Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic. Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and everything that is evil. What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.
Usually, this is a positive statement: be who you are, and you’ll be accepted. It implies that it’s what you’re putting on that’s unacceptable.
Here’s something I’ve often wondered about. Which is more natural: selfishness and ambition, or kindness and cooperation? The Bible talks about humans being created in the image of God and called “good” (Genesis 1). But it also talks about an inherent brokenness and sinfulness (Romans 7). In most translations, James contrasts these two natures by talking about “earthly” things versus things “from above.”
I don’t know about you, but depending on the day I might argue the case for our inherent goodness or brokenness either way. Some days I love people. Other days I am so sick of people I don’t know what to do.
What surprised me is how, in this translation of the passage, the word is “natural,” as opposed to “earthly.” It’s a good illustration of how a minor change in translation can open up questions and ultimately the meaning of a passage of scripture.
Today, I think the challenge is for us to consider where we are on the spectrum of optimism about human nature. There’s no doubt that how we respond says a lot about how we view God, Jesus, and the people around us!
For Pondering & Prayer
How does our view of human nature influence how we understand the meaning of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection?
How does our view of human nature influence how we interact with other people in our lives and in the world?