James: Arrogant Autonomy

Most of us have heard the phrase, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” But I haven’t just heard it: I have lived it out multiple times and this year was no exception.

Early in the year, my husband and I started trying for a baby. I was throughly convinced I would get pregnant the first month. When this didn’t happen, I was devastated. I then resigned myself to the idea that getting pregnant is hard and it would be months before I would conceive. Armed with this presumption, I told my husband we might as well completely gut almost the entire house. Surprisingly, he consented. About two weeks after we took everything but the kitchen, bathroom, and room we’re sleeping in down to the studs, I was staring at a positive pregnancy test at 3 in the morning. This year has repeatedly been one for surprises and changed plans. I’ve been humbled repeatedly as I realize I not only don’t know everything, but I don’t know anything about the future. God alone knows and has the best laid plans.

While we may say that God laughs at our plans, James argues that God condems our arrogance in planning without thought to God. We need to humble ourselves and realize that we are not in control.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there and make 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 fir a little time abd then vanishes.

James 4:13-14

Initially, the only issue one could see with the hypothetical statement James proposes is that it is a run-on sentence. Particularly if you are a type-a planner like myself, this seems like a good idea. Whoever is thinking this is clearly planning for the future and practicing good business skills. They, like all of us at least occasionally, make the presumption that their life is fully in their own hands.

Yet, in his typical fashion, James quickly sobers those in agreement with this statement. “What is your life,” he asks. Who are we to believe that we can actually control anything? We not only cannot know what tomorrow holds, but we cannot even expect to be on this earth for very long. The early church father Augustine once said, “Restoring health for a time to a man’s body amounts to no more than extending his breath for a little while longer. Therefore it should not be considered of great importance, because it is temporal, not eternal.” This life is short. You and I have no say in when we are born nor truly when we die. (Death and the sovereignty of God is an indepth discussion for another time and, perhaps, for another person wiser than I.)

Whether we are making business plans or family planning or simply scheduling a get together with friends, we are wrong to believe that we can plan anything. How can one who doesn’t know what tomorrow holds accurately plan for the future? We cannot bevso arrogant to belive that we are in control of even our own lives.

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 4:15-16

I praise God that He never corrects our wrong behavior without also telling us how we ought to behave. I also praise God that He created planners like me not to merely tell us to completely stop planning. The thinking ahead and making plans is not wrong. What makes it sin is doing so void of God’s will and allowance for His sovereignty. Planners can still plan, but we must know who is ultimately I charge. We must have an attitude of humility as we make our plans. We are not God. We are not omnipresent. We cannot know if our business will thrive or fail, or if we will conceive or not, or even if we will live to make it to our weekend plans. The attitude of our heart abd the words that reflect that attitude are of vast importance when we make plans.

Very often, we do not plan with humility. We believe the feel good mantras of our day that claim ourselves to be in charge of our own destiny. These ideologies that are birthed out of the trendy narcissism are not new. In fact, the root of our arrogant planning can be traced back to the original sin. In pride, Eve questioned what God commanded and ate the forbidden fruit believing she should be like God. In pride today, we believe we are sovereign over own own lives and that our plans are better than God’s. We become angry and the Creator and Sustainer of the universe when we don’t get the job we wanted, the child we desired, or the doughnut we craved. We belive our plans our better than His. We are unashamedly prideful. That is why it is nor merely a bad idea to plan without allowance for God’s sovereignty. It is evil.

Allowing for God’s will does not guarantee that we will get our plans. One of the great mysteries in this life is why God did not allow a good thing to happen. But we can trust in his sovereignty. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things worth together for good, for those who are called according to his purposes.” It does not say all things are good. It says God works all things together for good according to His purposes. So while life may not seem good, we can trust that if we are saved from our sins, we can trust that the purpose and plan of God is good.

Yet, bosting in our own autonomy does guarantee that we are sinning. We must be careful to not plan in arrogance. Surely, a plan void of God’s purposes will not work together for good in the grand scheme of eternity.

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

James 4:17

While this may not obviously at first glance seem to fit in with the rest of the passage, the referral to sins of omission fits in perfectly. To know what one should do but to refuse to do so is called “sin of omission.” While a sin of commission is outright doing something one knows is wrong, the sin of omission is failing to do right. For example, while I may not beat my husband, I am still sinning when I see he needs help and I refuse to help him. I ought to do something, yet I choose to not do so. This is just as much sin in the eyes of God as doing a wrong act.

We commit the sin of omission when we don’t give the credit to God which He is due and when we make a plan and leave no room for God’s sovereignty. As Christians, we believe that God is sovereign: He is in charge of all. But do we give Him that credit? Do we allow for His purposes in our plans? Do we become angry at Him when our ways are thwarted? If the answer is yes to these things, we are sinning.

We ought to perpetually give God credit in our lives. Truly we would not be if it were not for Him. We also ought to always make room for His purposes in our plans. We can plan, but we need to remember we are not sovereign. He us the one who is ultimately in control, and we are the ones who should live as though that fact is true.


When God laughs at our plans, let us be humble enough to chuckle with Him. While we wish we could, we can’t control everything. We are not God. We can pray and plan for our own ways, but we must ultimately surrender to the will of God. We must realize that despite what we think is best He knows what is best. Our speech, plans, and heart attitude should reflect a true surrender to His purposes. We can trust that He will work the good and the bad out for the good of His elect.

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