When the Roots Grow Deep, Part 1
C. S. Lewis was a professor of medieval and Renaissance literature at Oxford from 1925 to 1954 and then at Cambridge University from 1954 until just before his death in 1963. Beginning in the mid-1940s, an American woman named Joy Davidman began corresponding with Lewis as a result of his writings. Several years later, in 1952, Lewis and Davidman met while she was on vacation in England. A friendship was forged that continued over the next several years – years which for Davidman saw the onset of cancer in the mid-1950s along with a divorce from her then-husband as a result of abandonment. Following her divorce, Miss Davidman relocated to London along with her two sons. As with many divorced women, Davidman struggled financially to provide for her and her children despite the fact that, as an author herself, she had several books published. It was Lewis’ friendship and financial generosity that often got her and her family “over the hump.”
In time, friendship turned to love and in 1956 the two were married. In 1957, Joy experienced a dramatic turnaround in her fight with cancer and she and Lewis rejoiced and thrived together as husband and wife. (Lewis wrote to a friend not long after his marriage that “it’s funny having at 59 the sort of happiness most men have in their twenties…”) In 1960, however, Mrs. Lewis’ cancer returned suddenly. She died on July 13, 1960 leaving a grief-stricken and anguished Lewis to mourn her loss. [Note 1]
In the time that followed, in an effort against total collapse, Lewis maintained a journal that chronicled his spiritual development during his time of suffering and loneliness. In 1962 he published the journal, entitled A Grief Observed, under the pen name N. W. Clerk. In this book, Lewis writes rather honestly of his struggle over the loss of his wife and with his own faith, and then how, over time, his faith was gradually restored.
In the opening chapter of this journal, Lewis writes these words as he grapples with the pain of his loss:
Surprised? Does it seem strange to you that a modern “hero of the faith” could not only utter but write and publish such words? He wasn’t alone, you know. Job, in the midst of his suffering, proclaimed, “Man… is of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1). David, the man after God’s own heart, wrote, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous…” (Psalm 34:19a). And someone has said that if you were to trace Paul’s journeys in the first century, it would be like tracking the path of a wounded deer running from a hunter, leaving one bloody trail after another.
The truth is great men and women throughout the centuries have struggled with the question “Where is God when it hurts?” None of us escape life’s trials. They range from minor irritations to devastating life events. The one thing they have in common is they are usually unexpected, pushing their way into our lives uninvited and unwanted.
Points to Ponder:
Have you ever struggled with your faith in the midst of a difficult time? It's okay to admit, you know -- certainly it's nothing to be ashamed of. A faith that has never struggled is likely a faith that has never grown. Authentic faith -- the real thing we're talking -- is honest enough to admit its doubts. Remember the disciple Thomas? He struggled to believe when the going got tough. When he finally came face-to-face with his doubts, though, remember how Jesus responded? With chastisement? Far from it. Jesus smiled upon him, loved him, and encouraged him again in his faith. I rather expect that's how Jesus responds to us, as well, when we come to him honestly in the midst of our struggles.
The letter we are studying from James was written to first-century Jewish Christians. We pointed out in a previous lesson that the early church underwent tremendous persecution under rule of the Roman Emperor Claudius including being driven from their homes in Palestine and Rome, expulsion of their children from schools, and the boycott of their businesses. Gentiles hated them because they were Jewish. Other Jews hated them because they were Christians. These people were well-acquainted with trials.
Often, when we are hurting, people will try to sort of side-step the issue by either encouraging us to “hang in there till it’s over” or by suggesting that we “deal with it and move on.” In James 1:2-12, James the pastor addresses this problem of trials head on. Rather than trying to dance around the subject, James deals candidly with the subject of suffering and delivers godly counsel for living wisely even in the face of trials.
Straight Talk About Trials
This verse probably rings familiar with a lot of us. Some of us probably grew up in church hearing the King James version “… count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.” Count it all joy. Easily said when your friend is in the midst of a trial – another story altogether when it’s you or your family that’s in the meat grinder. What are we supposed to do when our employer tells us we’ve been “down-sized”? What are we supposed to say to a child when her daddy walks out on the family? How are we supposed to respond when the doctor says, “It’s cancer”? Will cheery optimism and positive thinking see us through? If you’ve been there, you already know the answer to that question. No, we’ve all been down those roads before and don’t have much to show for it. According to James, if we are to live “wisely,” that is, if we are to handle life’s trials with skill, then we need to face the subject biblically and realistically.
To begin, let’s notice what James does and doesn’t say about trials. First, he does say “Consider it all joy.” According to the dictionary, consider means “to think or deem to be; [to] regard as” and it suggests objective reflection and reasoning. [Note 3] When was the last time your first instinct when things weren’t going well was “objective reflection and reasoning”? James’ point is that to face trials with wisdom, it takes a conscious, volitional effort. It won’t happen automatically or by accident.
Second, he doesn’t say “if you encounter various trials,” he says, “when you encounter various trials.” It’s a fact of life: We live in a fallen world. We read in Romans 8 that even the creation “groans” as a result of the Fall – everything in this world is sin-contaminated and suffers the consequences. It does no good to delude ourselves to the reality of our situation. Trials will come. Guaranteed. Count on it.
Fortunately, however, James doesn’t just dump reality on us and then leave us to sit there and be depressed. Yes, he says, trials will come – so live life realistically. But take heart – there’s a reason.
Endurance. According to this text, one of God’s purposes in allowing trials into our lives is to produce in us this forgotten quality. To endure means “to carry on through despite hardships.” [Note 4] Our tendency when in the midst of a trial is to frantically search for a way out. But remember this: There are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity. Time is required – only God knows how much. A wise friend once encouraged me to avoid “the world’s beckoning to the quick, disastrous fix.” And why is this so important? Because, according to verse 4, endurance results in our ultimate perfection – our becoming like Christ Jesus himself, who, we are told in Hebrews 5:8, “… learned obedience from the things which he suffered.” Is this to say that Jesus had to learn how to obey? Of course not. It’s to say that he was willing “to become personally and practically acquainted with the nature of such obedience in the midst of protracted woes.” [Note 5]
The Greek word for testing in verse 3 above is the word “dokimion.” It comes from the Greek word which means “approval.” Interestingly, this word has been found on the undersides of many ancient pieces of pottery unearthed by archeologists in the Near East. This word was written on a piece of pottery if the piece had made it through the furnace without cracking; it had been “approved.” Likewise, God wants us to learn wisdom by enduring trials so that when we eventually emerge from the trial we may receive His “stamp of approval.”
It’s been said that “the roots grow deep when the winds are strong.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a Russian dissident who, beginning in 1945, was imprisoned for eight years in Siberia for his anti-Stalinist remarks written to a friend. Years later, he wrote of his thankfulness for this prison experience because of what it had taught him:
Continued next time...
Next Lesson: When the Roots Grow Deep, Part 2