But God favors the humble: “Se Deus quiser” by Virginia Webster

James 4:6-7, 14-15 But he gives us even more graceto stand against evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble. So humble yourselves before God. . . Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

[Note from Debbie: Virginia was my roommate in college. She grew up in Brazil and I in Guatemala, so we talked about teaching each other our respective languages. I never imagined I would move to Brazil, though my “jungle” was the concrete one of São Paulo, 2000 miles away!]

White-headed capuchin in the rain forest near Manaus, Brazil. From Shutterstock, by Alessandro Zappalorto

I grew up on the Amazon in Brazil after being born in Belgium and spending my first five years in the Congo. My parents were missionaries. I followed them as children do. The Amazon is a glorious rainforest filled with beauty and danger. Beneath the tropical forest dome life explodes in unbelievable diversity and death lurks in a constant fight for survival. Death is very much a part of life. On the Amazon death is a way of life. Take your pick: starvation, malaria, snake bites, piranhas, scorpions, crocodiles, chagas or just not being able to get to a doctor.  Even as a child I remember walking into a dark and smoky hut and seeing a dead body of a recently deceased villager lying on a mat. His family was grieving and the smell of death was in the air. Almost without knowing it, I understood the frailty of life as a child. 

Brazilians have a phrase Se Deus quiser that reminds me of the way Southerners say “sweet.” Se Deus quiser ends many Brazilian conversations. It means, “if God wills.” Arabs have inshallah. In Latin it is Deo Volunte. Humility seems almost built into some languages. And even though “God willing” may be a rote phrase, it expresses profound truth. God is in control. We aren’t. Covid-19 has driven that point home this year.

No one is going anywhere. We’re wearing masks. Publix has markings for one-way aisles. Delta doesn’t serve coffee anymore on flights. Seeing neighbors and friends we can’t even hug. We ask if it’s ok to walk socially distanced. Grandkids are growing up and we’re not even able to experience those milestones. Where is God in all this? Are we going to end up being intubated and die? Is a loved one? It’s that fear and smell of death that keeps our minds running in circles at night.

Past generations wrestled with these anxieties as well. I’ve been reading up on the 1918 Spanish flu and wondering how believers back then dealt with death and its catastrophic impact. I wonder if they had a stronger sense of God’s will and the brevity of life. Jesus put it bluntly when he said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day had enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Or, as the Message says, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

What this says to me is I need to spend more time talking to God, telling him my fears and anxieties, telling him that I don’t really feel adequate to handle today. Giving up our typical family and friend past times may be a good wake up call for the Kingdom. My anxiety over health, family and the election all need to be taken to God in prayer. The Lord is still in control. Se Deus quiser means God is moving in our midst. I need to listen attentively to God’s word and know deep down that God is still at work and that I/we are very much a part of Christ’s Kingdom purposes.

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