Snowpocalypse 2016 left chaos in its wake. The east coast was covered in near record amounts of snow and ice. While some tragically suffered loss of life or property, the majority of those affected by the storm merely experienced a temporary interruption to the normal flow of life. Power outages and icy roads made it impossible for many to do what they might otherwise have accomplished. Such forced aberrations to the routine of our lives exposes what, for many, is an excessive, almost worshipful, obsession with predictability.
We all live by certain predictable routines. We plan our days, structure our interactions, and arrange our lives around our calendars. Some people who are wired like me find great joy in planning. Others, though their personality may not like it, find that they, too, must structure life according to a defined plan in order to thrive in the modern world.
James’ words bring a needed critique to our aversion to chaos. He writes, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. (James 4:13-14 ESV).” These words seem fitting for the early church, scattered among the pagan nations due to the persecution they faced. Certainly, they could not plan for tomorrow, since they had no clue whether they’d even live to see that day, much less be able to execute their plans for what that day would hold.
Yet, the same is true for you and I. James’ point is not limited to a certain segment of society. He broadens his gaze to speak about the all humanity: “Yet 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 (James 4:14 ESV). The brevity of life, coupled with the uncertainty of life in a fallen world, should cause us to loosen our death-grip on our plans. According to James, we should say “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15 ESV).
Honestly, I find this instruction barely palatable. I like to plan. And, I really like to execute my plans. My to-do list is my constant companion, a friend that sticks closer than a brother. Admittedly, there have been times I’ve written an already completed task on my to-do list only to experience the exhilaration that comes from crossing it off. When someone says, “God willing,” when I ask if they will be at an upcoming event, I find myself sneering in derision. “What is wrong with that guy? Doesn’t he own a calendar?”
So, I don’t like Snowpocalypses (is that even a word?). Though I wish my angst was birthed from a godly motive, it boils down to the fact that I can’t execute my plan due to circumstances beyond my control. I am forced to reckon with the fact that my to-do list is not sovereign. Chaos enters life every day, sometimes in major ways like snow storms and other times through a friend who needs to talk, a car that won’t start, or a kid that will not stop crying. And each time, God reminds us that we are not god and we do not know what tomorrow will bring.
This truth should not make us sloppy. The non-committal, untrustworthy, procrastinator should not hide behind God’s control in order to mask their immaturity. Planning is not bad. It is important to think about the future and take steps to steward God’s gifts in our lives and use them in a way that brings him glory (Eph 2:10). The time is evil, requiring that God’s people make wise use of the hours they are given (Eph 5:16).
But, we can’t control the future. Only God can. Chaos is God’s way of proving that fact. Perhaps, we all need a steady dose of interruptions to protect us from thinking we control or dictate our future. Our illusions of control enflame our hearts with idolatry, unless God, in his grace, continually reminds us that we do not actually know what tomorrow will bring.
So, the next time the Weather Channel warns on an impending storm, let’s buy some bread and milk and make sure the fireplace works. And, if the fire dies down a bit, maybe we can throw our to-do list in among the coals and watch it burn, along with the false notion that we are in control after all.