Today’s post begins with two passages from the Letter of James:
26 If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? 2 You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.
There is a common theme to both passages, namely, not letting yourself be held captive by the world. Or, as St. James explains, not to let ourselves be “stained” by the world. This lesson is fairly common in Christian theology, and for good reason. It is absurdly easy for us to lose track of what matters, and to whom we belong. Our love as Christians is reserved for God, and for our fellow men, not for the world. The more ties we have to the world, the more stained our souls become, and the more distractions there are which will cause us to lose sight of what is important. Lest I repeat myself further, I will close this part by simply noting that we should always be asking ourselves if our actions are Godly, or Worldly.
The following verses from Psalm 16 provide a contrast to the final verses in the second passage, as they are tales of gladness:
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also dwells secure.
10 For thou dost not give me up to Sheol,
or let thy godly one see the Pit.
11 Thou dost show me the path of life;
in thy presence there is fulness of joy,
in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.
(Psalm 16: 9-11)
The reason for the contrast is simple. Those who are urged to humble themselves by James are those who have embraced the world and lived in sin. Their joy, arising from their sinful lives, is only temporary. Unless they repent and “mourn and weep” as part of begging forgiveness from God, then they will find themselves lamenting not in this world, but in the next, where the lamentations will never end. Our happiness and joy in this life should come from God and His works. If it doesn’t, then we
should must mourn instead, and cast that life, and the evil it contains, away from ourselves. The alternative is to never again find our way back to the path of life.