"Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures." (James 1:17-18)James brings forth several important characteristics of God which, to a Jew scattered abroad were meant to call to remembrance the true nature of God, but for the Roman and Greek reader, they are truly radical and revolutionary ideas that challenged their understanding of God and gods.
First, James reminds us that God is still active and involved. God did not spin up the world and is now sitting back and watching it slowly unwind. God is not some impersonal force, such as gravity, that is ever present yet impersonal and disinterested in our daily lives. God is ever active, ever working, and ever caring in our lives. David says of God, "I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." (Psalm 121:1-4) God not only made the heavens and the Earth but He also made us and is still active in care and providence over our lives. When we need help, we have one in heaven who is engaged in our lives and ever ready to help.
Secondly, James reminds us that God is good. Every good thing in our life, every perfect gift we have received, comes from God. God is good and everything he does is good. Where there is pain, evil, and death, this does not come from God but from below. Jesus said of His Father, "If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" (Luke 11:11-13) Our Father has our best in mind. If we ask for bread He will not give us a stone, but if we ask for a stone He might give us bread if bread is what we really need. God is not a vending machine but a Father who only gives good gifts to His children.
Thirdly, we see that God never changes. The Greek word used here is the same word we get our word "parallax" from. Parallax refers to the case where the view of an object varies with the position and distance of the observer. For example stars appears differently when viewed from different positions on the earth. Even Venus is sometimes viewed as the Morning Start and sometimes as the Evening Star due to parallax. When we view things from different places they may appear to be different, but God is always the same. This was not true of the Greek and Roman gods. Sometimes they were kind and other times mean, impetuous, and irascible. When you approached a Greek and Roman god you were never sure which god you were going to get. They worshiped their gods not out of love but in an attempt to ward off their unpredictable malevolent behavior. However, God is always loving, always good, and always just. He never changes. The writer of Hebrews says this about Jesus, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)
Forth, we are reminded that God is constant. His light is always shining in our lives and is not subject to the occlusion, diffusion, or refraction by things of this creation. A shadow is only possible when something stands in the path of light, such as a cloud, building, tree, or even a person. However, Paul declared, "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39) Nothing of this creation can separate us from the light and love of God. If His light seems dim and His love distant, its not His love and light that are at fault but rather it is our perception of reality that is askew. His light is just as bright and His love just as strong whether or not we can perceive of feel it. Even in our darkest and most perilous moments, by faith we can still apprehend His light and love.
Finally, James teaches us that God is still creating and making things new. However, this time He is creating a righteous generation from sinful man, a kingdom of priests from enemies of His cross, and lovers of God from lovers of self. There is a new creation that God is bringing forth and we are but its first fruits. Jesus said, "Behold, I am making all things new" (Revelation 21:5) and one day that will include both the heavens and the Earth. However, now, prior to that new heaven and Earth, He is creating and preparing a people fit for that new creation. This transformation is not the work of our own hands but is rather the work of God, being birthed from the word of God according to the will of God. How much we have to give thanks for. For what we could not do, God has done for us. Thanks be to God!