One day, I will be called home by God. One day, my physical presence on earth will fade away. I’m not going to live forever. I’m mortal. I’m going to die.
To many, this is probably not encouraging or joyful news. For many, this is just another cause of depression or discouragement. Staring our own mortality in the face can be disheartening. But if we grasp a Biblical view of ourselves and of God, the fact that we are minute, mortal creatures can be a freeing experience.
When I lived in Phoenix, I lived with a brother in Christ who was particularly in tune with his mortality. We could be eating dinner, laughing up a storm, and then the topic of our mortality would broached. While this didn’t always make me happy and pleased, it was inherently Biblical. My friend didn’t broach this subject regularly in order to stifle our joy, rather, it was done to remind us of just how precious these moments of togetherness were.
Today, I was laying in my bed digging into a Bible study on James that I recently started. While doing so, I made a connection in Scripture that I can honestly say I’d never noticed before. Look with me at James 1:9-11.
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. – James 1:9-11
In this verse, the man of wealth is compared to grass and flowers that quickly fade away when the scorching heat comes upon them. I looked at cross-references and came across Isaiah 40:7-8, verses that I’m familiar with but had never seen the connection to James 1 before.
The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. – Isaiah 40:7-8
Notice that proclamation of the Scriptures. Surely the people are grass. You likely won’t hear that at a commencement address or from a coach speaking to his team. Surprisingly, I rarely hear this type of imagery from the pulpit either, even though it is a true statement.
Growing up, when I would hear this passage, I would normally just hear verse eight. “The grass withers. . . . but the word of our God will stand forever.” To me, it was nothing more than a bold proclamation that God, His Word, and His promises would stand the test of time, even after the earth as we know it has gone away. It was only about the eternal nature of God and of His Word. I had never noticed the pretty confronting implications of the previous verse.
We’re all grass.
The sun scorches us, and we die.
Contrasted to an eternal God, we are nothing.
Again, this can lead to a despondent, disheartened, discouraged mindset on life, on the beauties of life and the gifts that God has so graciously blessed each of us with. But there’s another, more valid response. There’s the response of humility and trust in God that leads to freedom.
The passage from James is wedged in a passage explaining that you and I are going to face a heck of a lot of stuff in our lives. We are going to face trials of ‘various kinds’ (v. 2). Some of our brothers and sisters in Christ will face persecution, others of us will face life in a sin-affected broken cosmos. All of us face something. And when these things come, they can shake our confidence. They can leave us reeling, grasping for answers.
When our world shakes, many of us make the mistake of righting ourselves with a facade of control. We pretend that there’s nothing to worry about because we’re on top of things. We rely on our savings account, our job stability, our life experience.
James is giving a word of warning to those who would do just that. He reminds his readers that the rich man will ultimately pass away one day, even while pursuing that which he strives to obtain.
We must humbly come before the Lord, remembering our place before Him. When tragedy and trials strike in our lives, we must remember our God is both wise and generous with said wisdom (v. 5). This humility, this humble view of ourselves, can lead us to the wisdom that God has for us, the wisdom to live our lives well, even in trials.
Consider the following quote from Greg Gilbert’s study on James.
“Our physical lives do not last forever. Just as the grass withers and the flower fades, so we are here one moment and gone the next. That reality powerfully underlines James’s main point – that our faith should be not in our own wavering, unstable selves, but in the unchanging and immortal God.”
You and I are but grass.
Have you ever seen grass? Of course, you have. But have you ever seen how easy it sways, or how easily North Texas heat obliterates it in the summer? That’s us. In the passages we looked at today, we see this truth clearly (James 1:10, ‘like a flower of the grass’ and Isaiah 40:7, ‘surely men are grass’).
Friends,this is the most freeing truth on earth.
I’m not going to be around much longer. I don’t have to worry about legacy, about my kingdom of sand. I can trust in the One who is wise and generous with His wisdom. I can seek to love others and persevere in trials.
I’m not going to be great. I’m not going to be a world-changer. I don’t have to feel the pressure to achieve great things.
I am grass.
Guess what? You are too.
In His Name,