What causes fights and quarrels in our lives? You might promptly turn in your Bible to the opening lines of James 4 for the answer:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:1–3)
There it is.
What causes our fights and quarrels?
We want. We are want-ers. We are driven by desires. And want-ers, driven by unchecked desires, find themselves in a lot of fights — some bloody fights, but mostly unseen fights, non-physical fights, the kind of internal loathing towards others, a pot of boiling acid that simmers under the surface and only rarely bubbles up and bursts out in verbal disdain.
Under the surface is where we nurse this insidious porridge of worldly yearnings for what others possess: a certain house, or car, or salary, or physique, or spouse, or background, or spiritual gift, or gift, or ability. “If only . . .” we think.
We lust and we covet and we become fighters. We fight because we are want-ers, and we want the wrong things.
Now, if we stop here, we may have our money’s worth: a profound psychological pulling back of the curtain on the human heart. But if we stop here, we have not yet answered the more important question.
What stops our fights and quarrels?
At first, it appears the solution must be in stopping our wanting. We think that if our hearts are desire-free, our lives will be conflict-free. This may be theoretically true, but it will never happen. God himself “yearns jealously” (James 4:5). And because we are created in God’s image, we yearn, too. We cannot not yearn. There is no off-switch to our cravings. We cannot power down our desires. Again, fundamental to our nature, we are want-ers. The most peaceful soul and the most belligerent soul on the planet are both driven by desire.
So, we must press in deeper. James himself presses us deeper as he keeps writing:
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:6–10)
There, do you see it?
Our fights are spurned by our coveting desires to be satisfied in the world. But what stops our fights is our proximity to God. What stops our fights is our wanting who he is. What stops our fights is finding our souls satisfied by what we believe is our ultimate good.
The solution to our conflicts is not emotional numbness. The solution is to become awakened to new desires. The resolution to our fury is to have souls that are broken by sin, washed in humility, and now not only attracted to God, but redeemed and made lovely — humble souls that in turn further attract the affection of God.
All of this unmerited mutual attraction is grace to us. We do not earn it — we enjoy it. As we draw near to God, our greatest good, we find in him the satisfaction that our coveting and our lusts could never deliver. We leave off our empty desires and the comparison that rots our hearts, and instead we see the glory of holy desires thirsty for God’s satisfying grace.
And he draws closer.