“You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears” (James 4:14b).
If James were writing in the 21st century, modern day parlance would label him someone “who pulls no punches.” His entire letter is a straightforward and honest appraisal of who we are before God. The main theme that runs throughout the letter is his insistence on being an integral Christian, someone whose faith is both held in a devoted and loving heart while being a recognizable component of one’s actions.
Being an integrated person means understanding who we are in God’s eyes, recognizing that God is the Creator and that we are the creatures. Creatures do not chart their own course. Creatures follow the will of the Creator. In the Gospels, Jesus puts this lesson in the context of shepherds and sheep. The shepherd leads, the sheep follow.
This is a difficult lesson to integrate into our own lives, especially for people of the Western World who are used to thinking that they are the masters of their own destiny. We are so used to looking with admiration at the self-made man or woman that we become oblivious to the fact that there is no such thing. We are who we are by God’s design and plan. God has given us free will in order to make it possible for us to choose to follow, but we should not confuse that ability to choose with mastery.
Scripture uses different analogies to describe the relationship between Creator and creature. James uses a very strong image when he imagines us as no more than a puff of smoke. We all know how transient a puff of smoke is. This description not only delineates the time occupied by our lives but also the kind of “power” we have within that time frame. Smoke is completely at the will of the breezes or winds that it encounters. So too are we completely at the will of God who is the King of the Universe and Ruler of the World.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator