Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 20
Go, now, you who are saying, “Today or tomorrow we will go on to such-a-city, and we will pass the time there for a year, and do business, and make a profit”—you who do not even know the things of the next day! What is your life? For you are a vapor that is appearing for a little while, and then is vanishing. Instead of saying, “If the Master wants, we will live and do this or that,” as it is, you boast in your pride. All such boasting is evil! (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 4:13-16, mjlt)
Though much of life is spent preoccupied by the now, in our hearts, we are always looking forward. While we may not often permit our minds to think or dream or hope too much about the future, deep inside, we live there—longing for the mended, the safer, the better. So when we do get down to deliberately planning, we plan not only for the start, but the end. We move forward—sometimes with trepidation, but most times with expectations—wishing for and predicting our happiness and success.
But even with the best laid plans—even with thorough preparation and proven strategies and a mountain of experience—we can never know with absolute certainty what will happen. Indeed, it is arrogance to think so. Yes, we can know what has worked in the past. Yes, from that, we can make reasonable assumptions about the future. Yes, we can learn from others who have gone before us. If we couldn’t do these things, we could never make any plans at all. But “as it is, [we] boast in [our] pride,” thinking that somehow, through our own judgment and expertise, we have adequately calculated the risks, arranged for contingencies, and ensured a favorable outcome. What we fail to recognize, however, is that our plans ultimately rely not on our own abilities and expectations, but on the things that are completely out of our control. We cannot constrain the unexpected.
So when it comes to our prospects for the future, the reality is that we “do not even know the things of the next day!” Not only can we not anticipate what will happen a year from now, we cannot even plan for everything that will happen tomorrow. While a routine, daily life tends to give the impression of security, the fact is that anything unexpected can happen to anyone at anytime. It is a cold dose of truth—though not meant to paralyze or instill fear, but rather to empower. Knowing that safety and control are not only relative, but in large part an illusion, does not give us reason to give up and bury our heads. Rather, it is cause for adjusting our aim and modifying our self-perception.
“What is your life? For you are a vapor that is appearing for a little while, and then is vanishing.” The sooner we acknowledge and accept our own insignificance, the more prepared for the future we will actually be. Our lives here on earth are but a wisp in time, and what we do, say and think will hold little significance outside the orbit of our own little worlds. Seeing ourselves as tiny and unimportant, then, is not for the purpose of inducing an identity crisis, but for making room in our lives for something bigger than ourselves—something that will give our miniscule, impermanent lives enduring context and meaning.
Our response, then, will not be to say, “Today or tomorrow we will go on to such-a-city, and we will pass the time there for a year, and do business, and make a profit,” but rather, “If the Master wants, we will live and do this or that.” As disciples of Messiah, we can make our plans, utilize our past experience and knowledge, and have hopes and expectations for the future. But unless and until we realize that it is all up to what “the Master wants,” we will be lacking His guidance and blessing, leaving ourselves—unnecessarily—vulnerable.
“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the design of Adonai stands” (Prov. 19:21). If our experiences should teach us anything, it’s that we have no earthly idea what is coming. Our entire lives can change in a moment; and some things cannot even be imagined, much less anticipated. Don’t plan your future either in arrogance or in fear—neither pridefully plowing ahead, nor timidly sheltering in place. Give God all your hopes, your plans and your life… for, as long as “the Master wants, we will live.”
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!