I have been reading the New Testament book of James. It is a short, blunt, direct book that has been compared to the Old Testament book of Proverbs. This book has been challenging me greatly. Perhaps it would be more honest to say that it is wrecking me. The first chapter finishes with this statement: Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.
Now, whenever I have read that, I have agreed wholeheartedly. “Yes! That is what God is after! How foolish to get occupied with so many other trivial issues”. And then I go about my 21st century American life, where I am conveniently shielded from people by my own choices and social status. Needy people are mostly on TV. Bit players in commercials on Sunday morning, asking me to donate to some Children’s fund. The fact is, I spend precious little time reaching out to the homeless and loveless in their plight. Yet, I somehow have deceived myself into thinking that all is well. I have acquiesced to the fact that there are people who are really hurting worse than me. I have admitted it. I have then congratulated myself that I was spiritual enough to understand that I am so much different than “the others” who selfishly go their way, ignoring the needy.
Just like me. Doesn’t that make you sick?
The gist of this passage is to realize that hearing something, and even nodding in agreement is not what God is after. He is after people who will hear the truth, and move on it. Move with decisive, bold action. Not some mousy half-hearted conscience-salving gesture that only serves to make you feel good, and not actually help anybody in need. God knows, there is plenty of that kind of religious activity everywhere.
I am therefore committing myself to reach out to the widows that I know, and seek to help single moms and their kids. Somehow. My mom was a single mom, and it meant the world to her when a man would help out with a car repair, or something else. This is something that I can do, and something that I need to do.
The other part of this verse is often ignored. “Guard against the corruption of a godless world”. Again, I agree with this, and comfort myself that I have avoided the worst excesses of the media.
However, I also have to acknowledge that I just watched a very violent movie recently. This movie had hundreds of men being killed gratuitously, and had a great deal of really foul language. I have to ask myself: is this really good for me? Doesn’t the standard have to be raised in my own life? How can I justify the wanton violence in movies, and then decry the violence in our society? Is a high murder rate to be justified? How about violence towards women and children? Sexual abuse? Human trafficking? The Christian is called to be in the world, but not of the world. We must be a people that live lives that display the holiness of God. If we are ingesting the same entertainment as a very troubled planet, we cannot offer a credible answer or alternative. We are in real danger of becoming part of the problem.
So, my entertainment choices are going to be scrutinized much closer.
The Bible, at its best, has the power to transform human lives for the better. I have just had such an encounter. We need to listen to God’s voice behind the letters, and learn from His Spirit how to make it happen in our own lives.
Speech over. I will now descend my soapbox.