Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

Quarrel, pastel chalk by Tobias Mayer, 2023

From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
James 4:1-3

The language of the King James version is at times just a little too archaic, with the meaning and sense of an idea getting lost in the ornateness of the 400-year-old English. At such times I choose to read two or three different translations of a verse or chapter, usually including the NIV and/or the more recent NRSV.1 The start of James 4 becomes much clearer to our modern minds with the NIV translation:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

These verses speak of our inner turmoil, our war with self, our struggle to be exactly who we are. We seem to have just as hard a time accepting ourselves, with all our flaws, as we do in accepting the other. Our internal squabbles, our self-judgment spills over and taints those around us, spreading ever further as we fail to deal with the inner aspects of self. Feeling wanting we grasp what others have, covet their goods, their families, their joys, and failing to get it, or even getting it and finding it outside its context to be valueless, we covet even more.

We fail to get what we need, says James, because we either don't ask God for it, or we ask with wrong motives, seeking pleasure and self-satisfaction rather than to do kindness. Sometimes we get what we wish for, even what we pray for, in distorted, corrupt form, where the unintended, unexpected consequences are more prevalent than the thing itself. Hence the cautionary saying, be careful what you pray for.

Jesus didn't ask for much in his prayer at Gethsemane,2 just take away this cup from me and even then added, nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. No inner quarrel there, a desire, yes, but ultimately total acceptance of God's way. Such is the way towards peace and inner harmony.

1 The NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) suffers somewhat from political correctness. Striving to uphold its liberal agenda, trying not to offend anyone, it often reads as virtue signalling with its many replacements of 'he' with 'they' and other such modern transpositions. Some people appreciate this of course. I'm not one of them, but I do read it for comparison and a different point of view. The NIV is altogether simpler, sharper and cleaner in its translations.
2 Mark 14:36