Mon | Dec 5, 2016

The presumption of resolutions

Published:Sunday | January 18, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Clinton Chisholm, GUEST COLUMNIST

On the first Sunday in January 2015 in a Baptist church where I work, I announced my topic as 'Learning from a fool' (Lk 12:13-21). Of course, I readily covered myself - since they know my obsession with teaching from the pulpit - by saying that the fool was in the text, not in the pulpit.

After defending the rich fool against preachers and Christians who fault him for selfishness and lack of neighbourliness, I went on to identify his main problem as a faulty presumption on life and on time.

Where does this arise in the text? In a string of future tenses without any attached conditional statement plus a presumptuous statement and command to himself.

Where is this string of future tenses? Ponder verses 18-19 from the New King James Version.

18. So he said, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19. And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."'

Do you pick up the unbridled future 'I will'? The whole cast of his plan, his resolution, is based on a presumption about the future. I say there is no conditional statement because this man - like so many of us at year's end - does not talk about his future plans like how old people in the region used to talk and possibly still do talk in some areas.

If an older person is making plans to weed the field tomorrow or go somewhere tomorrow, you would usually hear the plan mixed with some conditional statement like 'if life spare', 'if bret inna de baddy' or 'please God' or 'if Jesus tarry' or 'God willing'.

no conditional statement

The rich man's faulty presumption comes out in his string of future tenses without any conditional statement, but it also comes out more in the statement and command he makes to himself in v. 19. The statement, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years," joined to the command "eat, drink, and be merry," is as presumptuous as it is faulty and foolish.

The man's language betrays a faulty presumption on time and life AS IF HE WERE DEAD SURE THAT HE WOULD, OF NECESSITY, LIVE FOR A LONG WHILE YET.

Every New Year or other resolution is based on a presumption of extended life and time concerning which we have no guarantee. Therefore, our thinking and language must reflect this reality in conditional statements.

The fool's faulty presumption was checked and rebuked by God's fatal pronouncement in v. 20

"Fool, this night, your soul is required of you then who will get what you have piled up?" (Chisholm's rendition).

The language of God here is very vivid and instructive. Contrary to the man's plans for many years, the fatal pronouncement came on the same day he spoke, reflected in the Greek present tense 'is required' (though most translations have 'will be required'). The expression 'is required' = 'is demanded back', it is the language of a banker who, having lent, is now foreclosing on the loan.

We may talk as eloquently as we might about the 'right to life' in our little human legal enterprises, but let us never forget that at the most fundamental level, life is a loan from God and God can foreclose that loan of your life when He sovereignly pleases.

All I ask is that we reckon with the presumption beneath all of the resolutions we made for 2015, and if we have not yet done so revisit them and add a conditional statement "if God ... ."

The Rev Dr Clinton Chisholm is a theologian. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and clintchis@yahoo.com.