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  • Writer's pictureAllison Wilcox

The enemy is us

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. ~ James 3:13-4:3

There was a famous cartoon from the 70s, "Pogo," by Walt Kelly. In one of his strips commemorating Earth Day, Pogo and his friend Porkypine notice all the waste that appears on a beautiful forest floor, which causes Pogo to observe: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

A sentiment James seems to echo.

Jeremiah and the Psalmist both called on God's help with enemies, but here James puts a mirror in front of us and forces us to contend with the war that resides within ourselves. For James, much of this conflict comes from "cravings" within us. Cravings that he indicate come from envying - wanting what we don't have - and from what he calls "selfish ambition."

Sometimes that conflict or craving comes from wanting to protect what's ours. Wanting to keep things rather than share them. I'll bet you can think of many ways in which conflict these days centers on what one person or group wants to keep rather than share. Or one way in which selfish ambition puts the desires of one or the few over the needs of the many.

Sometimes what we want is indeed counter to what someone else wants - or even what someone needs.

For James, the opposite of this enemy within us is the wisdom from above, which is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, and full of mercy.

The opposite of this enemy is peace.

Maybe Pogo would have a new cartoon then - "We have rid the enemy within ourselves with the peace that comes from above."

Lord make me an instrument of your peace. Amen

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