Dispatch Two Hundred Sixty-Eight

Posted: January 5, 2018 in Fifty-Second Bundle
Tags: , , , , , ,

JAMES 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

“You do not have, because you do not ask.” Is James saying that we can have anything we want just by asking for it? Not quite. He goes on to accuse the readers of asking wrongly “in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” In other words, our asking (and seeking and knocking, to quote Jesus) needs to arise out of and be inspired by a deeper awareness of our true need.

And what do we truly need? Not wealth or power or a competitive advantage over our rivals, but rather a pure heart, inner peace, and sufficient love for even our enemies. Now these are not things we typically pray for – frankly, they are counterproductive to our usual efforts toward self-promotion. And that is precisely the point James is making.

What are we unhappy in life? Why does it seem that frustration, and the insatiable appetite for excitement and accumulation that it arouses in us, is the prevailing temperament of our society today? The answer is deceptively simple: it is because the things we ask for – among them money, sex, and power (the Big Three) – are unable to satisfy the essential aspiration of our nature as human beings, which is to grow into the fullness of our God-given capacities for freedom, creativity, wisdom, fidelity, and love.

How will we ever find fulfillment if we consistently tether the upward realization of our divine potential to the obsessions and cravings of the infantile ego? Resist the devil indeed! It’s not that many or most of the things we “ask for” are inherently evil, but that our inordinate expectations (“This will make me happy!”) put demands on them which they can never satisfy.

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