Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask.
Every belief system has a good side vs bad side schema. Think about the cartoons with an angel appearing on one shoulder and a devil appearing on the other. Think about Luke Skywalker attempting to resist the temptations of the “dark side,” or Frodo trying not to put on the ring of power. Our conceptions of good and evil are often represented by external forces, like angels and demons.
James’ description of evil is not an external force, but an internal struggle between selfish desire and God’s will. Paul calls our self-centered actions the “sinful nature.” It is the state that we are condemned to since the original sin in the garden of Eden. In paradise, we could stand still on a flat plane and be passively righteous with no struggle or effort. Now we are moving uphill on a pair of rollerblades. If our active pursuit of God’s will pauses for even a moment, we begin to roll slowly backwards.
Where do the conflicts and disputes among us come from? They come from our sinful nature which seeks to satisfy the self – unless it is actively tamed and submitted to God. We might attribute our temptations to the devil, but the truth is that we don’t really need assistance to get sidetracked. In fact, giving the devil so much power can be a form of idolatry itself. Have you ever talked to someone and wondered if they hated the devil more than they loved God? If before going to bed every night I told my wife I loved her and then talked about how much I hated woman X, she might find it unsettling that I was so fixated on woman X, even if it was a negative fixation. Even that metaphor gives the devil too much power. If before going to bed every night I told my wife how much I hated the worm that lives under the log in our backyard, that is a better representation of what the devil is to God. It also better represents how pitiful of an excuse it is to blame the devil when we obey the desires of our own sinful nature. “I’m sorry I yelled at you, honey, the worm who lives under the log in our backyard made me do it.”