James 1:2-8

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord. James 1:2-8

We are doing a new thing this year at Faith Lutheran Church. “First Steps @ Faith” is our adult catechumenate program. “Catechumenate” is an old word. It means “a course of instruction in the basics of the Christian faith.” We currently have seven candidates, each of whom has been assigned a sponsor to guide them in their journey. We meet every Wednesday night for Bible study, conversation, and prayer. This week we talked about faith and doubt. How timely given the reading assigned to us today.

James tells anyone of us who is lacking in wisdom (you can certainly count me amongst that crew) that we ought to ask God for the wisdom we lack. So far so good. He tells us to ask in faith. I’m down with that. Saying any prayer, bringing any request to God, is an act of faith. Again, so far so good.

But then James takes it one step farther and tells us that we must ask “in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” I read that line and remembered again how is no wonder that – early in his career – Martin Luther considered James an “epistle of straw.” Here in a nutshell is why:

Luther wrote, “But to state my own opinion about it…I consider that it is not the writing of any apostle. My reasons are as follows. First: Flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture, it ascribes righteousness to works…Second, its purpose is to teach Christians, and in all this long teaching it does not once mention the Passion, the Resurrection, or the Spirit of Christ…”(From Luther’s Works, vol. 35, p. 362)

In my experience of life, faith and doubt go hand in hand. They are two sides of the same coin. In fact, I think they are necessary to one another. Faith can’t be faith without doubt – without doubt, faith would be certainty and certainty isn’t faith. Certainty is certainty…and I’m not completely certain about much at all. I will ever appreciate Frederick Buechner for calling doubt the “ants in the pants of faith.”

For Christians to shame one another – be it from James himself or some well-meaning person over coffee – because of lingering doubts is a tragedy. It is the sort of tragedy that drives our real selves into hiding so that we replace ourselves with some kind of Stepford wife plastic self of conformity and fundamental dishonesty. False pride replaces humility and sinners remain stuck in their sin. Even some of those who showed up to see Jesus off in the 28th chapter of Matthew doubted!

It isn’t doubt that separates us from God, it is idolatry and disobedience. It is chasing after gods who are not gods or blatant disregard for the good that God would bring into our lives or into the world through us.

The real question is not “Do we have doubts?” (of course we do!) – the real question is “What are we doing with our doubts?” or “What is our doubt doing with us?”

My doubts, left to their own devices, would lead me to self-serving and self-destruction. But God has claimed me and I choose to surrender to my faith in the face of my doubts. Only then do my doubts drive me to Jesus. They drive me to the cross and the empty tomb. They drive me to the water of my baptism and the Bread and Wine through which Jesus comes to me again and again.

By the way, near the end of his life, Luther came to a new appreciation of James. But never about this particular passage. I hope I can watch them argue it out in heaven.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, honestly, it would be wonderful to be so fully possessed of your grace that we never have to feel the pangs of doubt in our lives. We could add that to the list of all sorts of other wishful thinking that will likely never come to be. So we don’t pray to rid us of all doubt. We only pray to give us the courage to trust you in all things, to turn to you in faith, to rely on your light when all we can see is darkness. For in that, we trust that you will also teach us wisdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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One Response to “James 1:2-8”

  1. Kara Says:

    Amen again. Your devotions always add so much to my day. I have been wondering for some time now if you were a counselor at Camp of the Cross in ND. I seem to remember someone named Kerry leading the counselor there maybe in the early 80’s.

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