2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
In verse 3, St. James says that “the testing [or in Fr. Farley’s translation, "proving"] of your faith produces patience [or ‘perseverance’].” I once heard a famous, very sensible radio preacher say “Trials don’t produce character; they reveal it!” I actually think that they do both. Trials can produce patience, perseverance, and endurance in us…if we let them—if we remember them and learn from them. We have to let them have their effect on us, as St. James says in verse 4: “Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
The Greek word for “perfect” (teleios) does not primarily mean here “sinless,” but rather mature, blameless, and completely dedicated. The Hebrew equivalent to this word is used to describe Noah in Genesis 6:9. And the word for “complete” (translated by Fr. Farley as “intact”), means “whole, entire, not fractured by divided loyalties…enduring persecution with joy results finally in having a united heart, one zealously set on serving God, so that one is lacking nothing that one needs” (19).
[Note: from here on, I will refer to Fr. Farley as "FF" for short]
But many of us—I would argue ALL of us at least at some times—lack wisdom in how to cope with the trials we are enduring. What is wisdom? It is more than just head knowledge. It is , in the words of the OSB notes, “the practical and spiritual knowledge required for godly living.” When we are at the end of our rope, when we have no idea what to do, St. James urges us to “ask from God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach.” When we do this, God will give us the wisdom we need to endure. Note that God does not give us this wisdom stingily or grudgingly, but generously (the Greek word aplos literally means “openly,” as in "with an open hand"). He will not think badly of us for asking.
The only caveat placed upon our asking for wisdom is that, as St. James tells us in verse six, it must be asked “in faith, with no doubting” (“wavering” in FF’s translation). This lack of doubting includes, according to the OSB notes, “an unquestioning loyalty to God and…the confidence that comes from a life that is stable in all its ways” (541). But according to FF, “The word waver here indicates not so much the element of psychological hesitancy as it does the element of moral hesitancy. The waverer here is not one who needs mental certainty that his prayer will be answered. He needs moral decisiveness in his approach to God; he needs to repent of being double-souled (Gr. dipsychos), of trying to live both as a worldling and as God’s servant at the same time” (20).
What St. James is saying here is that we must have integrity. Integrity, in its most basic meaning, means “unity” or “lack of internal division” (as in the phrase “structural integrity” that is often used of aircraft). We often hear of people who are described as being “a study in contradictions;” it is said of such a person, “He claimed to be a Christian, but did such and such…” Let us not be such people! Let us be people that are NOT “studies in contradictions” or paradoxes. Let us be people who are internally unified, who are firmly in God’s camp, not trying to have one foot in the Church and one in the world.
For if we do not, we cannot expect to receive wisdom from God. As FF states, “The one who is divided in his choice to serve God and not the world can never receive such wisdom from God. Persecution will find him out for what he is, and he will be at a loss” (20).