We live in a suffering- and loss-averse culture. This makes sense to a point. Naturally, we do not like to suffer or experience loss. The idea of desiring suffering and loss, whether mental or physical, seems pathological. In general, the wise person desires and seeks stability, security, and fullness of life, not suffering and loss, in mind, body, and spirit.
Yet in so many ways we have taken a natural and healthy aversion to suffering and loss and made it into something else. Not only do we not want to suffer, we believe we should not have to suffer. We are entitled not to suffer. From this perspective, virtually anything in terms of technology becomes justified if it helps us avoid suffering and loss. We assume and assert a right not to suffer if there is a technological way to overcome the cause of our suffering or loss, no matter what ethical ambiguities complicate the “remedy.”
As we read in today’s passage, James, probably writing within a generation of Jesus’ death, took a different approach: “Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds….” Why would James have said this? Perhaps few of us can say we experience much joy when troubles and suffering afflict us. I cannot say I naturally experience pure joy or even limited joy in them.
But James could write this because he knew deep-down from personal experience – learned from Jesus’ suffering and from his own life of faith, which eventually led to martyrdom – that God makes good out of evil. Specifically, God can take troubles and loss which afflict us and build us more and more into image-bearers of Jesus. Trials, perceived and engaged faithfully, can be concrete ways we walk in the way of Jesus. Through them, God can strengthen our character so that we grow in life-sustaining and life-fostering attitudes and virtues. Then, as we become true bearers of Jesus, we radiate his life and love to the people and world around us, also suffering troubles and loss.
Suffering and loss do not come from God, any more than Jesus’ suffering came from God. They come from a world alienated from and opposed to God. They come from our own alienation from God. Yet when God reconciles us to himself and we endure trials faithfully, as Jesus did, we grow in likeness of Jesus and manifest Jesus to the world. Then we can live joyously and hopefully in and through troubles, sufferings, and loss – all to the glory of God in this life and the next.