“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.” James 4:1-3
James tells us that our lack of peace between ourselves stems from a lack of peace within ourselves, and that lack of peace is ultimately a lack of peace with God.
Both Adam and Eve’s original sin and our own sins alienate us from fellowship with God. Like Adam and Eve, we hide ourselves from God because we are “naked,” that is, because we feel guilt over our sin. We try and cover our nakedness, our guilt over sin, with the inadequate covering of “fig leaves.” Examples of these fig leaves include over-punishing ourselves for minor faults or the sins of our ancestors, trying to earn forgiveness by good works or ceremony, and transferring our guilt onto others, saying “This is all your fault!”
At best, our fig leaves give us temporary relief from our guilt, so such activity must be maintained forever. They can give us no peace with God and no rest, and as James says, they cause us strife with each other.
A recent example of this was seen in the dust up over Megan Kelly’s “black face” comments. Though she apologized, there could be no forgiveness or redemption, because our humanistic attempts to deal with our own guilt and lack of peace with God have no theory of forgiveness and redemption. This spiritual problem underlies and colors all of our political discussions. When we should be talking about pragmatic solutions to practical problems we are instead driven to blame shifting, name calling, hero posing and similar psycho-drama because of our unresolved angst stemming from our alienation from God due to our own sin. Politics, like family life, becomes just one more arena to work out our guilt problem. Actual problem solving can wait.
As the Apostle Paul would say, “Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” But he goes on to say, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of Jesus, through faith in his finished work and not in our strivings, is the key that gives man peace with God. From a place of rest, from a place of having our sins forgiven once and for all, we are set free, free to pursue productive activity unburdened with the psycho-drama of guilt abatement.
May I say that this freedom from guilt is the unique Christian contribution to politics? Is it possible for men burdened with guilt and shame, lacking peace with God, to be at peace with their fellow men and form a free and just social order? Is it possible to fulfill the second greatest commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” if we cannot obey the first commandment “to love the Lord your God with all your heart” because our unresolved sin separates us from Him?
As Christians we are given the ministry of reconciliation, not in smoothing over real differences between people, but in first leading them to reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ. When we have peace with God in ourselves we can have peace with each other.