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Leaving the decay to itself

James reminds us to be small: What is your life?  It’s just a vapor that appears for a short time and then vanishes away.  (Jas 4:14)

Things change in unpredictable ways, and so do we.  Everyone who gets old wonders where the years went.  Everyone whose health begins to fail wonders where his strength went.  Today I saw a man younger than me, healthier and more fit, a flat-bellied guy.  Younger people would say he was “ripped.”  But he was visibly in pain with gout in his ankle.  If riches “surely make themselves wings” (Pr 23:5), then health and vitality can fly even faster.

It seems like it would make the task of evangelism easier if each born-again Christian suddenly gained perfect health.  If faith healers really could fulfill their claims, they’d be mobbed with unmanageable multitudes just like Jesus was.

But the only wise God (Jude 25) has seen that a religion which draws its life from mortal flesh cannot last.  So he sends us to the redeeming grace of Christ and the ministration of that grace by the Spirit.  He grants eternal life; it’s his gift, but then very much to our carnal disappointment, he pretty much leaves this earthly body to follow its natural course to the grave.  Some make it to a great age; others go sooner, and some are taken far too soon.  But we all go.  Death is the last enemy to be destroyed.

This is all something to be cranked into our calculations about the future, says James.  Don’t be so sure you’ll go into this or that city and continue a year buying, selling, and turning a profit.  The sun could arise upon your vapor of a life and make it disappear.

Daniel coined a memorable phrase in his austere sermon to Belshazzar, calling Jehovah, “the God in whose hand thy breath is.”  We do well to remember that, to walk humbly before God, to do justice while it’s in the power of our hands, and to love mercy as the gift of God that lets us enjoy one more day.

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