“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (James 1:4)
The term “liberal” should not always be rendered as a bad or negative word. On the contrary, the term is often used in a very positive light in scripture as evidenced by the term being associated with the generous giving nature of God. The definition of “liberal” at the time the KJV was translated (when the translators chose “liberally” to describe the nature of God’s giving) was “free in giving, generous, or open-hearted” (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary). To commend the translators, using that definition, I cannot think of a more precise and accurate term to describe to free, generous, and open-hearted giving of blessings that God grants upon His children, especially when we ask of Him in prayer.
Unfortunately, in American culture, the term liberal has been hijacked and politicized by those who typically hold to worldview and ideology that is contrary to scriptural principles and values. While I understand this may not be the case that all liberals or progressives (which in and of themselves are not bad terms, just the application is very poor), nonetheless this is the common understanding of this term and label today. The first definition of “liberal” from an internet search today is “open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values”. While the definition of the term liberal in the times of KJV translators used the term accurately describes the generous and loving nature of God, today’s definition could not be more averse to the nature of God. God is immutable and cannot change (Mal. 3:6), and there is certainly no willingness in His character or mind to accept or adopt new behaviors while correspondingly discarding traditional values. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8), so God in His character and nature is certainly not liberal in any sense of this modern definition.
However, as we look back to the historical and traditional sense of this term, God has proven to be a “generous and open-hearted giver” in the scriptures and in our individual lives, and all His blessings are bestowed upon His children “free of charge”. God reaffirms his promise in this verse that if we are lacking of needful and good things in our lives, wisdom in the immediate context, that we should ask of God and He is a “liberal giver” to those who ask of Him. In Jesus’ sermon on the mount, He asked if our children ask for a good and needful thing such as bread or a fish, will we give them a harmful thing in return such as a stone or serpent (Matt. 7:7-10). Well, of course not. If our children are in need and sincerely ask us for help, we will not just give them what they ask for, but give them much more as well. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matt. 7:11). If we are generous and open-hearted enough to give good things to our children and we are fallen and sinful creatures, how much more shall God give to His children liberally and bountifully when they ask for good things of Him. No doubt God will abundantly answer these sincere petitions unto Him.
God’s liberality is “free in giving”. “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1) The greatest liberal gift that God has given us is eternal life, which is a free gift bestowed upon the recipients (Rom. 6:23). In addition to that though, God is also so gracious to freely bestow upon us all our temporal blessings that we stand in need of in our lives. If God gave His only begotten Son to freely give us the greatest gift of all time, why should we ever doubt that God will liberally give us what we stand in need of. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).
Finally, we need to not restrict God’s liberal giving nature to only our finite minds or what we see as the plausible outcome of a given situation. We need to remember that our God is much bigger and more powerful than to be constrained by His corruptible and mortal creatures. We cannot even fully comprehend how great and abundant that God is capable of blessing us, but we must have faith that He is able to give us even more than the grandest thought that our little brains can conjure up. “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” (Eph. 3:20)