When the Roots Grow Deep, Part 2
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Groping for Truth in the Midst of the Trial
If you’ve ever been through a very difficult trial, especially one that lasted a long time for no apparent reason, you’ve no doubt struggled to find a reason for your suffering. It’s the natural thing for us to do. Sometimes we’re successful and we can identify what we think is a reason for the trial. Sometimes we suffer as a result of something specific someone else has done. Other times we realize we’re suffering as a consequence of our own actions. Often times, though, our struggle to make sense of a situation comes up empty and we’re left still holding the question “Why?”.
James knows this and offers this counsel to help carry us through those times of confusion:
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8 NASU)
Remember our introduction to the book of James? We said then that what we need is not more knowledge, we need more wisdom – the ability to handle life with skill. The answer to “Why?” is not wisdom – it’s knowledge. Wisdom is evidenced in our response to the trial – regardless of the “Why.”
Consider Job. His life was going pretty well until the day Satan decided he’d try to prove God wrong. (Bad move… but that’s another subject.) With God’s permission, Satan descended upon Job with every intention (and ability) to turn his life upside down. In the span of a single day, Job (a rich rancher in the ancient Middle East) lost every animal he owned, every ranch hand that worked for him, and all ten of his sons and daughters. Not much later he was stricken with a horrible disease (some today think elephantiasis) which produced inflamed eruptions accompanied by intense itching (Job 2:7-8), maggots in ulcers (7:5), erosion of the bones (30:17), blackening and falling off of skin (30:30), and terrifying nightmares (7:14). As we arrive at the conclusion of the book of Job, we find that Job is never told the reason for his suffering – even when it’s all over. In his commentary on the book of Job, scholar Meredith Kline proclaims, “Behold, the wise man! Not wise because he comprehended the mystery of his sufferings, but because, not comprehending, he feared God still.” [Note 1]
When we don’t understand, James says don’t concern yourself so much with the reason as the correct response. When you ask for wisdom, trust God to show you how to best respond – and then be willing to obey. The word uses for “double-minded” means “vacillating in opinion or purpose.” One who vacillates is one who wants his will and God’s will at the same time. If we are truly to learn to “live life with skill” we must be willing to lay down our life completely – even when we don’t understand why.
The Trial of Circumstance
After addressing the proper response to trials in general, James turns to a specific trial we all must endure: the trial of circumstance.
But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. (James 1:9-11 NASU)
Up in verse 4, James instructs us to “let” endurance have its perfect result. “Let” implies cooperation – we are to “give in” and allow the trial to accomplish its purpose. Here we are told that we are to cooperate with our position in life. If we are poor, (i.e., enduring the trial of poverty) we are not to go about bemoaning our lot in life; rather, we should be thankful that we are rich in our relationship to Christ and free from the worries that always accompany riches. Likewise, the rich man who has accepted Christ has been freed from the burden of his riches. He no longer has to live life consumed by the worries that wealth brings nor the fear of someday losing the wealth he’s accumulated (his humiliation). If it happens – fine. That’s not what life’s about. So, the end goal of the trials of poverty and wealth are the same – to drive our focus towards our Creator.
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:12 NASU)
So what is the reward for facing trials with godly wisdom? For one, blessedness in the here and now. To be blessed means to be genuinely happy. (Remember Jesus’ words in John 10:10? “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”) Because the world lacks wisdom, its happiness is here one day and gone the next. Genuine happiness, happiness that is consistent regardless of circumstances, comes only when we learn to face trials with wisdom. Secondly, we are promised life in the future. The “crown of life” is the promised reward to those who endure – life forever with God.
As we near our conclusion, let’s again consider Job. Earlier we saw how Job learned to trust God in his trials even though he never understood the reason why. We’ve often heard the expression, “the patience of Job.” Interestingly, that expression is a bit of a misnomer. Job wasn’t all that patient, really. What stood out in Job’s character wasn’t his patience but his endurance. Throughout his trials, Job often struggled with the “Why” of what he was going through. We are told in Job 1:22, however, that “Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.” No, he “let endurance have its perfect result” and ultimately reaped the benefits of trusting God.
In his book Disappointment with God, Philip Yancey summarizes Job’s experience this way:
For Job, the battleground of faith involved lost possessions, lost family members, lost health. We may face a different struggle: a career failure, a floundering marriage, sexual orientation, a body that turns people off, not on. At such times the outer circumstances – the illness, the bank account, the run of bad luck – will seem the struggle. We may beg God to change those circumstances. If only I were beautiful or handsome, then everything would work out. If only I had more money – or at least a job – then I could easily believe God.
But the important battle, as shown in Job, takes place inside us. Will we trust God? Job teaches that at the moment when faith is hardest and least likely, then faith is most needed… [Note 2]
A Closing Thought
Dr. Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and psychotherapist who spent three years at Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps during WWII. Years later he wrote of that experience in Man’s Search for Meaning. We close with a brief quote from that volume, words that remind us that no matter the trial we may be having to endure, we always – always – have a choice.
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. [Note 3]
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