Perhaps it is because the tendency to focus on self is universal. Perhaps it is because the inclination to reshape selfless faith into selfish religion is an inherent part of what it means to be human. Perhaps it is because the propensity to get stuck in our own little worlds is as intrinsic to our identity as our gender or the color of our eyes. Whatever the case, the authors of Scripture, the representatives who speak to God’s people on God’s behalf, and even Jesus repeatedly find themselves in the position of having to remind God’s people what it means to be God’s people.
We sometimes speak about the circumstances of life as though they are like a hand of cards that has been dealt to us. As anyone who has played cards knows, as a player you simply have no control over the cards you are dealt; all you control is the way you play the cards. Some hands are stacked with trump card after trump card. Others are full of worthless low number cards. Then there are those hands that are a mixed bag, some good cards and some awful cards. Complicating the analogy is the fact that the quality of the hand depends on the game you are playing. For instance, a hand flush with face cards and spades is perfect for playing Spades but not so ideal for playing Hearts. Then there’s the fact there are different ways to be successful. One could, for example, seek to rack up as many points as possible throughout a hand of Spades by capturing as many books as possible or rack up points at the end of the hand by avoiding capturing any books at all. Regardless of one’s skill, however, what often plays the biggest role in the outcome is sheer happenstance, pure luck; so much depends on the cards you’ve been dealt and the way you play them and the way others play the cards they’ve been dealt.
The Christians James writes were in a situation in which it would have been easy to dwell upon the crummy cards they had been dealt. Everybody deals with a few bad cards, but some of these folks were dealing with poverty, feelings of isolation from other believers, and an environment fairly unwelcoming to their faith. But James, like Moses and the prophets before him, knew that if God’s people get stuck dwelling on the bad hand they’ve been dealt, they will likely neglect one of the major elements of the calling God places on the lives of God’s people: to stand with and support those who have been dealt terrible cards. So James reminds his audience that God desires for them “to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (1:27), that is, others who have been dealt awful hands.
As we survey the hands we have been dealt, each of us can spot cards we wish we could trade. Certainly there are times when the most faithful way we can respond is by begging God to act to change them. But as we have been reminded by the images of the hundreds of thousands of people suffering from the effects of a bad card in Haiti this week, more often the best way to respond is by doing whatever we can to stand with and support others who have been dealt awful hands and to trust God with our own hands.
Who are the “orphans and widows” in your life that God desires you to look after? What are some of the bad cards others they have been dealt? What can you do to stand with and support them as they deal with those cards?