On July 14, 1861, Union Officer Maj. Sullivan Ballou penned a letter to his wife, Sarah Hart Shumway, a portion of which is reproduced below:
The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me – perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar — that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.
Sadly, the letter was the last Ballou wrote Sarah, and one week after composing his message, as the war’s first major battle began in earnest on the plains of Manassas, Ballou was struck and killed as the Rhode Islanders advanced from Matthews Hill.
It is estimated that 624,511 lost their lives during the American Civil War, and this corresponds to a probability of dying from that war of about one in four.
Today, we deal with the very real threat of Covid 19, and although the statistics have been corrupted by politics, the probability of dying from the virus certainly pales by comparison.
Two critical observations should be made:
- First of all, the writing skills of one, on a battlefield with only candlelight, and 160 years ago, certainly humbles our works, even with all the technology and our access to virtually unlimited resources.
- Second, why is it that we fritter and fret over the comparably weak risks of Covid19 when the Major Ballou’s of 1861 boldly walk into the valleys of almost certain death?
Could it be that we’ve lost the perspective of divine providence? Has our understanding of events been replaced by the popularity of random chance? Do we really believe we will surprise our Lord with death by Covid?
Although God’s general providence involves His control of the whole universe: Eph 1:11 “…who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” His specific providence controls even the very elect; Eph 1:3-12 “…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world…by predestining us to adoption…according to the good pleasure of His will…according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”
Furthermore, this control extends even to the timing of both our birth and our death: Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes have seen my unshaped substance; And in Your book all of them were written. The days that were formed for me, When as yet there was not one of them.”
Believers should be leading the charge in boldly sharing the Gospel to a world cowered in fear and uncertainty. Are we doing that?