Thursday, August 17, 2006

finding joy

I am reading the book of James today. A casual reading of the first chapter of the book might cause the reader to believe he is masochistic. The letter is address to the Christian believers who were scattered far from their homes due to persecution for their faith. After his greeting, the first verse says this, "Consider it wholly joyful, my brethren, whenever you are enveloped in or encounter trials of any sort, or fall into various temptations." A few words that caught my immediate attention were "wholly joyful", "whenever", "trials of any sort", "various temptations". If I take the proper English meaning of this remarkably harsh statement, James is saying something like every single time your life becomes really hard and painful things happen, decide to rejoice? Wow. The next thing that comes to mind is, how and why? No one living and sane wants painful things in their lives, let alone welcoming such things to happen.

Ok, ok, I need to be fair to poor Jim. Let's move on to verse three, "Be assured and understand that the trial and proving of your faith bring out endurance and steadfastness and patience". Well, I guess that makes me feel a little better. James says to "be assured and understand". There is a reason for all of this, because going back to verse 2, there is no "if". It says "whenever". But understanding is far from being wholly joyful. In my mind joy looks forward to something, and understanding merely accepts what is with some reasoned intelligence. There must be more to this.

So then verse four, "But let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be (people) perfectly and fully developed (with no defects), lacking in nothing". Hmm, there are those three words once again, endurance, steadfastness, patience. Those also have the ring of something to be suffered through, not embraced.

Looking at it through the microscope of intellect, just trying to analyze the statements, it seems clear first of all the our faith is of paramount importance, because that is the object of trials and temptations. Our faith is proved by these things. Why does our faith need to be proved? To create the three words, endurance, steadfastness, patience. These three things are outward, visible signs of an inner belief system that is so contrary to the human nature it seems impossible. The natural response is to avoid any pain or discomfort at all, and if it comes, get rid of it as quickly as impossible, as though it were an intruder and totally foreign to our existence.

An analogy that may cause this to make more sense is simply-think of yourself as a painting in progress. You were created for a purpose and through the mind and hand of an artist who is not seen. You are the visible manifestation of the artist. Viewers come to look at you on display whenever they may, and what is on the canvas is presented to the viewer as a representation of the artist, and as a work in and of itself. The artist alone chooses colors, strokes, designs and what he deems important. It is the mind of the artist that communicates to the viewer through the painting. I've been to many an art museum, and how often I watch the faces of people transfixed by the works they view. Some stand there for long moments without a word. The works are objects of wonderment, joy, fascination, conviction-so many things. But a compelling work does not fail to leave the viewer unmoved. There are works that take generations to be appreciated. But true value and quality cannot be hidden.

So many times our family has been asked by people how we endure the trial we have gone through with our son. From a natural perspective, it seems denial to say there is any good in this. So taking a real, live situation and applying James 1, I would respond that we have received, in the end, letting endurance, patience and steadfastness have their way, the joy of knowing God is with us in a way He could never have been otherwise. And we understand Him in ways that only trial and suffering can reveal. We have the joy of showing other people He is with us, and that their prayers and love have helped us so much. This trial has revealed the bounty of love we have through friends, church family, and many people who don't even know us that well. And a much greater joy is seeing God work in our son's life. He was living in a way that was not good, and was clearly rescued. Trials and temptations create the means by which God's hand is shown visibly on the earth if we "consider it all joy". The worst condition to be in in the world is living a life completely untouched by sadness, need, want-in other words, to be completely self-sufficient. And it seems in this day and age, that is all we strive for. There is no joy in such a life. One verse that never leaves me is this, "For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross". He must have been the most joyful person that ever lived.


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