A Brother’s Wisdom 7

A Brother’s Wisdom 7 February 25, 2009

JesusJames*.jpgJames, the brother of Jesus, is no promiser of happy days. Notice what he says in James 1:6-8:

6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double‑minded man, unstable in all he does.

I’m not so sure we should run ahead of James and say that if we lack wisdom it is not because didn’t have enough faith, so we should start mustering up more and more faith. James’ approach here is simpler and more either/or.

For James, you either approach God as good in faith or you approach God in a faith mixed with doubt about God himself. This sounds a bit like Hebrews 11’s opening appeal to trust in God — to trust God you gotta believe God exists.

To trust God to grant wisdom in the midst of strife you gotta believe God is good. Notice this isn’t the intellectual conundrum that ponders, often in the middle of an ivory tower or from the comfort of a cushioned chair or over a latte with a friend, but the genuine reality of the poor oppressed (and tradition tells us James was put to death by enemies of the gospel) who cry out to God and bank on God’s goodness in the midst of suffering.

And neither do we need to minimize the reality of theodicy: the difficulty of explaining God as good in a world that is rife, at times, with injustices. But that is not what James is addressing.

He says the poor can turn to God, who is good, and ask for wisdom. He says they can turn to God in faith. And he says God will grant them wisdom.

He summons the messianists to the courage that is required to believe, in the midst of suffering, that God is good and that God grant wisdom and that God will bring justice — someday.

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  • RJS

    So Scot, If you were going to write an application for this passage, say in the vein of the NIV Application Commentaries – for us here today, what would it be?
    Or is even expecting such an application asking an inappropriate question of the text?

    Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

    Is the only appropriate understanding of “various trials” the oppression of a people by an empire or a power structure? Or is the application potentially broader than this?

  • RJS

    My comment reads a bit “harsher” than I intended, ah well – that isn’t what I meant. But it is intended to be a real question.

  • Scot McKnight

    Well, I’m right now nervous about that word “application” but I can get over it. Here’s how I would see it:
    We are God’s people; when we go through or even face the prospect of financial stress because of our commitment to Christ, then we are in an analogous situation as the messianists of James. In that situation, we are to trust in God as good.
    Broader yet, of course, but not first and not what James had in mind. Anytime we need wisdom about a demanding situation, we can bank on God being good and wanting us to come to him for wisdom.
    The order matters to the historical exegesis.

  • RJS

    James has always been one of my favorite books – but I’ve never really “studied” it. Your posts are emphasizing aspects of the book that I’ve not seen as a major point – especially justice and economic oppression. Should be interesting …perhaps the problem lies with my preconceptions – but I’m not convinced yet.

  • Hey Scott.
    Have you read Tamez’ commentary on James? She also wonders if western europeans can read this text with its full ethical implications because we are rationalistic and wealthy (or as she says logocentric). I think this same problem applies to the sermon on the mount which is compelling given the similarity between that text and this one. I think her concern is a good one considering our suburbanized imaginations, what do you think?

  • I am reading your post again and wondering, can we find ways to pray with the poor, to hear from the poor to be with those suffering and in pain? I think that might be an application. But an application with a trajectory towards humanizing the language, bringing us closer to the spirit of the text, etc. Just a thought.