Tonight, I begin teaching the book of James in a men’s bible study. I have been giving verses 2-3 a lot of thought. James begins verse 2 with a command: Count it all joy. This may seem a bit strange at first. Strange to be commanded to be joyous. We would think joy would be natural for us to experience and something in which we would delight and relish; not something we would be commanded to have. Commanding a teenager to tidy up after themselves, sure. Commanding an inferior to do some unpleasant chore, okay. Commanding a defiant witness to answer questions, yes. But commanded to have joy?
The word count in the Greek means to consider, to deem, to think. It’s as if James is saying, When such and such happens, think of it as completely joyous. But why would he command us to be joyful? Well, we can all imagine situations where joy would be natural and the spontaneous emotion we would feel. The birth of a child. A large tax refund from the government! The salvation of a loved one. A raise at work. Winning the lottery!
But, James is speaking of these “normal” situations. James is commanding us to have joy when we go through trials and hardships. Is joy natural doing such times? Probably not. Or, should I say, absolutely not.
Trials are inevitable in life, whether one is a believer or not. Believers though are called to see a higher purpose in their sufferings. A purpose that brings about a resolution of faith. A determined faith of a mature, well-developed follower of Jesus Christ.
Jesus himself taught us that we should expect troubles in this life (cf. Jn. 16.33). The examples are endless from scripture of godly men and women who suffered afflictions and pain and loss.
Of course, one seems to stand hand and shoulders above the rest in this department: Job. Job said, Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. (Job 14.1) Eliphaz, the ever helpful friend of Job, reminds Job, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. (Job 5.7)
Trouble is, whether we like it or not, part and parcel of this thing we call life. And we, we as believers, we as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, are called to count them all joy.
This is hard. I don’t have my mind around it fully yet. How could one count it joyous when they watch their wife beaten and raped for her testimony? How can one rejoice when house and home and property are stolen and burned to the ground, simply because they name Christ as Lord? How can one be joyful when she finds out her spot on the xray is stage 4? How could a parent be extremely happy when he finds out his daughter has just been killed in an automobile accident?
I don’t know.
I heard a former professor of mine say he had a friend that lost his wife tragically and that this friend took comfort in the thought that God was behind her death. In fact, he had commented if he did not believe that, he would not have been able to make it through the ordeal. My professor said he would feel just the opposite. It would be a stumbling block to him to think God was behind (in a purposeful way) such a tragedy. He would take solace in believing God was grieving with him.
Are there some hardships in life that we do not reckon as trials? Is it just, simply put, this is life and bad things happen. In some things there is no rhyme or reason. God’s hand is not behind every calamity, behind every family blown away by an EF-5, not behind every cancer diagnosis, every sickness and death?
Count it all joy . . . in certain situations almost seems to mock us. Seriously? You have got to be kidding, right? There’s no way in hell I’m going to be joyous in some of the above scenarios (or countless others we could name) we say defiantly. Forget that!
Yet, almost inexplicably it would seem, some do. Some are, even at this very moment. Oh, maybe they didn’t at first. Maybe not at first impact. Maybe it was a process. There was a learning curve that ran long and deep into their dark night of the soul. But, that’s where they find themselves, joyful.
We must also remember, James isn’t writing such instruction from a life of ease and contentment. He’s not lounging in the tropics with pina colada in hand, watching the surf break and the sea gulls gawking over head. No. He is writing in the midst of trials, in the eye of the storm of suffering. He is writing to a group who knows persecution first hand. James himself will be martyred for his faith, according to Josephus and Eusebius.
Does it make it all any easier for us? Probably not. But, the older I get, the more I realize there is nothing about following Christ that is easy. Discipleship is about cross-carrying. It is about self-denial and even death, so that I may decrease and he may increase.
I humbly admit, it is a hard thing for me to wrap my mind around. A hard thing to allow to have sway in my soul. But, James is saying to me, Hey you, Christian there, are you going through a trial, a time of suffering and pain? Then rejoice.
I don’t know. What do you think? Comments welcome.