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James Chapter One verses 5-8

Doubting

In verse 6 James speaks of a man who asks God but doubts. Commentaries suggest that this is not a vague nagging "what if..." worry but a more specific, calculating disbelief - a man holding onto God's promises with the definite thought that nothing will happen as a result of him praying. The term double minded is applied - thinking two distinct and separate things. The command to Love the LORD your God with all your heart, mind and strength appears to be at odds with this position.

A cross reference takes us to Ephesians 4:14 which talks about a man being tossed around by the changing winds of doctrine / teaching. The relative dates of the 2 books suggest that this link never existed at the time of writing - James being one of the earliest New Testament books (very Jewish in character like the initial church, no mention of the circumcision controversy, use of synagogue for meeting, etc). If any such link should be made, then it would be safe to assume the author of Ephesians was aware of James' writings and was building on them.

The context of James' discourse on doubt is that of those seeking wisdom from God, he exhorts his reader to ask of God who will give generously. The comments about doubt are immersed in the context of verses to do with the mind of both man and God. A man lacking in wisdom, who asks of God, but doesn't believe He will give, is likened to a wave at sea. [My first thought about the wave was coloured by the physics of "wave particle" duality where by particles are seen to exhibit the properties of both waves and particles. According to this theory a particle can be spread out over space and (while you're not looking at it) in several places at once].

It's very easy to see how the later book of Ephesians would pick up on this thought and expand on it: a man who lacks wisdom and doesn't look to God to provide it (having fundamental difficulty believing He'll give even though the Word is clear about God being faithful and generous) is open to be preyed upon by unscrupulous teachers. Doubts about the very nature of God ("He is generous") and about the Word of God (the promise that God answers prayer) provide the means by which others could lead the doubter astray.

Back to James, it points out that the man shouldn't suppose to receive anything from God. Does this refer to the receipt of material goods and providence? The context suggests not: an unstable man asks for wisdom but doesn't believe he will receive. The verse simply confirms the man's disbelief - he is quite right, he won't receive anything. It also suggests something else to my mind - a man who disbelieves God's generosity won't receive any of the special direction / revelation / guidance that appears to characterize the figures of true faith on the early church scene.

Does this bear out in practice? Do we see any "doublemindedness" in our churches today? In the case of those doubting God's nature and/or His Word / promises, do we see any signs of God's specific guidance or revelation? Or, what of the Ephesians verse, talking of unstable men being blown around by every wind of doctrine. Is there any sign in today's church [liberal or not...] of people being lead astray by deceitful schemers? Of them being tossed around from one fad of teaching to the next (following "doctrinal fashion")?

James Chapter One verses 9-18

 

by Paul Hawke