I’ve been thinking a lot about James 4:13-16 today.
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.
Modern life has a certain inevitability and predictability to it. At least that’s what we’ve been seduced to believe. Oh, I understand it’s not true for everyone, but most of us conduct our lives within a relatively safe cocoon. I’ve come to marvel at all of the things that I take for granted. If I want food, I can get it easily and cheaply. If I get sick, I rest assured that even though our health care system has its flaws I benefit from the most advanced health care in the history of humanity. If I want to go on a trip, I can go. If I need light, I flip a switch. If I need money, I can work.
My calendar is filled with inevitability. Semester begins in January, ends with commencement in May. Classes five days a week. Greek at 8:00 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Hermeneutics at 8:00 on Tuesday and Thursday. Chapel. Mentor Groups. Meetings on top of meetings. Church on Wednesday and again on Sunday.
And what about the liturgy of the national sports calendar? March Madness followed by the start of the baseball season followed by the Masters followed by the NBA playoffs followed by NFL training camp followed by the Olympics. Inevitable.
Until it’s not.
I have friends who have survived cancer. They tell me that living with cancer gives a person a radically different perspective on the myth of inevitability. As followers of Jesus, we have unshakable promises of hope and salvation and life from death. But as we live in this meantime – the time that theologians like to call the “already and not yet” – we must face the uncomfortable reality that nothing is promised to us. We hate that. We’ve constructed a world where everything is promised to us.
Until it’s not.
It’s not fun to learn the truth of your vulnerability. It’s not fun to learn that you can’t control your world as meticulously as you imagined. In short, it’s not fun to say with any gravity, “If it’s the Lord’s will.”
Maybe one of the opportunities that I’m being given in this long collection of moments is to remember my humble state. Maybe we’ve all been too boastful in the security of modern life. Maybe we can collectively remember that each day is a gift and tomorrow isn’t promised.
But we should also remember the promise of James 4. James 4 isn’t a threat; it is a dose of reality. The reality is that our lives are fragile, but our Lord is not. The Lord is in control, and we rest in Him.