“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 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 in nothing” – James 1:2-4
“I’d smack him.” This was my friend’s response to my question, “How would you respond if someone told this to you during a difficult time?” I think we can understand my friend’s response. James’ teaching feels beyond pat and seems to drift into tone deaf territory. So do we write this off as a place where the ancient text is simply out of step with contemporary life? Well, first let’s look at the life of James.
James was the (half) brother of Jesus. He saw the life, death, and resurrection play out firsthand. He saw and felt the effect Jesus’ crucifixion had on his mother. James was intimately familiar with the first century.
The book of Acts tells us that James was the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem which, at the time, was the heart of Christianity. During his leadership the fledgling church faced famine, poverty, and perennial persecution. Throughout it all James was known as a man of wisdom, faith, and peace.
It is from this context that James wrote this letter to all of the churches outside of Jerusalem.
“Well I’d smack him, but it’s important to remember he isn’t writing to an individual dealing with a particular loss. He is writing to a community facing persecution”
Context helps. Community helps.
James’ words were rooted in his community’s experience. He knew that sorrow and pain was not the end of the story because it was not the end of Christ’s story. James had seen the hands and side of the resurrected Christ. He knew that in Christ all was made new, all is redeemed, including the challenges we face. If solace can be found in the conviction that the trials we face will give way to grace. Then perhaps, joy can indeed be found in the hopeful anticipation of our deliverance.
“Discovering more joy does not, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreaks without being broken.” ― Desmond Tutu