Dust in the Wind
“13 Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” James 4:13-15 ESV
Dear Church Family,
In 1977, the progressive rock group, Kansas, released an album with what has probably become their most famous song, “Dust in the Wind.” Written by guitarist Kerry Livgren during his days as a spiritual seeker, the song explores the brevity of life and is expressly inspired by the book of Ecclesiastes. A couple of years later, Livgren was won to Christ through the testimony of another musician who was touring with Kansas. His evangelical faith in Christ, in fact, became the source of much tension within the band, especially with lead singer Steve Walsh.
So is it “biblical” to reflect on the brevity of life? Well, it depends on what you mean. Certainly, the Bible promises eternal life to those who follow Christ. Still, Ecclesiastes declares that “all is vanity,” and the passage from James 4, cited above, states, “you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
The biblical attitude about the nature of life is nuanced. We are the good creation of God, but God’s creation has been damaged by sin, and humans are under the judgment of God. Many people live their day-to-day lives without giving any thought to God or his will. James is responding to this mindset that ignores the sovereignty—even the existence—of God. I call this attitude “functional atheism.” Oh, sure, a lot of people will say they believe in God, but they live as if everything was up to them.
James’s response to this attitude is terse: if God wills it, you are nothing but dust in the wind. James is not saying that I have to literally say the words, “if the Lord wills,” every time I make plans for the next day, but he is attacking an attitude that is as prevalent today as it was in his day. Specifically, people are so focused on amassing “stuff” (v. 13), that there is not the slightest acknowledgment of God—much less actual worship—in their lives.
I think the brevity of life works in two ways in James 4. First, we are reminded that we exist at the pleasure of God. Nothing is to be taken for granted, and God’s place as the sovereign God of the universe is to be acknowledged often and with great reverence. Second, the brevity of our lives on earth, even when we live in relationship with God, means that we should try hard to make the most of our lives; don’t waste your life collecting stuff. As we read just this past Sunday morning, “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:16 ESV.
I hope that today you have acknowledged God in your life, and I hope that you are considering how to use the life that God has given you to bring glory to him.