James, Satirical Cartoonist

My Dad and I were touring the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, and he was especially taken with the museum’s impressive collection of mint-condition cars. When he looked at them, I could see by the way his wrinkle-encased, blue eyes sparkled, that that the cars took him back to his teenage years. And while standing there looking at a 1956 Ford Thunderbird, he said, “Those old words from the Bible are true: Life is a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. It seems like just yesterday I was a young man, dreaming about a car like that.”

Dad, whose name happens to be James, was quoting a truism from James chapter 4:14. When we hear a truism, we resonate with it because it is obviously true. We affirm in response: That is true.

From Mark Twain, a connoisseur of truism: "It is better to deserve honours and not have them than to have them and not to deserve them." True. And from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Money often costs too much." True.

And this is a truism: You do not know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist - you are a little puff of smoke - that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

James wants us to hear his statement and resonate with it, to acknowledge, as my Dad and I did, that life is fragile and fast.

The days go slow but the years go fast. True.

But ultimately, James, like most employers of truism, wants us to go beyond that initial reaction when we resonate with the truth of his statement. He doesn’t just want us to say – “Yeah, that’s true. Life is a mist” and be done with it.

James is confronting us, if we look at the entire context.
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. So then, if you know the good you ought to do and don't do it, you sin. (James 4:13-17)

Now listen, you - That sets James’ tone, and it’s in the imperative. He continues, You do not even know… and, You boast in your arrogant schemes … I don’t know about you, but when someone uses that tone with me, I’m offended.
I get defensive.

And then James lays it all on the line: You sin.
James and his cute little truism are really not so cute anymore.

That’s when James draws his very confrontational word picture: You arrogant people think you can grasp mist. You think you can hold onto a puff of smoke and boast about how you are holding onto smoke, when your lives are that very puff of smoke.

Imagine trying to hold onto smoke or mist! You can grasp and grasp all you want, but you won’t hold it.

It’s like a satirical cartoon that looks funny on the surface, but it makes a serious point. It’s a vivid picture designed to mock you, to leave your pride wounded when you visualize yourself in it.

In this entire section of his little diatribe, in the wider context surrounding his statement about mist, James condemns arrogance.
And here in 4:13-17, there’s a particular sting for businessmen and women.

It’s not that James is opposed to honest business, but he, and Jesus for that matter, are opposed to people who arrogantly leave God out of their plans, behaving like self-appointed, mini-business-gods themselves.

The person in 4:13 is someone who
and obnoxiously
boasts that he or she is self-made.

But, boasting is not simply obnoxious.
It is sin.

And, most of us, whether we would call ourselves business entrepreneurs or not, have some arrogance issues in relationship to our hard-earned money and self-made status. We likely do not want to see a satirical cartoon that depicts our relationships with
our piggy banks,
or Coach purses,
or Visa bills,
or 401k’s,
or our hard-earned higher education.

So today, we are not supposed to read James, sigh at the speed of life, and comment that life is a mist - transitory and vulnerable.

James is asking us to confess arrogance and live like people who know that God is in control,
to share our money like God is in control,
to use our education like God is in control.

He’s asking us to speak like people who know that God is in control, proclaiming, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.”

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up.
It’s true that human beings cannot grasp or hold onto this misty life.
But God can.

Sara Barton
Chaplain, Pepperdine University

Yielding Our Way

Submit. Does that word have any negative emotions or thoughts for you? The definition of submit is to “choose to yield to another rather than demanding one’s own way.” Choosing to yield our own way can be difficult even under the best of circumstances.

One of the most difficult examples of submission in the Bible is the story of Hagar (Genesis 16). Hagar was Sarah’s maidservant. After many, many frustrating years of infertility Sarah decided to give Hagar to Abraham to have a child. As Sarah explained her idea to Abraham she reasoned, “Perhaps I can build a family through her.” The problems began when Hagar became pregnant. Hagar, the maidservant, found herself in the position where Sarah, had never been - bearing Abraham’s child. After she became pregnant, Hagar “began to despise her mistress,” and Sarah “mistreated Hagar.” What a pleasant household that must have been!

Sarah’s mistreatment of Hagar was so extreme that Hagar ran away. Think about that for a minute. Hagar, pregnant and alone, ran away. Where did she think she was going? How did she think she and her baby would survive? She must have thought anywhere would be better than living in Abraham and Sarah’s house. Hagar ended up in the desert. Pregnant, alone, hungry, desperate, and probably thinking she was going to die, when the angel of the Lord came to her. He asked her two questions, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” Hagar told the angel that she was running away from Sarai. That is all we are told that Hagar said but I wonder if maybe Hagar gave the angels some more details about how Sarai mistreated her. You won’t believe what that woman did to me. You can’t imagine how I was mistreated. That is why I ran away.

The angel then told Hagar to do something that surprises me and may have shocked Hagar. “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” How could she do that? How could she return to the place where she was mistreated? Only because of a miraculous intervention could Hagar return and submit. After the angel told Hagar that she was going to have a son and, by the way, he would be a “wild donkey of a man,” Hagar said, “You are the God who sees me, I have now seen the One who sees me.” Hagar was willing to submit to Sarah, because she had seen the One who sees her. Her encounter with God and his care for her changed everything for Hagar. Hagar submitted because she felt loved by God.

Christians are told to submit to authorities (Romans 13:5) and to elders (Hebrews 13:17). Paul told the Christians in Ephesus to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21), and wives are told to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22). We are also told by James, the brother of Jesus, “Submit yourselves, then, to God.”

Submitting, yielding our own way, to people and authorities can be difficult especially when we are not treated well or we don’t respect them. Submitting to anyone, including God is not always easy. When we choose to yield our way to God’s way we can be assured that God does not mistreat us. He loves us immensely, he cares for us, and he wants the best for us. One reason, I think, that God told Hagar to return to Abraham and Sarah’s home was because it was the best, safest, place for her. Putting our lives under God’s rule, submitting to him, is the best place for us to live.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:7-10)

Dana Grubb
Northside Church of Christ
San Antonio, TX