Homo Proponit, sed Deus Disponit

If your Latin is a little rusty, here’s the translation:

Man proposes, but God disposes.

The phrase originated with Thomas a Kempis’ classic, The Imitation of Christ, which he wrote in the early 1400’s:

Just men depend on the grace of God rather than on their own wisdom in keeping their resolutions. In Him, they confide every undertaking, for man, indeed, proposes but God disposes, and God’s way is not man’s

Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ, Book 1 Chapter 19

Some 400 years later, in 1845, Captain John Franklin departed England’s shores on an expedition to explore the last, unnavigated section of the Northwest Passage. Ultimately, the two ships, carrying 129 men, went missing.

Later investigations discovered the terrible fate of these men. The expedition did not fail quickly, but rather they all suffered a slow march toward death. A combination of hypothermia, starvation, scurvy, lead poisoning, and exposure to the harsh environment account for the majority of deaths. Most disturbing of all may be the cut marks on some bones of bodies found which suggest cannibalism.

To depict this complete disaster Edwin Landseer painted his interpretation of what may have cost the lives of some. He titled it,

Man Proposes, God Disposes

Edwin Landseer, oil painting

A song familiar in many circles, and if not the song then the phrase puts it this way,

Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand But I know who holds tomorrow And I know who holds my hand

Ira Stanphill

In my own life, when I lived in Northern Ireland I heard a phrase that seemed common to many in Northern Ireland but meant nothing to me. After expressing a desire of some kind or making some plans I noticed several who would add, DV.

It stood for Deo volente. Are your Latin classes coming back to mind? If not, let me help you out, it means God willing.

Hopefully, by now, you’re seeing a pattern here.

The devotion written by Kempis and the painting by Landseer, the song by Stanphill and that phrase in Northern Ireland all reflect a Biblical principle found in proverbs 16:19,

A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.

Proverbs 16:19

In the New Testament, James navigated the tension between our plans and God’s designs when he wrote,

Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

James 4:13-15

As I sit here this morning I do so with the same challenge that has presented itself for a number of weeks – many of my plans have been undone.

I’m looking at my sermon schedule, which did generate a little pride when I first completed it 6 weeks ago, and it strikes me that it has been completely turned upside down.

My plans for a morning sermon series, evening series, and midweek studies are in disarray.

Many others face more serious problems as their work, families, and health are impacted by this virus and the response of governments and businesses.

Ultimately, it serves as a good reminder:

  • Man proposes, but God disposes.

I don’t know what the next few weeks hold, I don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. But I know Who does. And in all the unknowns, I am content with knowing Him, trusting Him, and letting come what may.

At the end of the day, He is all we need.

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