Consider these two bible passages:
The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,
but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty. (Proverbs 21:5)
Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. (Proverbs 19:21)
At first glance these two verses seem almost to contradict each other. The first indicates that our plans matter a great deal; the second indicates that our plans don’t matter much at all.
When we consider these verses within the context of the rest of the bible, though, we see that they don’t contradict each other. Rather, they stand in tension with one another and guard us against two opposite errors. It is as though these two errors are at the opposite extreme ends of a continuum, and the proper way to live is somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, Proverbs 21:5 warns us against one extreme error: living irresponsibly, without giving heed to the future while neglecting the proper management of the resources entrusted to us by God. To be lazy and careless in this way is to sin. On the other hand, Proverbs 19:21 warns us against the opposite extreme error – that of planning and plotting so carefully and so obsessively that we believe we can control the future. This also is sin, because when living that way we are putting our trust in things that are not God. In that case we are idolators. The God-pleasing way to live is somewhere in the middle: working and preparing for the future, while at the same recognizing that all things are ultimately in God’s hands.
One of the things I have definitely noticed is that North Americans in general and East Africans in general live in different places along the continuum between the two errors. North Americans tend to place greater emphasis on bible passages like Proverbs 21:5. We are perhaps less reckless, but we are also more prone to succumb to the temptations of materialism and idolatrous self-sufficiency. East Africans, on the other hand, seem to place greater emphasis on passages like Proverbs 19:21. They are perhaps less materialistic and idolatrous, but are more liable to the temptation to carelessness with life and property.
Of course, we all are able to see the speck in our brother’s eye better than the log in our own. Here’s an example. One of the things that shocked me when I first arrived was the crazy and dangerous way people drive here. It’s not at all uncommon to see kids standing on the back of a flatbed truck as it careens down a pothole-filled road at high speed, wind steaming through their hair. My natural reaction is, “Don’t you see how dangerous that is? You should take more precautions against injury in the future!”
On the other hand, I begin also to see how an African would perceive a typical suburban American kid, riding a foot-powered scooter while wearing helmet, wrist guards, elbow pads, and knee pads on a playground surfaced with foam rubber at a speed of 0.001mph. The African reaction would be, “Live a little, and trust God to take care of you! You obsess far too much over the future.”
Just as different individual people have different personalities and so are prone to different temptations, so too different cultures have different “personalities” and are likewise prone to different temptations. Thanks be to God, who has provided a Savior for us all.