One hundred years is a long time. Many things have changed in our world since the colossal White Star Line luxury liner, Titanic, set out on her maiden and final voyage a century ago, as fans of Downton Abbey know all too well. I once had the opportunity to walk through the Titanic Trail in the small village of Cobh (pronounced “cove”) in Cork, Ireland. Cork Harbor was actually Titanic’s final port of call before setting out across the Atlantic. I remember looking at old pictures of happy people who had no idea what their next hours held. It’s unsettling how fleeting life can be. It certainly was for 1,500 people on that night.
I’ve read that in the weeks before the Titanic tragedy, the builders lauded the ship as “unsinkable,” a vessel “that not even God could sink.” I’m sure these comments weren’t consciously intended to limit or defame God, but they do reflect an attitude that has been around for ages. It is easy and common to speak and act like we know exactly what the future holds. We look to history and our own experiences and begin to expect things will continue as they always have.
The Bible teaches another way. As James wrote to his congregation:
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 (James 4:13-16, ESV).
James was teaching the proper way to think about and plan for the future. He was talking directly to those in his own day who traveled and traded and engaged in business. James wasn’t saying business is wrong per se, but warning against an attitude toward the future that he described as arrogant boasting.
Like those who confidently boasted in the safety of the Titanic, no one knows what tomorrow holds. Similar tragedies happen in this world every day. James offers a sobering reminder that our lives are like a mist that appears for a moment and then is gone. It is arrogant to speak confidently about something that only God knows.
Too often we do not think about our lives with this perspective. Instead, we think about and talk about the future as if time will continue on the way it always has. James offers a better way and encourages us to add “if the Lord wills” to our thoughts and comments on the future. There was actually a time when it was common in Scotland for people to literally speak to each other that way. “See you tomorrow?” “Aye, if the Lord wills.” Many of us might think it odd or trite to talk with people this way, but I think it is a reality that should, in the very least, shape our hearts.
As we live our lives, it is wise to rest confidently knowing the Lord knows the future, and come what may, our lives are in His hands. Whenever we make plans and talk about the future, we should acknowledge we don’t know what tomorrow holds. Time is precious. It is not to be wasted or squandered, because we don’t know how much time we have left. When time is wasted, it is wasted forever, never to be recuperated. We never get lost time back.
As you think about the Titanic, let it be a sober reminder that living for God is never something to put off until tomorrow. May we learn this lesson from James and the Titanic, and remember only God knows what is coming and it is wise to serve Him with the time we have left, whether it be days or decades.