I recently shared a post entitled, “When Life Changes Suddenly” about my experience of an unexpected medical condition. There I informed you that I was reading through the epistle of James. I’ve decided to write a few posts containing my reflections on select passages. In this post, I will reflect on the distinctly Judeo-Christian concept of joy in trials and the deliverance offered by our Messiah King. Whole books have been written on suffering and joy and I do not assume that one blog post will answer your theological questions about the goodness of God, suffering, and Christian joy. I do hope, however, this piece encourages you and guides you to reconsider your definition of joy.
We humans do not agree on a lot. Our ideas and passions are as different as our personalities. Yet there is one thing we can all agree on-hardship is a part of life in this sin-cursed land. Trials come in many shapes and sizes from an unexpected job loss to a medical diagnosis, to persecution for religious belief. The trials of Christians in Sri Lanka are but one example of suffering we have seen on the news since Easter Sunday. Some people make the mistake of considering every negative experience as a trial or element of suffering. We must be cautious about equivocating all hardship. Even so, we all have some idea of what is meant by trial.
We must consider what the Biblical writer of our passage means when he uses the term. Here’s the complete passage for contextual purposes.
“Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:1-4 (CSB)
The term used is χαρά (ka-ra) and it refers to the experience of gladness. The people of God write about and sing about joy in both the Old and New Testaments. A cursory glance at the Psalms reveals that the joy of God’s people rested in deliverance. This deliverance is eschatological in that ultimate deliverance from oppression comes through the Messiah. One notable cross reference where the same term is used in Hebrews 12:2. That passage reminds us that Jesus “endured the cross for the joy that was set before him.” We normally do not associate crucifixion and joy yet Jesus knew the joy of humans being restored into a right relationship with the Trinity.
James wants the Jewish Christians living in exile to remember the deliverance offered by the Messiah. Those who have faith know that present trials are not the end.
Not only will the Messiah return one day to eliminate all suffering (Revelation 21) but as the Christians wait they are being transformed. Look at the passage again.
When we suffer our character grows. Our endurance and perseverance increase and ultimately help us mature in our journey of faith. I don’t think I need to remind you that pain often comes with growth. (My skin is growing back over where the surgical incision was. It is not a comfortable process!) The same is true in the Christian walk. When God grows us it will not feel comfortable. We are made pure through the refiner’s fire of The key to understanding all of this is faith. As we study James together over the next few posts you will observe that faith is a repeated theme throughout the letter.
Faith functions as the anchor for maintaining joy in trials. I cannot imagine how people cope with trials apart from a relationship with God. I cannot imagine living without hope. Perhaps one tendency is for people to place their hope somewhere else like insurance or a government agency. Jesus provides all who are broken and thirsty with a living hope. There would be no hope in Jesus without the resurrection! Through Jesus, you too can have hope in your season of suffering.
As I wrap things up I do want to offer one word of caution. Maintaining joy in Christ is not covering up our pain and pretending that it is not there. Christian joy is not merely an ecstatic experience with smiling faces and perpetual excitement. Christian joy is an internal joy that proceeds from trusting a loving, personal, and sovereign God. (Read Emotional Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero if you want to learn more about emotions and healthy spirituality.) This joy is distinct from happiness in that happiness is based on circumstances. Christian joy is both a now and not yet celebration where believers anticipate the great deliverance when the Messiah returns. Until then, we must patiently submit to God’s process of growing us. We do not see the end result of this painful journey. One day we will enter Zion and the burden will be lifted off our back.
Journey onward dear Christian. You may be in the slew of Despond. You must not lose sight of the City of Zion and the Deliverer.