The Greatest Threat to our Confidence in the Goodness of God
When you stand in breathless amazement at the beauty of the star-lit night, do you question the goodness of God? No. Continue reading . . .
When you stand in breathless amazement at the beauty of the star-lit night, do you question the goodness of God? No. When you witness the birth of your child and contemplate the wonder and majesty of how he/she is crafted and shaped, do you immediately doubt whether God has your best interests at heart? No. When you discover that your bank account is full and ever-increasing and that your insurance company has sent you a check that will enable you to buy a new car, even better than the one you just totaled in an accident, do you raise an angry fist and shout ugly slurs at God? No. When your spouse tells you repeatedly how much they love you and your boss compliments your efforts in the office, do you grow resentful and give serious consideration to abandoning the local church and your Christian friends? Of course not!
But reverse each of those scenarios. Or simply think about the especially difficult circumstances you are currently confronting in life. Now, do you feel the temptation to wonder if God is good? Do you sense a strong pull in the direction of despair and anger and doubt? Sure. That is why suffering, in whatever form it comes our way, is the single greatest threat to our confidence in the goodness and trustworthiness of God.
This undeniable fact makes all the more surprising the words of James 1:2 – “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet various trials.” Several things here warrant our close attention.
For example, the word “when” or perhaps even “whenever” may not be a word that you wish to consider, for the simple fact that it means there will never come a time when we won’t face trials and hardships, at least not this side of the Second Coming of Christ! The word “when” points to the fact that trials and challenges and painful obstacles will be recurrent. The obvious implication is that we likely will never reach a stage in our Christian experience when we will be free from trials or insulated against them.
Sadly, some Christians today preach and believe in what I call triumphalism, the idea that we can make such remarkable progress in our spiritual life and exercise such resilient faith that we are elevated above and beyond the reach of routine difficulties. The end result of such an unbiblical view is disillusionment and anger, for the simple fact that no one who is honest about it, no matter how intensely and consistently they try to convince themselves otherwise, ever attains such a lofty level of life on this earth.
Another important word is the one translated “meet” or in some translations “encounter”. The verb points to the unexpected nature of trials. James is not suggesting that we seek out trials and hardship. If we are living faithfully, they will find us. Trials are never to be manufactured. Indeed, every conceivable means, short of moral compromise, ought to be employed to avoid them. Any sort of perverse ambition for suffering or martyrdom is alien to Scripture.
The word “trials” is one we come across often in Scripture and points primarily to external obstacles. He’s not talking about internal temptation to sin. Rather he has in mind obstacles, challenging circumstances, and the wide variety of things we experience that cause us to wonder if God is really good enough and big enough to warrant our trust.
In fact, that word rendered “various kinds” makes the point clearly. It indicates that trials and hardship and challenges to our faith come in a wide variety of forms. Some trials come our way simply because we are human and we live in a world with other fallen humans. There isn’t much you can do when you are flat broke and the truck in front of you on the highway sends a rock into your windshield, shattering it and thrusting you into even deeper financial troubles. Other trials are thrown in our path precisely because we are Christians (see 1 Peter 4:12). James would include here verbal abuse, ridicule, loss of business opportunities, loss of a job, and the typical daily pressures we face trying to live a godly life in an ungodly world.
As I said earlier, these trials are without question the greatest threat to our confidence in the goodness of God. As James says, they “test” our faith more than anything else we experience. They cause us to question whether he really has our best interests at heart. Some trials are so severe and prolonged that we begin to doubt whether God even exists, or if he does exist if he knows who we are and what we are experiencing. Is he simply indifferent to our pain?
Does he actually hear my prayers or even care about what I need? How could he possibly allow one of his blood-bought, redeemed sons or daughters to endure such anguish when he could quite easily eliminate it or lift the burden? It’s the age-old question: Where is God when life hurts? What is he doing, if anything, to make things better, or at least more tolerable?
James’ solution isn’t to promise us immediate and permanent deliverance from trials. He doesn’t say something like: “Look folks, be patient. God will eventually remove all barriers and eliminate all struggles and relieve you of all pain and vanquish every enemy.” Nor does he say, “God had nothing to do with these trials. They are all of the Devil. But he’s been busy with other, more important matters and will ultimately get around to you and bring you complete and final relief.”
Nor does he say, “All these hardships you face are fundamentally meaningless and useless and have no purpose but to irritate, agitate, and aggravate your life. There is no point to your pain. So deal with it.” One more thing. James doesn’t tell us that if we will just read more and pray more and study the Bible more and be more faithful in attendance at church that eventually we will make sense of all our trials and suffering. The fact is, there are experiences we face that we will never, in this life, understand. They will always baffle us and befuddle us and resist being reduced to easy answers.
So what alternative does James suggest? Joy!
To be continued . . .