James reminds us of capsized values. “…you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” [James 4:14-15].
He’s right. We usually treat our current circumstances as rocklike and reliable. And assume the future will continue with the same stability. We feel like we’re in control.
A recent death in our family made James’ point clear to me. A few weeks ago life was good. But now we’re in a fog. The solid anticipations—a good career, family holidays, and future retirement—have collapsed into confused uncertainties. Our optimistic map for life is gone as we grieve a Christian husband, father, and friend: lost to us. A quiet man in his prime years. And we’re left hurt, broken, and confused.
What did James mean when he wrote, “Instead.” How do we live in the realm of, “If the Lord wills…”? He’s not around to coach us or encourage us, so what does he expect?
Any answer starts with creation. We were made to be in relationship. It comes from God’s own being. When God said, “Let us make man in our image” he spoke as one who exists eternally as Father, Son, and Spirit. As a relational presence who wants us to share life with him. But many of us miss this starting point. When we view life as a personal project we miss God’s purpose of creating us for his own good works. Our individualism and privacy blinds us to our true purpose.
Even the idea of being created in the “image of God” is misunderstood. Most take it to refer to our intellect or creativity that equips us to be doers and makers. When the truth is that we were made to be lovers and companions. To love as God loves; as he invites us into his eternal communion. So, the “instead” confronts our relational autonomy. Our doing and making without communion as our defining priority.
Paul pointed to this misstep in Romans 1:25—”they exchanged the truth about God for the Lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!” Serving the “creature” speaks of our devotion to self; and to our creation-embedded pleasures, used without regarding the One who made us to share in his creative work. Of Adam embracing Eve’s preference for the beauty, wisdom, and taste of a forbidden fruit. In place of God’s words that invited him to taste and see God’s goodness.
Yet few people recognize the danger of replacing God’s love with a love for creation itself. In many churches, for instance, we hear therapeutic sermons offering success in a capsized world. The words are well meant but they represent short term ambitions for personal wealth and health. And treat God as if our private success is his preoccupation.
What does God really want? Moses told us. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” [Dt. 6:4]. When Jesus was asked the same question many years later he gave the same answer. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” [Mt 22:37-39].
We’re made to be lovers. By the God who “is love.” Yet we only arrive as we turn away from private ambitions and say “if the Lord wills.” In every moment of life. And recognize how, until then, we’ve been loving the creation in place of the Creator.
This message is offered throughout the Bible. Yet it dissolves as readers ask, “but what’s in this for me?” Sin, in other words, is an interpretive bias rooted in self-interest. It’s what James warned against in our earlier text. “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” [Jas 4:13]. And we foolishly stop there.
The proper context, instead, is Christ’s final prayer for his eleven followers who loved him to the end. “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” [Jn 17:24-26].
Amen. It’s truth we need to live by, especially in a capsized world.