The Bible is a book filled with truth. Some truths are harder than others for men to accept.
One of the harder truths for us to accept is that stated succinctly in the book of James: “You don’t know what tomorrow will bring (James 4:14; ESV).”
This ought to be a rather obvious sort of truth, and yet it is one that over and over again we fight against.
We strive to be in control of tomorrow. We look to weather predictions. We hire people to make political predictions. We hire analysts to break down the stock market and forecasts potential business cycles. We schedule events out far in advance of the actual date and plan accordingly.
And though things often go the way that they are planned, there are enough moments where things go awry so as to keep us humble. Or at least it should keep us humble. Certainly, if ever there was a year where we are reminded that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, 2020 has been such a year. From pandemics to school closings to economic uncertainties to political uncertainties… event after event reminds us that we simply are very poor prognosticators. So have we learned humility?
Or are we going to keep pretending as if we do know what is going to happen tomorrow?
James full statement concerning the uncertainty of the future is as follows… “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. 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.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:13-17; ESV)”
As James points out, we are not in full control of our lives. We may be able to have some control over ourselves, but there are too many outside variables and additional actors to grant us more than a limited control over what happens to us. Ultimately, we simply do not know enough to predict what will happen tomorrow.
This does not mean that we should never make plans. But we should plan with humility. We should plan with an awareness of our own limitations. To do otherwise is to eventually succumb to arrogance and prideful sin.
Yet there is one who does know what will happen tomorrow. There is one who has always been able to perfectly plan according to His will and ensure that His plans come to fruition. God in His power and wisdom and knowledge is in control of things, and though He gives us free will to act He still is able to tell us with perfect accuracy what tomorrow will bring.
This is not to say that God will reveal all such things to us. He leaves us with uncertainty so that we might trust in Him, and yet there are those things He has made clear will happen in their time.
One such thing that God foretold was the coming of His Son for the salvation of the world. God predicted exactly when and how that would happen, and it did (cf. Genesis 22:18; Isaiah 7:14, 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; etc.). Likewise, God has foretold the return of His Son for judgment (cf. Matthew 25:31-32; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; etc.). Yet, though God has been clear that the judgment is one event that we can plan on with certainty, it is tragically true that this is the one event that too many individuals seem to be doing very little planning for.
James concludes his thoughts on planning for tomorrow with the general truth that when you know to do good, but you don’t do it, it is sin.
If we know we should be humble about tomorrow, but act with pride and arrogance, it is sin.
If we know that we should be trusting in God, but decide instead to act as if with are the masters of our own destiny, it is sin.
If we know that we should be preparing ourselves for that one event God has promised with certainty that it will happen, but we instead spend our time doing everything but, then that too is sin.
Let’s approach the future with some humility and a lot of trust in God, working to be pleasing to Him, so that no matter what tomorrow brings, we know that we are secure in God’s care.
The church of Christ invites you to come worship and study with us as we seek to let God be in control of our lives. We meet at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. If you have questions or comments, please share them with us.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.