Been thinking through James 1:5-8 this week.
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
James continues to give instruction and encouragement for those in trial and suffering.
The natural human emotional reaction to suffering and trial is fear, anxiety, anger, and depression which often then leads to a desperate attempt to relieve those emotions through a dozen different sinful avenues which usually only leads to more pain and suffering. Suffering can also bring about situations that call for difficult decision to be made. James knows that walking through trials in a godly way and dealing with these natural human emotions to suffering, will take wisdom. And so he exhorts these believers to ask for wisdom in the midst of their suffering.
James tells us that if we lack wisdom we should ask God for it, and he follows this up with a promise based on God’s character; that God gives his wisdom generously, without disapproval or scorn. This picture of God giving wisdom to his children feels like a tender one to me. He sees the pain, he sees the difficulty and he isn’t going to kick you when your down because you don’t know how to handle a situation. He is going to walk through it with you, patiently, tenderly, and kindly.
But…there is a caveat to this verse; James tells his readers who are asking for wisdom to ask with faith and with no doubting, and then he says, for the doubting man must not suppose he will receive anything from the Lord.
At first glance this passage almost looks like God is speaking out of two sides of his mouth. He first says that he gives to all liberally and without reproach, but then seems to change his tune and says, but not to doubters. Why not to doubters? Don’t those struggling with doubt need the wisdom of God the most?
These questions led me to ask myself, what is it that the doubter is doubting?
The obvious answer is that he is doubting that God will give him the wisdom he is asking for. He thinks maybe he will ask God for wisdom and God will leave him high and dry. God would have us ask with faith and not doubting that God will indeed keep his promise to give us the wisdom we ask for. I think this is true; I think that God would have us believe that he will keep his promise and that James is telling us to not doubt God’s promise of provision here.
But I think there is another way in which we can doubt God when we ask him for wisdom and it’s what hinders us from being able to receive God’s wisdom. What the doubter is doubting is that God is actually wise in his words, designs, plans, and decrees. He doubts the character and wisdom of God himself. The one who asks for wisdom but doubts that God is wise must not suppose he will receive wisdom from God because he isn’t in the position to hear God’s wisdom.
When a person doubts God’s wisdom they hear God’s words and they consider whether their own emotions or thoughts are better than God’s. This is very easy to do when suffering hits, and remember James is speaking to a people who know suffering. When suffering hits we are tempted to question God’s wisdom in bringing suffering to our lives or the lives of those we love. When a believer begins to doubt God’s wisdom and they remain in that place of doubting and questioning, pride and often anger are what creep into that person’s heart. They become a proud fool and this is why God says, a doubter must not suppose he will receive anything from the Lord; because a proud fool cannot receive the wisdom of God because the nature of a fool is that his own way is better than anyone else’s, even God’s.
Consider a few of these passages that describe fools.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.
How great are your works, O Lord!
Your thoughts are very deep!
6 The stupid man cannot know;
the fool cannot understand this:
A proud fool exalts his own way and does not accept that God’s thoughts and works are greater and deeper than he may ever be able to grasp or understand.
The opposite of being a doubter/proud fool is being a person who has within him the fear of the Lord. Proverbs speaks about how important the fear of the Lord is if we are to be wise and get wisdom.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.
Part of what fearing the Lord means is that we acknowledge that God is the greatest, wisest, and most important being. Greater than the opinion of others and greater than our own opinion and greater than our emotions. If we ask for wisdom, our hearts must be solidly convinced that God is infinitely more wise than we are, and that the God who brings suffering and discipline into the lives of his children does so in complete wisdom and goodness. When we doubt the wisdom of God, we do not fear God, and we cannot receive his wisdom, not because God is not genuinely offering it, but because our hearts will not and cannot receive it. And so James says, the doubter, the one who doubts that God is wise, must not suppose he will receive God’s wisdom.
So if you are a doubter, if you find yourself in a place where you are asking for God’s wisdom but your heart is doubting and questioning God’s character, what should you do?
Let me share my personal experience with this. I have often been a doubter. I have struggled much of my life with doubting the wisdom of God’s design for gender, marriage, and sexuality. I will not describe this struggle right now, but there are season in my life when this struggle has been heightened and this struggle always brings suffering. In my suffering and struggle I turn to God for wisdom, but often in my asking for wisdom, my sincere asking is also mixed and muddled with doubt; I doubt that God really knew what he was doing when he made me, and designed these things. I have doubted his wisdom and goodness.
So as I have approached God in this way; filled with doubting, God has mercifully revealed to me that when I doubt I become a proud fool who cannot receive his wisdom. He has tenderly whispered to my heart, “Why are you asking me for wisdom when you doubt that I am perfectly wise in all my doing and designs?” “Do you believe I am wise Melissa? Or do you think you are wise?”
So I have come to realize that as long as I hold onto my doubting and the pride that underlies my doubting, I will live in turmoil indefinitely, and will not be able to receive the wisdom and help from God that I need to live with my struggle and suffering this side of heaven, in a godly and peaceful way because in my doubting I have become a proud fool who cannot receive wisdom. I have come to realize that my ultimate wrestle is not with the remaining brokenness of my sexuality or gender, or the suffering that sometimes brings, but my ultimate wrestle is with the pride that underlies my doubting and hinders me from receiving wisdom from God so that I can live wisely and I might add, joyfully, in my struggle and suffering.
So if you find yourself asking for wisdom, but doubting, I would encourage you to turn to the Lord, admit to him your pride and ask him to grant you a heart of repentance. Do this often, do this daily, do this every time you get into his Word, do this every time you pray.
The good news is there is an abundance of grace for the doubter who will humble himself before God, fear Him, and begin his journey towards wisdom he desperately needs to live in this difficult world full of trial. James gives us this warning because he knows there is hope for the doubter who will see his doubting for what it is; pride, and humble himself before his gracious and kind God who desires to walk with us through our suffering and who desires to provide the wisdom and joy He knows we will need.
One thought on “Doubt: James 1:5-8”
That was a gem. Very insightful approach to the doubting concept. So true; we need to trust that his wisdom is just that. Thanks.