"It's not a comfort to me."
My friend - who waits for wholeness, for excitement in faith - waits, years now, to see God. Running hard after him in education and community and pure grit; she knows he's more broad paint strokes than he is minutiae of the mind.
Hearing me say the things I've written here about suffering did nothing to move her toward him. I have to wonder what is the magnetism to stay behind while his peace is just steps ahead? When we see the end at least in some sketchy line-drawing sort of way, what in us makes us want to leave it be off in the distance. We might think "someday," but we say it with gnat-like confidence.
The book of James says that verse that we quote with a full adolescent eye-roll: "Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance and let endurance have it's perfect result that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing."
The very first word is like a hole in our own yard that we try to fill with the leaky garden hose of poor interpretation. It doesn't say, "feel." It doesn't say, "Be comforted." There is nothing here that says, "In the middle of the trial, I should fully grasp and experience joy because I know God is going to make me better because of it." This is not stiff-upper lip stuff. This is a thinking word. Consider.
This is early, early church and maybe James is the first to write a letter to a church, at least the first that we have. And what do you know? They're in the midst of something unpleasant right from the start. This Christian life was never a predictor of ease or reward. Early on, the Jewish Christians were scratching their heads, maybe weeping, stressed, threatened. We still follow suit in that, walking in the footsteps of all the trial-bearers that have gone before us. There is nothing new under the sun.
And because every good mentor casts a vision for a mentee, and James is no exception, he begins the letter with the vision of hope. "Even though you're in this deep place of confusion or betrayal or persecution, you won't stay there. The training doesn't last forever." The mentor says, on the other side of it, "you'll be made complete." It's just a sketch, because we can't really grasp what complete looks like but it's enough to make out the shape of it from a distance.
He knows the joy isn't right. this. very. minute. But he knows it will be full and attaches "all" not to "trials" but to "joy." He knows that there is the "all joy" coming. This brother of the Lord, who once thought Jesus was crazy only later to be changed by the resurrection. This brother has seen and lived with the difference between the young Jesus, the dead Jesus and the live Jesus. This brother who devoted his life to the message of renewal and rightness with God; he knows what all-joy looks like.
We don't. We roll our eyes at it, because we think we have to feel it. No. Be free of that. But we do have to think it. Which means we have to stop thinking the other things, the false truths, the assumptions. We have to stop clinging tighfisted to the tapes in our heads:
"I'm not worth anything."
"I'm a failure."
"I'll always be this way."
"I'll never hear the answer."
The brother of James knows differently, thinks differently of you. He's a man of love and love assumes the best, sees the best, wants the best. Our assumptions about ourselves hold back the steadfastness, hold back the lacking in nothing. Take up the thoughts that he has for you:
- You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers
- Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need
- The law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death
- Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made alive together with Christ
- The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me
- And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field
- Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation
- We are reconciled
- To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God
- Competent, equipped for every good work
Joy is unnatural. There's no good reason for it. It's the steady push toward trust in God. It doesn't have to be happy, just thankful, hopeful. In the middle of contentment, it's there outloud, like paint on the walls. But in the middle of trial, it's there, hidden, padding the floor where we lie down in grief. Deep and steady and settled.
James says "consider." Keep it in front of your mind, don't look away from the endurance that leads to wholeness. Push to the all-joy. It's not a comfort. It's a promise.