During this brief time of reprieve at home I’ve had some time to think about some of the ups and downs of my own life experience. I’ve come to the conclusion that “vicissitude” describes much of what life consists. “Vicissitude” derives from the Latin vicis which means to change. It refers to any kind of change, but most often we think of vicissitude in a negative context — referring to the difficulties that arise in our lives.
I suppose it is true for everyone that life consists in many changes from day to day which can appear to us as being positive or negative. From a natural point of view, we may think of these as good luck or bad luck. There are many times when people naturally feel that they are the recipients of more bad fortune than good fortune. Most will try to overcome bad fortune by hard work and a positive attitude. Nevertheless, no matter how hard people try to avoid change of a negative kind, it is sure to happen sooner or later, in one form or another.
Of course, I’m interested in this subject from a Christian perspective. A person of Christian faith, it is evident, is not immune to the vicissitudes of life. The fact is that all of us have some days that are stormier than others; some too that are brighter and sunnier than others. We all have days when we are overwhelmed with a sense of God’s great goodness; others when we sense that our faith is being severely tested. This has certainly been true in my experience. As I think about my life in the course of the last couple of weeks, there have been times of real consternation, and other times of great peace. There have been times in which I have sensed God’s providence and presence, but other times when I have seriously wondered how something was going to turn out.
In reading the Psalms, I find, I am not alone in this experience of feeling strong in the grace of God one moment, but also feeling almost overwhelmed in another. Just now I am on a journey of reading and meditating on the last 20 Psalms. Some, like Psalm 136 and 139 are filled with wonderful expressions of faith and confidence in the goodness of God. The writer, usually David, is deeply impressed with the many instances of God’s goodness and personal blessing. Psalm 139 is especially rich in expressions of great delight in the knowledge of God’s intimate and constant care of the finest details of one’s life. How can anyone every doubt God’s absolute goodness and grace in their lives!
But the same writer, in Psalms 140, 141, and 142 is calling out to God for his help in times of trouble. In each of these Psalms, David feels overwhelmed with grief at the presence and threat of his enemies as they appear to surround him on every hand. By enemies, David mostly means people of ill-will toward him. But he is also conscious of personally contributing to potential wickedness through the things that he might say, or through the lusts of his own heart (140:1-5/141:3-5).
When we have time to think about our lives, I think we all have to acknowledge this vicissitudinal nature of life. There are many references and encouragements in the Bible regarding this aspect of the Christian faith as well. Paul’s confidence was that God was present and at work in all the circumstances of his life. “All things work together for the good of those who are called according to God’s purposes” (Romans 8:28). And we can “give thanks in every situation because this is the will of God, in Christ Jesus, concerning us” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).