Humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. (NLT)
At first reading, this sounds like a prescription for misery. A reinforcement of the widespread belief that Christianity is all about doom and gloom here and now, with the consolation of a better life in the age to come.
But as always in Scripture, context is everything. James had been warning against the shallow complacency he sees in the church and in society in general. He reckons that those who are blithely dismissing their double mindedness should instead take it very seriously. Forgiveness for sin is certainly on offer, but it can only be received by those who recognise their sin. Or in James’ words, we can only be put on our feet after we fall on our faces.
Of course some take this too far and see sin as crushing them into a state of hopelessness. Instead of the Spirit convicting them of their failures and pointing them to grace, the evil one condemns them and points them to despair. But recognising we are not condemned does not mean we minimise our shortcomings. Balance is needed.
We are to delight in our acceptance by a holy God because our failings have been dealt with by Jesus. We are to recognise what it cost Jesus to deal with them. There is a time for holy laughter, and a time for holy weeping.