Over countless meals with family, friends and/or acquaintances, talk turns – every time – to the terrible state that the world is in …
… the dishonesty, bigotry, and greed of many of her leaders; and the corruptive power of power …
… the economic reasons behind wars and “peace-keeping” efforts in resource-rich countries while, in other parts of the world, entire tribes and cultures are able to wipe each other out without intervention…
… those truly awkward conversations that begin with “I’m not a racist but …” or “I have nothing against gay people but …” and end with the uneasy truce “let’s just agree to disagree” or the less-easy sound of someone walking away in disgust and frustration…
… the latest horrifying terrorist attack, freeway pile-up, farm murder etc. and the inevitable laying of blame at some group that we are obviously not part of ….
The underlying message:
the world is in a terrible state
but we are not to blame;
in fact, we are far better people than most!
In James’ letter to Jewish Christians living in an angry society divided by greed and jealousy, James asks a pertinent, piercing question which is very much relevant to the terrible state of the world today:
“What causes quarrels
and what causes fights among you?”
Take a moment to answer James’ question in terms of:
1. fights and quarrels within the world,
2. fights and quarrels that have occurred specifically within your life and relationships.
One of the more irritating habits that my boys picked up during their preschool years was chanting in response to anyone who pointed at them:
“For every finger you point at me, there are three pointing right back at you.”
But this is precisely James’ point: for all that we try to distance ourselves from blame or responsibility for the state of the world around us, what happens without is really a mirror of what is happening within our own hearts and minds.
We go after what we desire despite the cost or consequences to others; maybe drawing a line at actually committing a murder, but often killing a person’s trust or reputation or marriage without remorse.
And the things we covet that we are unable to get our hands on become the source of sour relationships, the reason why our words are full of anger and frustration and criticism and bile.
We would rather go without something than humble ourselves and ask for it, openly, honestly, vulnerably.
And when we do manage to swallow our pride and ask but don’t receive, we are outraged – even though what we were asking for was selfish or wrong or impossible for the other person to give in the first place (James 4:2-3).
Then, as with those who scoffed at Wisdom’s call, who turned from her life-giving ways,
calamity comes like a whirlwind,
distress and anguish fill our days;
we have our fill of our own devices,
then choke on the fruit of our desires
The world without is a reflection of the world within – a compounded, magnified version of our own sin.
But, through the grace of God, the inner (and then) the outer can change.
Prayerfully reflect on James 4:6-10 as you seek change within – and without.