Divided Hearts

James 4: 4-6 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”  NIV

I am writing this reflection on July 4th. This is a different July 4th! Ann and I were planning to be down at the Tred-Avon River in Oxford for the 4th, but, as many of you know, life has a way of interrupting our best laid plans. Our family has always loved finding ways to celebrate our country’s independence. Like families across Maryland, this typically meant flocking to a parade along with a family cookout or a fireworks display. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has made many of these gatherings impossible. Our realities have been upended and our daily lives are vastly different than last year. While we might not be able to celebrate this holiday as we did a year ago, this new reality cannot strip away the meaning of July 4th, nor can it stop us from working toward a more perfect union.

During the past several months in addition to the Covid-19 pandemic, our country has been rocked by many protests about racial equality which has caused an awaking awareness of the pervasive nature of racism. On July 4th we remember that this celebration is critical because that was the time when the American colonies broke with the dominance of Britain and was the beginning of the Revolutionary war. One key aspect of the Delectation is: We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. (BTW, the 18th century word Men means all humans in the 21st century)

The commemoration of our country’s independence signals our common bond as American people and reminds us that democracy and the fight for a better future is not a passive exercise. Through this country’s most trying moments, we have emerged stronger because people have risen to the occasion, and this moment is no different.

Chapter 4 of James’ letter continues the line of thinking we have been reading about in the previous chapters. James is chastising us as we seek to honor worldly wisdom instead of following the wisdom of God as spelled out in the Bible. I think that all would agree that our society today is experiencing bitter jealousy, envy, and selfish ambition. Our actions reveal that we are following the wisdom of the world and not the wisdom of God. The result of worldly wisdom is disorder and every vile practice. Following the wisdom of world not only causes ruin to ourselves as individuals, but also causes problems for our communities and society. We see Christians fighting with other Christians. Divisions, hurt feelings, tension, and strife are readily seen by outsiders.

We live in a pleasure driven society. Do what you want to do. Make sure you are happy. Obey your passions and your thirst. James asks the question: Where do you think these quarrels and fights come from? The answer is that our passions are at war within us and James is speaking in spiritual terms. In his book The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis observes that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

James’ answer concerning our separation from God is not the answer we give. The answer we give about why there is strife is because of something outside of us. We blame the other person. We blame things that were said. We blame actions that hurt us. But that is not the answer James gives. James says that the problem resides within us. Battles and fights come from our selfish hearts and our desires for pleasure. We have divided hearts.[1] We have passions that are ruling our hearts and bodies. The problem is that we have not conformed to the wisdom of God but have conformed to the wisdom of the world.

James says that we are an “adulterous” people. That we love the world while saying that we love God. This is a powerful comparison and one that points directly to all of us. We are disloyal to following God’s call on our lives. God does not want to share us with the world. We understand it in marriage. When we marry, we are leaving family and friends at second place and the marriage is where attention rests. Something is wrong with the marriage if we are spending time with every person but our spouse. In the same way, there is something wrong if we spend our time with every person but God. We are showing our friendship with the world. We are cheating on God, rather than being united to him completely. God will not accept our leftovers. Serve God completely or don’t bother because he will not be the third wheel in the relationship.

After crushing our hearts in an effort to see that our love with the world has separated us from God, James says something that gives us hope. “But he gives more grace.” We need to hear those words at this moment. We see that we have fallen well short of the relationship that God demands of us. We have been listening to the wisdom of the world and become friends with the world. But God gives more grace. God can overcome our sinfulness. There is always enough grace to redeem us from what we have done because of Jesus. It is not time to give up. It is time to seek grace.

This grace comes to those who humble themselves, not to the proud. There is no grace to the self-centered and those who act selfishly. There is no grace to those who continue to practice jealousy and envy. There is no grace for those who ignore God’s call and continue to be friends with the world. But those who humble themselves will find grace. Those who will admit that they have not been living in a way God demands and come to the Father seeking grace will find grace. God can and will overcome our sins if we will humble ourselves before God. Stop being self-seeking and become God-seeking. God can fix this if we will seek God.

In the process of drawing closer to God’s love for us, maybe just maybe we will begin to open our eyes so that we begin to see what the Declaration of Independence said— that all people are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

[1] From Third Church, Henrico VA 23229 August 4, 2019