Adversity hits us in life sometimes. Sometimes, adversity comes in the form of a specific, singular event that tries people’s patience and even faith; sometimes, adversity comes in the form of a long,
Tucked away in verse 6 is a passage that serves as support to the idea that one should not doubt God. The context of this doubt pertains to the nature of difficult trials, but due to the way James transitions his exhortations, the connections between the different parts are not always immediately apparent. As a consequence, we can be inclined to view the notion of doubt in terms of our more reflective thinking, such as ontological terms (“Does God exist?”), moral terms (“Is God good?”), or in terms of capacity (“Is God all-powerful?”). But these questions do not hit at exactly what James is addressing.
At stake for James is this question: what is the response of the person to God in the midst of the trials? In vs. 12-16, James expands on dilemma a person may have n the midst the trial that he refers to previously in vs. 2-4. When facing the trial (δόκιμος), it is supposable that might say that God is tempting (πειράζω) them. There is an important difference in these terms. δόκιμος is used in reference to the circumstances one faces, whereas πειράζω is used to refer to the enticement one feels in the midst of such circumstances. What James tries to remind his audience is that when a trial comes, God is not trying to entice the person to fail. This feeling of temptation comes from within, not God.
This begins to provide a sense of the doubt James speaks about in v. 6. The doubt isn’t about
This provides the basis of the double-mindedness of the doubter that James refers to. This person, at the same moment,
The most appropriate analogy I could think of is what occurs in unhealthy relationships. For instance, in some marriages, one person may have two contradictory expectations of their partner. On the one hand, they may think “You ought to love me” and expect the partner to give what they expect. On the other hand, they think “You won’t love me” and so act in a manner in which they expect the partner to fail them. Two contradictory expectations operate at the same time: the expectations of obligation and the expectations of mistrust. While plenty of people experience ambivalence regarding their relationships, their expectations within the moment tend to be ‘integrated’ that gets modified according to experience, whereas this double-minded nature is one in which both operate simultaneously.
This is what I think to be the most fitting analogy to the type of doubting of God James is referring to. It is to simultaneously expect of God to provide wisdom to help in one’s time of trial and then at the same time think God is the one responsible for one’s temptations as if God is trying to get one to fail.
What is the origination of this attitude? James doesn’t describe this, but in James 4.7-10 he provides the antidote:
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. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (NRSV)
James solution is repentance that is understood as a reorientation of the whole person, action
If one pays attention to the whole of James, one sees a repetitive problematic pattern that James is addressing, which I would refer to as non-participatory religion. James exhorts people to not be mere hearers, warnings people that faith without works is dead. Meanwhile, he also opposes the attitude of pride and automatic expectations of future success.
These two patterns together are suggestive of a specific type of religion where the practice of one’s religion is about God’s obligations to oneself, but there
However, at the same time, such an attitude exhibits a certain attitude under trial and distress. People who have high expectations of others but low expectations of themselves have a predilection to blame their own feelings on other people. Others are making them feel what they feel. So, when this attitude gets direct towards God, there can be the blame towards God for making them feel tempted as they do. “You are making me do this!” can be
The end result is the doubting person James is referring to is thinking “You ought to give me wisdom to help me through this difficult time, God, but you won’t because you are trying to make me fail.”
This type of doubt is different from other forms of doubt, however. This is not the epistemic doubt that is generated by reflective thinking about God and God’s nature. This isn’t even the type of doubt generates from difficult struggles but without questioning God’s character that the lament Psalms express. Rather, James is referring to a relational doubt generated by a person whose pride makes them feel entitled with a low sense of obligation towards those they expect something from. Their religion is a non-participatory religion, as it doesn’t entail them living faithfully to God’s call towards God and others, but is a one-way relationship of God (and others) towards them that leads to doubt about God’s good intentions in times of trials.
Hence, the solution to such a double-minded nature is
In other words, the double-minded doubter that James refers to has a wrong view of God and through that, of others. They see God under obligation and all of religion as obligations to themselves. But, in fact, James’ description of God and religion is not one of obligation, but of generosity.2 James repeatedly emphasizes God’s generosity and speaks of the Torah as characterized by liberty. God does what he does out of generous love to the most humble, rather than a God who is obligated to give those who deem themselves pridefully worthy of this love.3
- Although, to be clear, James isn’t condemning talking about people’s actions, lest James be hypocritical. James is warning against the type of attacks upon other people and their character that is characteristic of the pursuit of personal ambitions and status through using the laws/rules against others to lower the status and place of others. This should not be taken as a prooftext to forbid speaking of how one has been harmed by another, however.
- To provide a theology and spiritual comment here, I would divide religion of obligations into three types: 1) one-way obligation of oneself to God, 2) one-way obligation of God to oneself, and 2) two-way obligations of God and oneself to each other. While the New Testament clearly protrays religion as a religion of generosity and love, the religion of two-way obligation can be a step towards that understanding. I say that to say that the religion of two-way obligations has ‘redeeming’ value in recognizing that religion involves both parties, but the person still is in need of looking towards a transformation of the attitudes that define how God and themselves relate to each other.
- To be clear, James is not referring to the pride of a person who feels entitled because they have upheld their end of the bargain in the religion of two-way obligations. The pride of what we might refer to as works righteousness stemming from the Protestant Reformation is not in view here, or really all of the New Testament.