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Listen to James talk about this problem.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 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. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. – James 1:5-6
James understood human psychology—the study of the soul—and was not surprised when he observed odd behavior from his friends. Of course, being the half-brother of Jesus had to be a plus in his ongoing discipleship training.
Do you know your friends have two heads? Do you know that you’re a human oscillator, moving back and forth from faith to fear and back to faith again? Some days we are standing on the promises of God and other days we feel buried under an avalanche of other things that disrupt our faith.
We can be like the father with the sick boy in Mark 9:24: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” To varying degrees, we will be “unbelieving believers” until Jesus comes back. Perfect, uninterrupted faith is a great idea, but it is impossible for fallen people because of sin’s encroachments.
One of the reasons for this faith/fear tension is because there are unsavory things in our hearts that connect to our fears. These hidden things are only known by the Lord (Hebrews 4:13). Part of fear’s deception motivates us to hide behind our fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). We are afraid, which prompts us to keep these things from others.
If you don’t have unhindered access to your friends, there will be times when their actions will appear unstable. Their behavior will confuse you when they begin acting in strange ways. There are two conditions that contribute to this kind of behavior.
James is instructing us about the possibilities of a “another life” that exists inside of us—a manifestation of a fear-based person, and what can happen when fear controls our hearts. This problem is why our behavior moves from stability to instability. Let me illustrate with a case study.
Mable married Biff twenty-one years ago. Biff has had an anger problem for most of those years. He has a selfish ideal of how life should go and when it does not go according to “his gospel,” he reacts with anger.
Sometimes he would be volatile and accusative. Other times he would sulk like Ahab, manipulating the situation through his silence (1 Kings 21:5). He has trained Mable well. She learned the ropes early, knowing when to speak and when not to speak.
Biff has been mostly unaware of what has been going on in Mable’s heart. From his perspective, she was fine as long as she was not demanding too much from him. What he did not perceive was Mable building a secret world in her heart that she wrapped with fear.
Initially, Mable’s secret world was mostly about her fear–she was afraid of Biff. But as the marriage progressed and his anger continued unabated, her fear metastasized into bitterness, frustration, hopelessness, unforgiveness, regret, jealously and hurt.
These were soul-diminishing combinations for Mable, who had no portals to find help. She lost herself in women’s ministry, but ministry is not a sanctification solution for a troubled marriage. Ignoring a problem by working harder for the Lord does not work.
A prison of silence had incarcerated Mable, and it was churning in her soul. Then, with seemingly no provocation and to Biff’s complete surprise, she went off the deep end, exploding at Biff just before she walked out the door for the last time.
Biff sat in my office dumbfounded. From his perspective, the marriage was good, though not fabulous. He worked hard. He provided for his family. They lived in the best neighborhood and lacked for virtually nothing.
He was genuinely perplexed by her behavior. He was even more overwhelmed by her emails that laid out what seemed to be everything she had thought but never said for the past two decades. Biff said,
I have no idea who this woman is. It’s like she has two heads. We have been married for more than twenty years, and now I believe that I married a stranger.
He is right. He does not know Mable. He has made little effort to understand her beyond getting a handle on her “love languages.” He gave her what she wanted, but could not provide what she needed.
His attempts to care for his wife never went beyond behavioral modification or his commitment to himself to do better, which always ran out of gas. He understood her as much as he wanted to and if there were things that would challenge his need to do soul care, he would not delve deeper with Mable.
Biff “loved” his wife but being caught in his sin of anger, coupled with her sin of “double-minded fear,” things were overly complicated for their marriage to survive. Their relationship gives a more profound and nuanced meaning to Peter’s appeal:
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. – 1 Peter 3:7
Warning – This case study is a theological and psychological study about how fear morphs into other sin patterns that perpetuate dysfunction in relationships.
It is not a discussion about blame, especially placing primary responsibility on Mable for the demise of their marriage. The point of this piece is to help identify what happens in our hearts if we don’t bring our fears into the light, and proper soul care happens.
