In the church I grew up in the man who made the announcements always concluded them by reminding us that they had been made ‘subject to the will of the Lord’. I think people were a lot more aware of what ‘DV’ meant (Latin for ‘God willing’). While I realise it can become a bit formulaic, there is biblical wisdom behind it.
In his short NT letter James has strong words for uber-confident business people who had lots of plans for how their business would expand and prosper. James reminds them that they don’t even know what would happen the next day: their lives were as transitory as vapour.
We’re currently facing a global crisis on a scale that none of us has ever experienced. The arrival and dramatic surge of Covid-19 has thrown all kinds of plans into turmoil and experts are doing all they can to try and predict what might happen tomorrow. For all our technological progress we’ve suddenly run into the buffers.
Over the past couple of days I have been struck by the pertinence of several parts of Psalm 33 and I think it speaks in a number of ways to the attitude we need to cultivate in this time of crisis.
1 – The Lord foils the plans of the nations (verse 10)
Scripture’s picture of God is that he is sovereign over the course of human history. For all their power, the Pharaohs and Nebuchadnezzars of powerful nations had to bow before him.
I will leave it to others to debate questions of agency at a time like this, but suffice to say that God has allowed our world (including the Church) to find itself at a time when the limitations and vulnerability of humanity is there for all to see.
He foils the plans of the nations.
Governments find themselves in crisis mode.
Businesses, large and small, wonder if they will still be in business in a few weeks time.
Things which we take for granted (at least in some parts of the world) – uninterrupted technological progress, increasing wealth, the facility to travel, access to consumer goods as and when we want them – are not so easily granted after all.
Sport – the great pursuit and enjoyment of so many of us – is reduced to chaos.
I think there are various ways believers need to pray in this crisis (and you won’t be short of samples via their proliferation on social media), but one that I sense may be neglected is a prayer of humbling where we repent of what someone has called ‘the degodding of God’ – and any thought that we are fit to take his place!
2 – Our resourcefulness is not the point (verse 17)
If you were an ancient king heading to war, you’d want to make sure your army was strong and well equipped. Lots of horses, and strong ones at that! But the psalm says that that is not where the secret lies. There is something more than our material resources that counts.
At a time like this we want strong and confident leaders who will assure us that they are committing the full resources of the nation to defeating the virus. And I think we need to be tremendously grateful for researchers and for medical professionals who are devoting their energy and their considerable expertise to tackling this situation. Many of us (myself included) probably owe our lives to the skill and resources of medical science.
We need to pray for everyone who is involved in this. Pray that scientists will discover a treatment, that they will be able to develop a vaccine. Pray for policy-makers to make wise decisions and for strength for the medical staff of all levels who are caring for the sick.
But at the same time, is there something we need to learn, or relearn, about depending on the Lord? Let’s by all means celebrate and be glad for the resources and gifts we enjoy, but let’s avoid the subtle temptation to allow our resourcefulness to blind us to our need of God.
3 – Our hope needs to be in the Lord (verse 22)
The psalm is a psalm of hope and confidence. It encourages his to hope in God’s love, to trust in his name, to put our hope in him.
Frankly, that’s what we need.
Yes, many of us may need to humble ourselves and repent of our self-sufficiency, but there comes a time to allow God to lift us out of the dust and – incredible as it may seem – rejoice in him.
None of us knows how the story of Covid-19 will end, or when it will end. We don’t know when we will be able to make plans again. There may be lots of ways that we will need to change our lifestyles, our assumptions, how we relate to others, and even how we live as church (the absence of Sunday gatherings may force us to rethink their whole purpose). Maybe we will emerge somewhat humbled, realizing, as never before that our lives are in God’s hands.
‘May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.’