Today’s Thought: What happens to my relationship with God when life gets hard?
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 NRSV)
I can hear your thoughts as you read that scripture only because I’ve thought the same thing. You’re wondering if it means you’re supposed to walk around smiling while your world is crashing down around you. First, I don’t recommend doing that because more than one person will think you’ve lost your mind. Second, smiling in the midst of suffering is absolutely not what James meant by this passage.
What James does want the reader to do is keep it all in perspective, especially when things happen that make you question your faith. That’s really his main point. Stay the course no matter what happens, because withstanding challenges to your faith will lead to a more mature faith.
“But God doesn’t understand what it’s like.” How many times have you used that as an excuse to get mad at God and walk away? (I need to use both hands and feet to even begin to get a count.) Truth is, God most certainly does understand what it’s like. Take a look at Luke 4:1-13 where Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness for forty days.
It’s not a stress-free experience to say the least, but Jesus refuses to work miracles to make things easier on himself. Instead, he willingly chooses physical and emotional pain in exchange for first-hand knowledge of human suffering (not the only time he will do that). As a result, he knows what it is to be hungry; he knows the allure of power and wealth; he knows what it’s like to have someone challenge the validity of his abilities and identity. Yet, at no time during these trials does Jesus blame God for his situation. He doesn’t bargain with God, making future promises he’ll never keep in return for an easy life today. He doesn’t stamp his foot and demand that God “fix it.”
So, what does he do when these trials are used to test his faith? He turns to scripture. He recommits himself to worship. He declares to the tempter that God is Lord and King of all. Jesus is suffering the trials of being human, but he holds tightly to his Father. As a result, we’re given a picture of mature faith that draws its strength from the remembrance of ultimate joy. Life is hard. Let God help.
Thursday’s Theologian: N.T. Wright, New Testament scholar and retired Anglican bishop, writes, “Waves are what happen when wind and tide take hold of the waters and make them dance to their tune…. The challenge in faith is not to be a wave.” Check out N.T. Wright’s author page at amazon.com.