Joy in Suffering

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

The followers of Jesus Christ face many hardships in this world. Some of these are the common experience of all men, but Christians are a chosen people, saved and enlightened by God, so that we ought to interpret our lives by the light of the gospel. Non-Christians hold to a philosophy that is opposed to the righteousness of God and the way of Christ. They deny the true causes and solutions to the troubles of humanity. Thus regardless of the variations and revisions, all non-Christian theories fail to arrive at the truth about our situation. Instead of taking warning from difficulties and heartaches, they become bitter, and they harden their hearts against the message of salvation. And instead of surrendering under the heat of God’s wrath, they band together to withstand him. But rebellion increases their troubles, and wrecks havoc in their souls.

Jesus Christ saves us from bitterness and rebellion, and he transforms our perspectives and attitudes. In fact, he introduces us to the only true perspective and the only proper attitudes. He makes us superior men and women. Those who are still hindered by unbelief and evil traditions hesitate to say this about the followers of Christ, but if you refuse to say that you are now superior to your former self, then this means that you also allege that the gospel is impotent and that the claims it makes about the power of Christ are fraudulent. But if you admit that you are superior now, this must also mean that you have become superior to non-Christians, since they have not benefited from the wisdom and power of God. The logic is inescapable, but theologians usually do not speak this way, because most of them remain in bondage to false humility and religious clich├ęs. We are superior because Jesus Christ is superior, and he has made us superior in him by his grace. It is God’s gift to his people.

Non-Christians are out of touch with reality. Their view of the world is pure fantasy, in which they are good and useful people, where men and women can save themselves from wickedness and destruction, and God will not punish them with hellfire. Jesus Christ shows us truth and reality. He reveals to us that God is righteous and sovereign, and that mankind has transgressed his standard and has fallen into sin, and that Christ has arrived to save us from the wrath that is to come, and that is even now at work in the world. Jesus shows us that although we have a glorious future in him, that although the path of the righteous grows brighter and brighter, this world is still fallen and corrupted, that we are not yet perfected, and that growing in the virtues of Christ involves enduring hardships in this life.

Hardships are in themselves not enjoyable and not encouraging, but Jesus Christ enables us to face them with joy because we understand that when we address them in the light of the gospel, they exercise our patience and increase our endurance. For this to mean anything, we must treasure the virtues of Christ more than the comforts of this world. We must mind the things of God more than the things of men, and we must possess an appetite akin to that of angels rather than that of the beasts.

Those who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God have received the wisdom to face life with this perspective. We want to be like Jesus Christ, who endured not only the general hardships of living in this world, but also unbelief, slander, all kinds of abuse, and even death, so that he may honor his Father and rescue his people, that is, the believers of all generations. If we will follow his example, then our suffering in the Lord will not be in vain.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that we do nothing to resist. Some religious traditions would have us believe that patience and endurance translate into surrender, so that we should allow troubles to trample all over us, as if this alone glorifies God, and as if this is the proper way to surrender to God’s sovereignty. This is a lie of Satan to convince us to embrace defeat, and to do it without a fight. God has given us resources to overcome many of our troubles; in fact, it is often his command for us to resist with the methods that he teaches and provides.

Since we have come to know the Christian faith, no matter what we face in life, we shall always remember that in Jesus Christ we have already escaped the worst kind of trouble – that is, the wrath of God at work in the soul, the intellectual darkness of an unbelieving mind, and the moral depravity of a sinner who lives without the power of the gospel. Unlike the non-Christians, who are being devoured by death from the inside, we have a definitive and growing freedom from it. We are being educated in the truth by the word of God, and increasing in courage and self-control by the power of the Holy Spirit.