The last part of the book of James reads like a frantic doctor diagnosing ailments, and prescribing remedies at speed. As I read it this morning I became aware of how it emphasizes both the vertical (human to God/God to human) and horizontal (human to human) dimensions of faith. I’ll designate it appropriately below as we go through the verses:
13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. (Vertical – human to God)
Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.14 (Vertical – human to God)
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 1 (Horizontal – human to human)
15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. (Vertical – human to God, God to human)
16 Therefore confess your sins to each other (Horizontal – human to human)
and pray for each other (Both – Horizontal – human to human and Vertical – human to God)
so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (Vertical – human to God)
17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (Vertical – human to God)
19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (Horizontal – human to human)
It’s very clear from these verses that our faith should operate in both dimensions. That there is a clear relating to each other that is called for (praying for each other, confessing our sins, warning each other if we are straying); but also, a clear relating to God, through prayer, receiving forgiveness and healing.
My guess is that each of us feels more comfortable in one of these dimensions than the other. For some of us, time with God is easy. Faith feels private and personal and rarely extends into the ‘relationship with other humans’ dimension, whether that is with Christian or non-Christians. For others, who may be more activist types, the relating to God part may be more of a struggle, with other humans seeming more tangible and immediate.
Perhaps our prayer for today should be for something of balance in these two areas. Perhaps the one who feels most comfortable in the quiet prayer closet needs to move to the hubbub of the marketplace and engage with others. Perhaps the social butterfly needs to slow down, retreat from the noise, and spend time with the Father in solitude. Which one are you?