there is very little choice indeed. Both sorts of Christian believe that the choices we do have are crucially important for our future life. All Christians believe the principle that God has given us sufficient choice to enable each human being to select what sort of person they will be in their innermost being.
In addition to our having some degree of choice, every Christian believes that to some degree God is in charge. At one extreme there is the God who created the world but is distant. At the other extreme there is the God shown to us by Jesus, who is intimately involved in all of life - who is present everywhere all the time and who indwells each person. In this latter group of Christians are the people who have learned (through revelation) the great truth that God’s nature is love, and that people have been brought close to God through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
These Christians believe that God is in charge of everything - that nothing happens without his knowledge. That not even a bird falls without him seeing it. That everything that is and everything that happens is caused by God intending it to happen or because he has allowed it to happen. They believe that this is God’s world and that all that happens within it is either intended or permitted by God.
We frequently come across this idea that God is in charge of everything that happens all the time. It is to be found in our hymns:
I’ve found a friend o such a friend
All power to him is given
To guard me on my onward course
And bring me safe to heaven
The hosts of God encamp around
The dwellings of the just
Deliverance he affords to all
Who on his succour trust
The Lord shall keep thy soul, He shall
Preserve thee from all ill
Henceforth thy going out and in
God keep for ever will.
This idea of God being in charge comes from the bible:
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those whom love God and are called in according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8 28.)
Or from James (4.15) ‘..should you not say ’If the Lords wills we shall live and also do this or that’
Or look at this quote from Meyer:
‘There is no way to peace or power save in accepting the will of God, making no distinction between what He appoints or permits, but believing that in either we are in contact with the eternal purpose for us.’
We meet the same idea in the way people often say that something that happened in their life was ‘intended’ or was ‘meant to happen.’ Isn’t that something we have all said from time to time?
All these point us towards accepting that God is working his purpose out and we follow a providential way. We are not living random inconsequential lives - we are lovingly cared for and our every thought and action is observed and known by our Father.
So this theme that each of us is in God’s hands and that everything that happens is within God’s will (actual or permissive) is already a deep undercurrent in much of our living. Even these days, when we are so caught up with our own wants and desires and plans and purposes.
So perhaps we should all start to use the DV expression more often. Maybe, if we were able to see all of life as being within God’s control then maybe, just maybe, we would cruise through life in a better way. Then we would be able to accept a lot that now irritates us. We could look for the positive in all that happens, instead of rebelling against the negative. We could even say “What is God trying to teach me in this situation?”
Such an attitude to life - a belief that God orders all that happens - should never lead us into passive acquiescence. Never let it be thought that what I am talking about here is an attitude of sitting back and letting it all just happen - letting God do what he wants to do. It is never God’s intention that we should sit on the sidelines and abandon ourselves to whatever he is doing, as if our role in life part is just to passively accept whatever comes. That attitude of giving up and abstracting ourselves from responsibility is the exact opposite of what God wants from us. So what should be our attitude?
I believe that God wants us to live in constant communion with him, responsive to his least prompting. As we accept Jesus Christ into our lives as Lord and as we live out our lives in his presence, we can be sure of the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. If you are driving a car or landing a plane then of course your mind should be fully on the matter in hand! But he wants us to be present to him just as he is present to us. He never leaves us nor forsakes us. Not even when we sin (as we do constantly). He wants us to be aware of his voice within, guiding and showing us what is right. He wants us to be more and more empowered by his Spirit. He therefore wants us in each successive situation to look for his way forward and to draw on his power and presence. He never wants us to extract ourselves out - always to input the positive love and caring that he exemplified.
Using D.V. in our correspondence is perhaps old fashioned and out of touch with reality today - few would even know what it meant. But the reality of living as God wants is a very real challenge to us all. Maybe we need to be able to say Deo Volente under our breath quite a number of times each day.