James implies we all have the propensity not to trust God fully. He says when doubt comes, our behavior will move toward instability. This problem is the human condition that Adam and Eve gifted to us (Romans 5:12).
Mable was not sanctified entirely, and Biff’s anger exposed her hidden fears. It was a silent and vicious cycle in their lives. Biff would bark, and Mable would cower. Mable had much more awareness of what was happening to her, but she was afraid to entreat her husband, obviously.
She was lost somewhere between faith and fear with no one to care for her. Biff was mostly oblivious and unqualified, and her community did not know what was happening inside their home. Biff had the opportunity and privilege to understand his wife, but he not only fell on the job, but he complicated an already complicated soul.
He rolled through his home large and in charge and Mable learned to toe the line, trying to keep him happy, while silently longing for Biff to love her well. There was only so much silence her soul could contain before it overflowed into shocking behavior.
Because Mable is an illustration of all of us, here are two things to think about when you are tempted to go into your two-headed-mode.
1 – You Cannot Live Like This – It is impossible to live in an ongoing suspension between fear and faith without it negatively affecting your soul. Mable is a typical example of a person stuck in this tension.
There was a truth she perceived about her life and marriage, but she was not correctly appropriating the grace the Lord provides. She was understandably afraid of her husband. She was unwittingly pressing the truth she knew further down into her soul (James 4:17). Paul talked about this.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. – Romans 1:18
This verse sounds harsh when applied to someone like Mable, who is a victim of her husband’s anger. I do not mean it harshly, but theologically. Carefully unpack what Paul is saying. The Lord is in opposition to anyone who will not reach out for His truth in their time of need but chooses to suppress the truth while doing things their way.
If you humble yourself and trust His way through the process, He will provide favor. If you do not follow His way through the process, He will provide opposition (James 4:6). Now go back to what James was saying. If you are in need of God’s wisdom, do not suppress it out of your life by not seeking it, while clinging to your way of fixing your problems. Your approach will lead to death (Proverbs 14:12, 16:25).
Mable was doing what James said not to do, and she was experiencing a slow death by a thousand paper cuts. It first began as fear. Rather than seeking the Lord’s wisdom, she suppressed her fear. What she did not know was how her fear was going to metastasize.
As the years went by, a host of other sins began to attach themselves to her soul. In time, this became more than she could endure. Even in the end, she did not seek the Lord’s wisdom but chose to leave her marriage.
2 – You Must Get Help – James says if you lack wisdom, you must ask for it. This juncture is a crucial point: how do you find wisdom? Some individuals teach all you have to do is pray. That will not work well because that is not the Lord’s full mind on how wisdom comes to us.
The Lord has provided several means for us to access His wisdom. Prayer is essential, no doubt. Then there is the Word of God. We also have the illuminating power of the Spirit of God. Lastly, we have the community of God. There are four elements involved in asking for wisdom:
The Lord has placed counter-measures that have checks and balances to make sure we have His pure wisdom. This multi-perspective approach keeps us from going into the ditches of foolish behavior.
The wisdom of the Lord is needful, but you must access it comprehensively. What Mable needed to do was drive a stake down in her marriage. Like Gandalf telling the fiery beast you will go no farther, she should have done similarly.
She could respond to Biff with love, grace, and the permission of the Lord. Yes, she is called to submit, but the Lord does not expect her to be a doormat. By not “sending up a flare” regarding their awful marriage, Mable was not “loving” her husband biblically; sin had caught Biff in a trap (cf. Galatians 6:1-2). If this is you, here are six things to consider.
Like Aaron and Hur holding up the arms of Moses, you will need support from competent friends (Exodus 17:12). You cannot go back into the prison of your marriage without help because you will default to the “habituation to fear” and all its accompanying and unwanted enemies of your soul.
As you continue to trust the Lord by fighting for your soul and your marriage, you may need to access the protective and authoritative care of your local church. If your relationship regresses, the church must become your covering and your voice.