Martin Luther might have written it off as an ‘epistle of straw’, but I’ve always been a bit of a fan of the letter of James. It’s not full of the deepest theology, it’s true – but for good, honest, practical lessons in Christian living, it’s hard to beat.
I’m particularly struck by James’ challenge to our tendency to assume that we’re in control of our lives and our futures.
‘Come now’, he writes, ‘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”. Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring’. Instead, he writes, ‘you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this and that’… (4:13-15)
And having initially booked a period of study leave in the Autumn, which has been cancelled; and then a trip to Boston, which has been cancelled; and then a holiday to the Pyrenees, which has been cancelled; James’ words are nothing if not apposite!
Of course, the uncertainty of which James speaks can be infinitely more serious than the odd cancelled holiday: and many in these past months have faced the profoundest of upheavals, threatening future plans, livelihoods, relationships, mental health and even the gift of life itself. And in such a context James would point us towards two possible responses: either to live by fear (shoring up whatever securities we can find in a desperate attempt to wrest back some semblance of control from the uncertainties that surround us); or else to live by faith (placing ourselves and our futures in the hands of the Living God).
Living by faith in such a context is certainly not the easy option: God’s ways are not our ways, and Christian people are not immune from the sufferings of those around us. But there is extraordinary comfort in knowing that whatever challenges life throws our way, ‘Underneath are the everlasting arms’. ‘For you are my hope, O Lord God’, as we read in yesterday’s Morning Prayer, ‘My confidence, even from my youth’ (Psalm 71:5).
And before you ask, the current plan is to travel to the Isle of Skye in mid-September, provided that Scotland hasn’t closed its borders by then…
Every blessing, +Andrew.