"he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."
There is a whole book called In Two Minds. Whenever I read this verse it makes me think of that book, which is an early one by Oz Guinness. It uses James 1:8 as a jumping off point for a discussion of faith and doubt. But as I've already said, doubt is not the opposite of faith. Un-faith is. One kind of doubt is a natural part of the life of faith. It is, in fact what keeps us strong as believers. If I never wondered to myself if God really is who he says he is; if I never pondered if Jesus really is Lord I would never dig deeper to discover that these things really are so. The life with God is a life of ups and downs. It is a life where we have moments of great assurance and moments of deep doubt.
What, then, is James talking about here if not the basic question of whether we believe or not? I think the give-away is in verse 5 where he uses wisdom as the example. You see, it isn't only wisdom one can "get" from God. Rather, James is using the pursuit of wisdom as a template for our developing any of the godly attributes. And I think James uses wisdom here very craftily. It is a term that had an unambiguous meaning both to Jews and to Gentiles. It was not considered either spiritual or earthly in and of itself and it wasn't prone to shades of meaning like some of the other virtues are. It was also, to the greek mind, among the highest of the virtues.
But no matter how unambiguous the term, if I am asking for one thing out of one side of my face and another out of the other side of my face, I am still two-faced. If I say to God, "Make me godly," and then go about intentionally living an ungodly life should I expect God will honor my request? Not likely. It is like my "desiring" to be a great musician (which I did once), but being unwilling to do the work to make it happen. As I said in 1:5, it is really a matter of the will.
For James then, the use of "doubt" is more wanting this and wanting that... dallying here and there and giving mere lip-service to God when we say we want godliness. It is not merely a life of ups and downs in our faith. It is a mark of a wholly unexamined and unstable faith.
One caution: I am not the judge of whether another person is stable in his or her faith. James is addressing each of us personally for our own examination. He never once tells us to examine another believer as to his or her stability. In fact, as Jesus admonished Peter not to turn around and look at John as they walked the beach (John 21), so the stable life of faith, the single-minded life, is a matter of you and me keeping our eyes "fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith."
Pastoral Relief and Retreat
- Wethersfield, CT, United States
- I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.