Violence! Violence! : James 4 – 5

A Tonal Shift. Anything from God Is Good. Bragging about Riches and Success. Wait Out Suffering. Pray for Everything.

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”
James 4:1 (NIV)

I always regret using the first verse of a passage as my epitaph quote, because I secretly worry that you all think, Oh so he just picked the very first thing he saw and then closed the Bible and washed his hands. You aren’t thinking that. I know that. But I worry all the same.

The theme of violence is ever recurring in the Bible, and verses seemingly in support of violence have been oft quoted to support extreme actions all over the world. The opposite can be said as well. Many point to the verses, particularly in the New Testament, which plead with us to pursue peace rather than conflict. I understand the confusion, and I sort of get it no matter which was you slice it. On the one hand, God called upon Joshua to commit an ethnic cleansing against the inhabitants of the Promised Land once the Israelites had arrived. They killed man, woman, child, and animal. Pretty harsh. And yet only 40 years early on Mt. Sinai, Moses trudged down the hill and laid down a pretty clear commandment: Thou shalt not kill. However, that in the context of a larger Law, which allowed men and women to be killed for committing capital crimes (those of which I will not list here for this will become a 6-part marathon entry). So we can conclude that perhaps the commandment refers to “murder,” and that capital crime does not count. But what about the children in the Promised Land? Did they deserve to be killed? Were not those doing the dirty work… killing? Add all that to the face that God once destroyed the world through a flood, because men had become “evil” and “violent.” So in that case, violence is a negative thing, a sin worthy of extinction.

So… there’s all that.

Ecclesiastes seems to settle some things. It says that there is a “time for war” and a “time for peace.” So it looks to be another little gray area.

But then Jesus comes onto the field and really digs into this whole peace thing? He’s all like love one another and turn the other cheek. They call him the Prince of Peace after all!

There is absolutely no consensus about this amongst Christians. You’ll meet one gaggle of gun-totting, America-conquering enthusiast in a church, and then right next door, an enclave Quakers will be praying for peace. Some believe in capital punishment. Some think it is despicable and anti-Christian.

My personal conclusions aren’t super clarifying. Peace feels right to me, so I’m opposed to war and capital punishment. Do I think war is necessary sometimes? Yes. Would I kill someone who was trying to kill me? Yes, if I could.

Ambivalence, once again.

I just think that peace is a good idea and something all of our actions should strive towards.
I think Jesus preached that pretty clearly.
I think I really, really liked Jesus.

There you go, there are my conclusions.

To end, here is one of my favorite cinematic moments. A fight breaks out and what does the mousy girl do? Claps her hands and cheers them on. How modern of her:

Just Listen: James 1 – 3

Some Advice for All: Temptation, Listening, Equality, Faith, Words.

“…Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
James 1:19-20 (NIV)

The Book of James was the unabashed favorite amongst my teenage group of friends, and reading it now, I can certainly see why. It is a succinct book (at a scant five chapters) that offers encouragement on how to live a life worthy of Christ. The tone is uplifting rather than disparaging (a must for a young audience). Furthermore, it is actually relevant to a modern person – something increasingly rare the farther I get into the Bible. It offers lessons on how to resist temptation and where it comes from (hint: not God). It inspires us to reach out to the least amongst us. It reassures us with promises of peace.

Good book, James. Well done.

So what to write about? What jumps out at me in the sea of all these topics? Do I muse over wisdom or get on my pedestal about poverty?

I don’t know. The last few weeks have been tough, honestly. No, nothing has “happened” per se, nothing that would make writing and reading any more difficult than usual. I am so close to the end that – logically – I should be feeling pumped up to cross the finish line. But I don’t know. I feel very unsure.

A couple weeks ago, I took a sunset walk and called my parents. I told them I had been feeling anxious and down, that it felt like a cloud of uncertainty had descended, one reminiscent of those days from long ago, those days filled with panic attacks over eternity and death, and insurmountable it all seemed.

They wondered why, what caused it, there must have been a trigger.
And I said, no, no trigger.
And they said, think, what could it be?
And I said, I’m telling you I honestly don’t know.
And they relented.

There was concern in their voice. My father took longer pauses then usual. This was all in the past, right? This anxiety was all in the past. Why was it back?

My mother had a theory. She said that I have spent a year of my life digging everything up and going through it with a magnifying glass. I was like a detective amongst a sea of evidence, trying to decipher what meant something and what was a red herring. Maybe, she thought, that is an emotionally exhausting process, and maybe it brings back feelings that went dormant long ago.

It made a lot of sense.

I have spent a year doing nothing except thinking and talking. I mentioned this a few weeks ago, but honestly, I am so looking forward to taking a step back to listen for a while.

And in honor of the Book of James, which is without a doubt the most positive of the bunch, I have decided to take a break and just listen today.