The New Testament book of James, while it calls itself a letter, is more like the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew scriptures. It gives insights and wisdom about nature and reality and the divine. James 1: 5-8 begins by telling us that if we lack wisdom, all we need to do is to ask God, who gives it generously. All is well. But then he says we have to ask for it in faith without doubt, ending with if we doubt we “must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” That stings. Who doesn’t doubt?!
Some people read this passage as saying that when we ask God for anything, if we have faith, we will get it; and if we doubt, we won’t. If we are good, God rewards us; if we don’t obey, God punishes us. If we believe with no doubt that God will cure our loved one with breast cancer, it will happen. But if we doubt, God won’t make her well. Ouch! Such a reading sets us up to be able to manipulate God—and then who is God?
I believe, instead, that this passage is simply telling about how life is. Time and again I can fall into the doubting mode, even doubting the very existence of God. What happens then is that my sense of purpose and meaning disappear. I am anxious, uncertain, and irritable—like an ocean wave blown by the wind. Nothing goes well. I don’t think God is punishing me. I think I am getting the consequences of my choices. And when I turn to God and ask for help, I am met. The turning isn’t an intellectual change. It is simply letting go of the doubt and opening to Mystery. I have merely dropped into God’s flowing stream, where life and gifts lie generously available. There is no reprimand for having doubted—only wisdom.
What image of God are you carrying?
What experience have you had of the wind and waves of anxieties and doubts? And of their being calmed?
Ask for what you need, and be open to the presence and action of God in your life.
For further reflection:
“But when Peter noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (See Matthew 14: 22-33).
“For the Lord gives wisdom. . .” (See Proverbs 2: 1-6).