James assaults the hybris of the traveling merchants for their presumption, and his response to them is to consider the brevity of life (James 4:13-17).
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 and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
Our concern today is a brief reflection on the brevity of life, something James had going in 1:9-11. As a flower’s fading flowers indicate the brevity of life, so also the merchants need a big reminder and he finds it in the image of a fading mist. Life is like a fading mist.
Merchants, messianists or not, need to know that they don’t know what will happen tomorrow. They can presume, but they don’t know. Neither do we.
Taking the mind of God as within his view, James takes the long and big view: What is your life? The answer in the long and big is that it is but a mist. Scientists today estimate the earth is something like 3.6 billion years old — and we live 75 years or so (if we live the average) — someone do the map. What percentage of the whole are we talking about for an average life?
On top of that, there is an equal entrance and exit number: for every person who enters this world one exits (approximately). Everyone who lives, dies. That correlation is 1 to 1. On top of this, chaos makes its appearances — some die of unknown sudden causes, some die in a random accident or shooting, some contract death-dealing diseases, and some live fairly normal lives until a good number of years. But the individual doesn’t control this.
Life is like a mist that vaporizes.