A Brother’s Wisdom 8

A Brother’s Wisdom 8 February 26, 2009

JesusJames*.jpgDoubt that God is good renders a person’s faith unstable. Notice the terse, strong, and insightful words of James 1:6-8:

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 have to confess: this verse is not intended to speak of the difficulties of doubt or the realities of doubt by genuine believers. But, it is describing what faith is like for those who do doubt. Here is what I see:

First, the one who doubts that God is good and seeks wisdom from God is blown in various directions by her or his doubts instead of heading straight to God (the port). This person will tend to listen to voices that question God’s goodness.

Second, the one who doubts that God is good and seeks wisdom from God will not find the wisdom that he or she needs. James says that very thing.

Third, the one who doubts that God is good and seeks wisdom from God cannot expect anything from God — it is an affront to ask God to be good in dispensing wisdom and not believe God is good.

Fourth, the one who doubts that God is good and seeks wisdom from God is a “dipsuchos” (a double-souled person) and unstable “in all his ways.” That is, doubt here can render a person speechless when words are needed, act-less when actions are needed, and indecisive when decisions are needed.

James is bold here. The passage may comfort many but it is also a stiff challenge to doubters to have the audacity to hope and trust in the goodness of God.

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  • Pat

    “Third, the one who doubts that God is good and seeks wisdom from God cannot expect anything from God — it is an affront to ask God to be good in dispensing wisdom and not believe God is good.”
    This doesn’t describe a very good god, in my opinion. Nor does it describe a god who would give his son for people who had affronted him in multiple ways.

  • dopderbeck

    Scot, this passage has always bothered me and has never been a comfort. What do you mean that it’s not meant to apply to believers who have doubts?
    I have struggled with doubt many times, and even more I’ve struggled with defining “doubt.” I believe God is good, but I have to confess that in my weakness my belief is never absolute. That is, I’m not “certain” that God is good — heck, I’m not even “certain,” in the Cartesian sense, that God exists, though I “believe” He exists and is good, and sometimes “feel” very confident about that (though sometimes not).
    So, truthully, I’ve always felt like this passage is a lodestone around my neck. What’s the distinction between a “believer” who doubts, and the dipsuchos who will receive nothing from God?

  • Lori

    It has always been my belief that if you firmly believe AND doubt NOT in God and His Word; if you only believe in His Word some of the time you are not fully giving yourself to Him. It isn’t until you fully give yourself to God that He in turn will give you blessing back. Doubt not God, trust Him always … Even in the darkest of days and He shall see you through!

  • Scot McKnight

    Quite the text, so I think, when it comes to the presence of doubt. For me, this text is taking believing (probably poor) and exhorting them to believe God is good and to ask for wisdom. So that is the condition.
    The condition of intellectual doubts is not the point of the text. Something like Job or Ecclesiastes addresses that kind of issue head-on.
    That’s what I’m getting at: for the person who is struggling, other texts are to be examined. For the person in need of hearing that God is good and can be trusted, this is the text.
    Make sense?

  • SteveT

    I’m not sure I’m ready to change “doubt” in this text to “doubt that God is good”. Why do you assume that the text here is talking about doubting that “God is good”, rather than simply doubting that God is there at all, or perhaps doubting that God hears your prayers?
    Your post seems to be largely predicated on this jump, and I don’t understand how you have justified it.

  • dopderbeck

    Um… no. I mean, when are “intellectual doubts” and doubts about God’s goodness and trustworthiness really entirely separate?
    Take someone with a disabled child. You experience a wide range of questions — why my child, what will happen to him when he grows up, what can I do to help him, what is the state of his soul, why did God let this happen and so on. We can use the fancy word “theodicy,” but this isn’t just an academic, scholastic exercise.
    Yes, Ecclesiastes, Job, etc. provide resources here — mostly resources that shroud God and His ways in mystery and transpose the questions into awe and expectant silence. But you don’t start to come to these resources until you’ve passed through the Psalmist’s anger and doubt — where are you God, why are you letting your own people suffer? Yet, James says the wisdom is unavailable if we start at the place of the Psalmist? It doesn’t hang together.
    On more mundane “intellectual” doubts it doesn’t seem to hang together either. All of the stuff we’ve been discussing on this site about faith and science, say, can be characterized as “doubts” about what the Bible says and means. Many people will say, “don’t expect any wisdom from God if you come to him with the presumption that the Bible might not be ‘true’ based on science or other human wisdom.” Yet how can we gain wisdom from God about what truth He is conveying in scripture if we don’t first “doubt” how we’re understanding it?

