But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25; ESV)
I always found the imagery of the mirror here intriguing. James tells us that a person who hears God’s Word, but doesn’t do it is like someone who after looking at themselves in a mirror forgets what they looked like. But what is it they’re seeing in the mirror? Mirrors reflect. When we look at a mirror, we see ourselves as we currently are. So what is being forgotten? Is it our intended actions based on what we saw—something akin to “Oh look, my hair is messy; I need to brush it!”—but then, for some reason, we leave the house having neglected to brush our hair?
That makes some sense. We read the Bible and see we need to make changes. Perhaps I have been holding a grudge against someone—a serious case of unforgiveness—and I say to myself that I should let it go, and perhaps call the person who offended me to apologize and treat them again with kindness. But it’s not long before the hurtful memories of the past burn afresh in my heart, and I let my brief resolve slip away. So while looking into the pages of God’s Word brought a certain level of conviction, I quickly forgot about it and did nothing about my condition.
While that might be it, what is it about the nature of this mirror that enables it to reflect who I am so effectively? We know the Bible teaches us about God and his ways and that through it we discover how to have a right relationship with him. This includes learning that we are alienated from God and that we need his grace through the Messiah to be reconciled to him. Then as God’s children we are called to worship him and live fruitful godly lives. I regularly quote 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
I like to point out that “all Scripture” here is the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, since the New Testament wasn’t written yet. These words apply to the New Testament by extension, but they primarily apply to the Old. That means that there’s something about the Hebrew Scriptures that equips us “for every good work.” The way James puts it we are to be changed by God’s “perfect law”. He may have meant the Five Books of Moses or the entire Hebrew Bible, but either way the point is similar. There is something about how God reveals truth that is designed to reflect who we are in order to initiate change in our lives.
So how is it that we see ourselves so accurately in this mirror? It’s not as if the Bible is a compilation of abstract philosophical musings over human nature. Not that there aren’t such comments here and there, but by and large we learn about human nature by reading about the experiences of others. Strangely these others are from cultures and contexts very different from our own. Yet as we encounter the characters of the Bible, we see ourselves—people just like us, struggling to be people of God. Not having what it takes in and of themselves, they can’t escape their calling as God’s chosen ones, who cannot find either peace with God or clarification of their mission in life apart from God’s grace.
Who are these people? Who are the players in this divinely-designed story through whom we see our own reflection? You know the answer, of course—it’s the Jewish people. You know the answer, but does it surprise you anyway to learn that you see yourself in them? Everyone, no matter what time or place they’re from, whatever their cultural or ethnic origin, sees themselves in the Jewish people. This is because God picked the perfect people group to whom all other nations would most be able to relate and from whom we all could potentially learn.
This might explain something I have wondered about for a long time. I have had trouble understanding why there is so much fuss over the Jewish people. There is so much going on in the world. But why is it that when Jewish people or the State of Israel is involved, it evokes so much interest. Could it be that the reflective function of the Jewish people isn’t confined to the pages of Scriptures, but that they continue in this role forever?
As far as Scripture is concerned the Jewish people play center stage in the unfolding of God’s plans and purposes. This is not only true for the Old Testament but for the New as well. As Paul said regarding the Jewish people: “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29; ESV). The final book of the entire Bible concludes with God dwelling in Jerusalem with Jewish names embossed on its foundation stones and gates. The destiny of the Jewish people will have worldwide repercussions. The future of the whole of mankind is wrapped up in them. Could it be that somewhere deep inside all of us we know that? So whatever happens to them evokes all sorts of reactions.
I can’t say for sure that my psychological speculations are correct. But regardless, we cannot escape the reality of the biblical understanding of the Jewish people’s central role in God’s plan. To disregard that is to ignore what we see in God’s mirror.