- “These so-called X-rays are only a deliberate hoax” (William Thompson, Lord Kelvin, 1895)
- ”Y2K is a crisis without precedent in human history.” (Byte magazine editor Edmund DeJesus, 1998)
- ”There is no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” (Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, 2007)
Predictions and pronouncements: They make fools of us, but how we love to make them.
Today’s reading the writer of James, probably the brother of Jesus, is speaking to business people and landowners when he says: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ You don’t know what tomorrow may bring.”
The indicative mood of these verses gives them a tone of certainty which nobody can rightly claim. We all make plans, of course. Planning is not what James is condemning, it’s the certainty that he condemns.
A closer look at verse 13 breaks it down. Those who make sure and certain plans claim that they control time and place (today or tomorrow we will go to this town or another town,) they claim the means and the ends (we will go to carry out business,) and they even claim to control the outcome (to make money.) There is arrogance in the assertion that we control events and outcomes; and, when you break it down like that it does seem most arrogant. It is not that different from what most of us do every day, though.
There are religions which do deal in certainty and control, Christianity is not one of them. We can be certain that the Holy Spirit leads us, but we often do not know where she is going or why. We can control our passions and live a disciplined life, but we do not know what the outcome of that will be. It is this uncertainty and lack of control in which we find humility, where holiness might grow at last.
Why, then, do we cling so desperately to control and certainty? Well, if control and certainty are the first two legs of the three-legged stool of arrogance, fear is the third. I think there is a real fear that God might not be there for us, that comfort may never come. We fear that not being good enough is just the end of it, that there isn’t enough grace for the likes of us. We fear that God doesn’t have plans for us, so we make plans of our own. We fear that God will not provide, so we travel and have meetings and we provide for ourselves.
It is not too severe when in verse 16 the writer call it evil to engage in this kind of boasting. The pride of life, as it is called elsewhere, is an assertion that we trust ourselves more than we trust God; that’s the evil.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon — the Prince of Preachers, they call him — once said, “There are two great certainties about things that shall come to pass – one is that God knows, and the other is that we do not know.”
And a more modern theologian, the rapper Eminem said, “The truth is you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed.”
Some questions that we might take into the weekend are:
- How can I re-frame my thinking, and the planning that I do, so that it is a response to God’s call on my life?
- How can I start thinking of my work as an expression of God’s love instead of my own confidence?
- How can I act out of love more and out of fear less?
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, China. She plays ukulele, tells stories, and tries not to be too arrogant.
CC Image courtesy of Librarian by Ian.Climacus on Flickr.jpg