"Lord Willing"

Out at the prison, we were in the book of James and discussing this passage from Chapter 4:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes.

Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
I grew up in a world where we said "Lord willing" a lot. 

"We'll see you next week, Lord willing."

"Lord willing, when we get home."

Over the years, though, I've repeatedly encountered people who get theologically triggered by saying "Lord willing." 

The concerns go to issues of providence and theodicy. Specifically, if we claim that the "Lord wills" for us to travel safely, then does that mean the "Lord wills" the traffic accidents on the road today? Is God "picking and choosing" who lives and dies on the highways?

To be sure, there are problematic visions of providence out there, and I don't mind anyone leveling criticisms at those. But when I think about what's being said in James 4, and the "Lord willing" refrains from my youth, I don't think the issue on the table is predestination. The issue is, rather, humility. 

To say "Lord willing" isn't to say that God is a puppet master picking and choosing who has a safe trip home or an accident. To say "Lord willing" is, rather, an admission of our frailty, dependency, and mortality. As it says in James, we are but a vapor. Saying "Lord willing" brings my finitude into view, that my time in not in my hands. To say "Lord willing" is a memento mori

I think old timers said "Lord willing" a lot because they lived in agrarian cultures, where they had little control over the elements that affected their crops. Their fate was not in their hands. They had no power to make it rain. Saying "Lord willing" put them in a proper frame of mind. Farmers had to be humble. 

But as we move further and further away from those times and places, we grow more prideful, thinking that we can control our own fates. I don't think we bristle at "Lord willing" because of theological concerns about providence. I think we chaff at "Lord willing" because we don't like to admit our lives are not in our hands. I think we avoid "Lord willing" because we've lost the humility of our ancestors. Our technology has insulated us from our neediness and dependencies. They prayed for rain, we turn on our sprinkler system. They sat on front porches fanning themselves through hot summers, we turn on our air conditioner units. 

They said "Lord willing" their entire lives. We never say it at all. And between us, who sees life more truthfully?

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