  • #1 Pat
    Could it be rather than a retaliatory response of God, simply the description of a natural consequence of what happens to someone who embraces the logical fallacy of mistrust?
    In other words, doubt in God’s goodness is a paradigm that necessarily skews interpretation of God’s actions and advice (Since I think He’s bad, I can’t see any good coming from Him).

  • RJS

    I have no insight or answer to the first part of this question – but the second I have thought about a great deal. (The mundane “intellectual” doubts.)
    The text doesn’t say “trust scripture” the text says trust God – don’t doubt God – and ask for wisdom. I think one of the things we can ask for wisdom on is how to view scripture. Doubting a view of scripture is not the same as doubting God.
    Perhaps this is the approach for the rest as well. In the face of financial stress, pain, death, disabled child, trust God and ask for wisdom. The Psalmist gets angry and questions God, but generally ends with something along the lines of “but I put myself in your hands” a fundamental posture of faith.

  • SamB

    Does Jesus’ parable of the talents add anything to this? I like Scot’s comment above in #4 but I have the same kinds of questions Doperdeck raises in the first three paragraphs of #6.

  • Scot McKnight

    I’d come back once again with the point that I don’t think James is talking about intellectual doubts. He might, indeed I suspect he would, have something else to say about that form of doubt. He’s talking about doubting God’s goodness when you simultaneously are asking God for wisdom. It doesn’t work his conclusion to such a bifurcated approach to God.
    Doubting God’s existence and asking God for something is about the same kind of “double soul-ness”. Doubting God in a search to understand God is another matter altogether.
    Not sure where to go.

  • Dan H.

    Scot, dopderbeck, and others,
    Is it possible that we’ve improperly divorced this text from the preceding verses?
    Perhaps the wisdom discussed in verse 5 is connected with the maturity that James discusses in verse 4. If that is the case, then it implies that this wisdom is developed through trials. Furthermore, it implies that the opposite of doubt is not certainty, rather, it the is endurance: the endurance that is needed to weather the trials and develop wisdom. I.e., the doubt is not of the intellect but, instead, it is of the will: the one who doubts will not receive wisdom because he has not allowed the trials to perfect him.
    This may also mean that when a person asks for wisdom they are, in effect, telling God that they are willing to undergo some trials in order to develop the wisdom that they request. For that reason God will not “bless” a doubter with trials because God knows that the doubter will not be able to handle the trials. That is to say that, perhaps, it is God’s grace that causes Him to withhold this wisdom that is developed through trials. He will only let us suffer that which we can handle, and, therefore, He will only let us develop wisdom that He feels we are capable of developing.
    Does that make any sense to anyone else?

  • Dan,
    That makes sense to me. Sounds like this is all tied together in commitment.
    Good post. Yes, God is good no matter what. Even when I don’t have all the answers. Like why so many suffer and have no access to the gospel. Or the problems we face in our own lives. We still must come to that with the commitment of faith that God is good.

  • Pat

    “In other words, doubt in God’s goodness is a paradigm that necessarily skews interpretation of God’s actions and advice (Since I think He’s bad, I can’t see any good coming from Him).”
    That could be the case, but it seems to me that it would be a recipe for losing souls. Can’t see a good god settling for that.
    But then, I can’t see a good god in much theology. I wonder if christians really want to believe in a good god. There was certainly a time in my youth when I thought Jesus’ love wasn’t worth much, because he had no standards. I think an awful lot of theology is an attempt to figure out what god’s standards are, perhaps so we can justify having standards ourselves. I’m no longer at all interested in that project; I won’t settle for a god who doesn’t love everything he created.