James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a (Mini Sermon)
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by
your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.
But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be
boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from
above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and
selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every
kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle,
willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of
partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who make peace.
Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they
not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something
and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and
cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not
have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask
wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.
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.
One of the supposed "contradictions" that "Fatal Biblical Flaws" and other smug athiest posts likes to bring up on a regular basis is on what basis is someone saved? Some verses appear to suggest being saved by faith, and some verses appear to say your works are important. Scoff! Scoff! Scoff! This cannot be the work of an omnipotent being and therefore Christianity is BULLSHIT, they say, because this verse says one thing and that verse says another.
First of all, the Bible isn't meant to be the transcribed thoughts of a divine being, inerrant and perfect in every way. That claim belongs to Islam, next door. So if anything this "contradiction" and any of the other catalogues of "inaccuracies" or "contradictions" in the Bible does nothing other than kill a particularly virulent form of fundamentalism that struck in the 1800s, demanding a reading of the Bible and a proof texting of every claim.
But Christians themselves often don't "get" the notion of how you're supposedly saved by faith, but wait, there's a challenge to act a certain way. To unblock this lack of understanding, the Bible zeroes in on the Epistle to James, in which Peter gets to the heart of the issue.
How you live is evidence of how you think. I don't not commit adultery not because there's a celestial policeman set to cane me with a flaming set of rods between now and... eternity for doing so, but because I love my wife and don't want to hurt her feelings. I don't rob someone not because I fear the Keystone Kops that most police departments are recently turning into, but because it is absolutely wrong to take something that isn't mine. I know the heart-sinking feeling you get when you come home to a door that's been kicked in or a window outside of its frame, and the horrible feeling of violation having to inventory everything you own to realize the valuables that are now gone.
And that starts to stab right to the heart of what Christianity is all about.
What are "rules" for? Jesus scolded the Pharisees for knowing exactly how much to tariff rue and mint in terms of Jewish law, but they were greedy as fuck and stole the property of widows. And a system of law can't legislate morality, all it can do is give people a set of guidelines they often ignore. Look at how many men have walked free on a technicality, and look at how many innocent people are in jail for having inadvertently crossed some kind of legal line. I once saw a heart-rending episode of Cops in which a woman does a drug buy in order to gain evidence for the local police. Having heard you could do so, she decided to do exactly that. Problem is, not having pre-authorized the buy with the police, she showed up and gave them crack and pointed at a drug dealer, only to find herself in handcuffs. There was no mens rea in this act, and yet they were laughing as they put cuffs on her, even though the drug dealer, who'd already beaten her, surely had her targeted for "snitching" now.
I like to phrase Christianity in terms of Buddhism because Buddhism, with its emphasis on mindfulness and personal transformation - has a language people more understand. With words like "non-attachment" and "karma" it's easier to get across what Christianity is really about.
"Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they
not come from your cravings that are at war within you?"
Look at Christianity in that light.
Look at it that way. It's not about rules, it's about getting rid of the wrong cravings.
"Do unto others as you would have done unto you." That demands that you look through your neighbor's eyes to understand what he or she would want. Often times, it means we give up our fear of not having enough ourselves if we share with others. Or that we might get exploited if we try and do the right thing. Or that someone else "wins" somehow and "we lose". It means losing our cravings. And by that cravings thing, it means realizing that everything beyond food, shelter, air and water is an artificial demand, and ultimately meaningless.
Teenage girls shoplift all the time. I'd ask one, hey, six months down the road, you still have what you stole? Probably not. Most people go through their closets, go through their lives and get rid of mountains of stuff they paid good money for and at one point dearly, dearly coveted. That Nintendo they HAD to have, the thing that got shitcanned the moment the N64 came out. See what I mean?
You're not judged by what you ultimately do - it's entirely possible to be a possessive evil prick and build some hospitals just to avoid paying income tax. Some might game the system, the same way a company will break the law knowing the fines in no way come close to touching how much profit a company will earn by doing so. See what I'm saying? You could spend your entire life coloring within the lines and learn nothing.
Or you could be a heroin-addicted hitman, a thief, a murderer, and adulterer, having transgressed the law in every way, tearfully saying to God in your private thoughts "none of this was worth it. I'm so sorry I hurt people. I don't want this any more."
You don't get saved by works - there's no ritual, no payoff, no indulgence you can buy that can "cover" sin - and the previous legalistic sacrificing religion never addressed the core problem. The problem being that it was about what's in your heart that matters.
But when you start to realize there's more to life than "every man for himself" - your actions and your words start to matter.