James is the type of person you would go to in high school to get them to check out your essay before you turned it in.
His writing is beautiful. Having made it all the way through the book, we can see that he begins and ends it with the same idea: in all things, good or bad, we can look to God in joy, even when there are trials and different types of suffering.
James revolutionizes the idea of suffering. His answer isn’t, “Yeah, suffering is really, really terrible, and here’s a good reason for why it has to be that way.” Instead, James says, “Suffering is actually good for you…” to which we should all respond with, “What, why, how…I mean, do you even know what we’re going through?”
I think James does know what you’re going through. Although we are separated from James by lots of years, James still felt the same difficulty in doubt, grief in death, and emptiness of hopelessness that we feel.
James struggled with a magnitude of doubt that we will never understand, wondering whether or not his own brother was God. James was confronted with death when that brother was executed for being a criminal. And James wrestled with hopelessness after the death of Jesus, because someone finally seemed to have an answer. Someone finally seemed to explain life in a way that it made sense. Someone finally reconciled all of the difficult questions, finally understood letter and the heart of the law, and finally opened up a path directly to God. And James had to live in the reality of that person’s death for three days, not knowing he would come back to life.
And James is the guy who said to count suffering as joy.
Christianity reorients our view of suffering, allowing us to remove it from its position as a daunting dead-end of humanity. Instead of seeing it as an unanswerable end, we see suffering as a means to an end that eliminates any hope we have that isn’t hope in God (that’s a little confusing).
We put our hope in many things. We hope in family and friends. We hope in the security of jobs. We hope in wealth. Man, we even hope in our favorite sports teams. We put our hope in lots of things that promise to make us healthy or make us happy or make us safe. But everyone, and I mean everyone, knows the feeling of your insides turning to goop when your favorite team loses, when your friends let you down, when a loved one betrays you, when the money doesn’t come through the way you thought it would, and on and on and on.
Everything and everyone else will let us down. But God will not. And our life of suffering proves over and over again that everything in this world will betray us or break or die—except for God. No matter what happens to us, God is always God, and God has always been God. He is trustworthy and true. He fulfills his promises. And his wisdom has allowed a way for us to see his goodness in our suffering.
Suffering and joy are not mutually exclusive. We can have both at the same time. The Bible tells us that suffering will happen. If we’re not in a period of suffering right now, we’re probably on the way to one. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be joyful all the way though.
This may sound weird, but don’t take your suffering for granted. God is doing cosmic and monumental work through it in your life.
Our hope in Christ through our suffering will not put us to shame, so don’t hold anything back. Hope with all you’ve got.