“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” (James 1:5-8)
“Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.
Today, if only you would hear his voice,
Do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 95:6-8)
With Christmas behind us, ‘tis the season for New Year’s resolutions. In the United States at least, many of them will have to do with weight loss. It’s like the Mission Impossible franchise; obviously the missions weren’t impossible if new ones keep cropping up year after year.
Mine isn’t actually a resolution. It’s a need several months old. I’m a diabetic, and after I was able to drop my A1C dramatically within months of being diagnosed nearly five years ago, it’s stalled at the pre-diabetic level. My physician at the time said losing weight (about 12 pounds was his recommendation) would reduce that number.
Let me tell you what my problem isn’t about losing weight. Every package of processed food has a chart listing the amounts and per cent of daily recommendations for fat, saturated fat, sodium, carbohydrates, etc. With a small spiral notebook I can record everything I eat as well as the approximate calories, and through a free app I can find carbohydrates for just about every food under the sun.
I have the advice of medical professional to guide me. As a diabetic with plenty of reading material on the subject, I’ve acquired a general knowledge of what foods I can eat and what I should stay away from. With second-grade math skills I can tabulate the number of calories and grams of carbs recorded in my notebook. I know all I need to know.
The problem is that I am “double-minded and unstable in all [I] do” (Jas 1:8). The Greek word for “double-minded” is dipsychos, of two minds. (And possibly a good title for a movie sequel if Norman Bates had a twin brother.) As the Nike marketing department used to say, “Just do it.”
Three chapters later, James tells us “purify your hearts, you double-minded” (Jas 4:8, same word, dipsychos), so we know “double-minded” isn’t about standing in the soda aisle and trying to decide between Coke Zero and Diet Coke. It carries the connotation of doubt or reluctance like an anchor dragging the bottom, an impediment to faith.
As the full context of James 1:8 shows (first passage at the top), if we actually do lack wisdom, we can ask for it and God will give it to us “without finding fault.” But once we have it we are expected to receive it and then act on it (i.e., obey).
That is an act of the will, so knowing and doing are separate components that belong together. So where does the idea of double-minded come from? Once you know, your mind should be clear as to what the next step is. You should be single-minded, not double.
But if your will pre-empts the process, the second part of the double mind starts speaking up. Did God say . . . ? Does that mean I have to stop entirely? Am I looking at things in too black-and-white terms when I should be more “nuanced”? Yes, but doesn’t the word of God also say . . . ?
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Ps 119:105). We’re meant to walk in the light we have, not contemplate its wisdom, just highlight it in our Bible or double-underline it in our Wednesday night Bible study notes.
If we hear his voice and harden our hearts, something happens: a compromised will is the midwife of all sorts of rationalizations. You’re then eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When you hear his voice speaking the same word a second time you’ll avert your eyes or change the subject, dodging the Spirit’s presence just as Adam and Eve hid from God.
No matter how hard we try, no one can endure that kind of exposure. Adam and Eve fashioned coverings from fig leaves. When King Saul disobeyed God by sparing some of the Amalekites, he imagined he had followed the Lord’s instructions and his imagination went even a step further and “he set up a monument in his own honor” (1 Sam 15:12).
This was Saul’s fig leaf, to “cover” his disobedience. That’s what we do. We can make monuments to ‘cover ourselves.’ In and through our imagination, we can cast an image—a distorted self-image—of someone wrestling or even agonizing over some important decision as if all we wanted to do was honor God but his will is elusive or unattainable. I just don’t know what to do . . . (I have heard this a hundred times if I’ve heard it once.)
In most cases—not all—that simply isn’t true. The truth is, the moment our will decided to hold back, our hearts were darkened and our thinking became “futile” (i.e., getting us nowhere) (Rom 1:21). There is no confusion quite the like the confusion of someone who knows the will of God but won’t do it. In King Saul’s case, bleating sheep and lowing cattle made the truth plain and cut through every deception (1 Sam 15:14), as the prophet Samuel pointed out.
James wrote “that person [i.e., the double-minded] should not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (Jas 1:7). And she doesn’t. He gives grace to the humble, but grace is not “available credit” to buy time with while we decide whether or not to obey.
While visiting a friend’s repair shop one day, I heard Mike point out to someone unknown to me from another church that his relationship with a woman was disobedience to God (I believe they were co-habiting; it wasn’t clear). The man replied, “Well, then why is he blessing me?”
I don’t know what constituted “blessing” in his mind. Maybe it meant the simplistic notion that sin would precipitate instant calamity or misfortune and because he wasn’t experiencing any of that the status quo was acceptable to God.
He wasn’t experiencing the grace given to the humble. He was—at least for the moment–under the covering of God’s mercy, the forbearance that affords us the opportunity to make things right even though we’re clearly in the wrong. That covering is real—it’s no fig leaf—but it’s not to be taken lightly.
That covering is made possible because of “the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience” (Rom 2:4), riches made possible through the cross. But as Paul completes the thought, we should not “show contempt for” this, forgetting that “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance” (v. 4).
The writer George MacDonald said, “Obedience is the opener of eyes.” Or as Solomon wrote, profoundly, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” But God asked Job,“Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2). It shouldn’t be you or me.