Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Discipline Of Patience - We Aren't God

Pastor Dan's Progressive Bible Study on James 5:7-10 got me thinking. Many liberal Christians love the passage in which the author writes "faith without works is dead" (unless that liberal happens to be a Lutheran; Luther wanted James banished from the canon for that phrase alone). Yet, in the passage under study today, the author counsels patience on the coming of the Lord.

In his commentary, PD cites several passages in James on the role of discipline, especially on "disciplining one's tongue". Reading the passages cited (James 3:5b-12) I am almost embarrassed by my own failings in this particular discipline.

Yet, how does one square the counsel of patience with the insistence that Christian faith without action is dead? I think the answer is simple: acting out of our faith should not include making any kind of ultimate determinations on the faith (or lack thereof) of others. Nor should we ever make the category mistake of thinking that our actions in any way shape or form are God's actions. We do not move forward by one nanosecond the final consummation of God's creation by the most selfless act of Christian love for others. Nor do we have it in our power to determine the faithfulness or lack thereof of others. Disciplining our tongues is part and parcel of disciplining our lives to conform to what God wants us to be.

It is convicting to read a rebuke of loose speaking, of angry words (no matter how honest the anger may have been, or how justified one might think the anger may have been), especially when one considers anger to be righteous anger. If we are schooled in patience, then anger, whether at a personal slight or at systemic injustice and oppression, will not be a source of rage, but a moment for us to remember that we live not by any power we possess, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are on God's time now, however much it may irk us that God seems to be moving a bit slow. Like Abel's, the blood of millions of innocent victims cries out to heaven, and we stand around, wondering at the silence. Yet, are we not as responsible for that blood, and therefore for doing justice, as God?

Do we surrender at each dashed hope? Do we say, "That's the way the world is", and retreat to our little enclaves, debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Do we "curse God and die", in the counsel of Job's wife?

Or do we remember that we are God's, and God waited for "the fullness of time" to bring forth Jesus, and his ministry and life and death and resurrection for the reconciliation of a world lost to sin? Do we continue to hope, believing that the resurrection has, indeed, changed everything far more profoundly than any evil deed by any human being?

For all that we are to be about the work of God . . . we aren't God. Every step forward, no matter how small, is always accompanied by a step back somewhere else. The process, the doing and the living of the faith, requires a disciplining of our lives - including our tongues - so that we remember we are not God.

Virtual Tin Cup

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