James 1:5-7: Faith and Doubt

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.

—James 1:5-7, Orthodox Study Bible

I am using the OSB because I have to give them credit for the idea behind this blog. It is in their study notes on this passage. Godincidentally, we were just talking about this passage at our last gathering.

Here’s my question, if you ask something from God, trying to have faith, but you know there’s doubt in your heart, do you expect to receive nothing from God? Has it been your experience that God never answers your prayer if you doubt even a teeny bit?

It has not been my experience. Nor had it been the experience of anyone at our gathering.

In fact, that is not even everyone’s experience in the Bible. Jesus’ healed a man’s son, after the best the man could tell him was, “I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief” (Mk. 9:24).

So what is James talking about? We are not free to just disbelieve him.

Simply enough (though I couldn’t figure it out) James was talking about our faith in “the faith.” If we are doubters—partly in the world, partly in the kingdom of God—God is not going to answer our prayers. He calls us to come all the way in.

This is believing without doubting. It is jumping in with both feet. No, rather, it is jumping in with your whole body, being buried in baptism, leaving your whole life behind, and rising to a new life not only in the kingdom of God but in the King himself.

Despite the incredible promises of God, many throughout history and today have doubted and wavered. The entire 13-chapter letter of Hebrews was written to those among Jewish Christians who were doubting and wavering, considering abandoning the new covenant God made with them for the old one which was “decaying, growing old, and ready to vanish” (8:13).

James is addressing the same crowd when he speaks of those who are doubting and double-minded (lit. two-souled; v. 8). They are unstable in all their ways because with two souls/minds, they are able to live both “of” the world and “of” the kingdom of God.

James is not asking us to have unwavering faith that God is going to answer our prayer with yes. That sort of faith is only a gift of God. If you doubt that, try working it up yourself.

The reason God answers your doubting prayers is because in many cases it is good to doubt. How do you know God’s will? Why should God answer your every request with yes? Would that even be good for you? In one sense, he would be turning his divinity over to you. Do not confuse faith with the presumption that you are as wise as God!

The reason God answers your doubting prayers is because you’re not really doubting. You are the child, and you have absolute, unshakable faith in Abba, our Father. You have unshakable faith that he is the giver of good gifts, not bad ones.

If you are such a child, and you need wisdom, ask of God! Such a request is always granted, because Wisdom is always good, though you may not recognize it as Wisdom.

Corrie Ten Boom, who trusted and adored our God in a flea-and-fly-ridden women’s concentration camp during WWII, tells a story of her childhood.

She was getting on a train with her father, and she asked him a question that little girls ought not to know the answer to. Her father answered, “Go get my suitcase, and bring it to me, please.”

She replied, “Daddy, you know I cannot carry it.”

“Nor can you carry the answer to this question, my child,” he explained. “You must wait until you are older.”

This was a father granting wisdom to his child. So our loving Father will always grant us wisdom as well, even though he will not grant us the answer to all our questions.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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4 Responses to James 1:5-7: Faith and Doubt

  1. Jon says:

    This is a most excellent and encouraging post. Thanks Paul.

  2. paulfpavao says:

    You’re welcome!

  3. ruralcommoner says:

    Trust in the Lord, and know the best gift is for the end! Wise and helpful words. Thank you for this post.

  4. Carolyn Aleven says:

    Wow! A completely different perspective than trying to wiggle our faith up a notch. 🙂

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