You need trouble

by Kyle
published May 22, 2013


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I’m sure you’ve found out by now that life is not a walk in the park.

In fact, life hurts. We get injured, sometimes seri­ously. We get sick. Friends and loved ones betray us. Sometimes everything just falls apart.

When things do come undone, and we are hurt­ing in ways we didn’t know we could, it’s easy to think of God as an incompetent nincompoop who can’t help us, at best, or a sadis­tic despot, at worst.

Why would a good God allow us to hurt if he could stop it? If he could stop it, wouldn’t he be bad if he didn’t?

Thus, the classical prob­lem of pain. It seems trou­blesome that in the same universe as a good and all­powerful God there is also so much hurt.

James opens his letter to his church with part of a solution to this problem.

James was Jesus’ brother and had taken on a lead­ership role in the early church in Jerusalem fol­lowing his conversion when he saw Jesus had risen — he didn’t believe
 in Jesus the whole time Christ was on the earth, ironically enough. The church in Jerusalem was scattered by persecution in Acts 8, but it seems James stayed behind in the city. Most of his letter was writ­ten to his parishioners to help them cope with the persecution.

This explains his open­ing words after the for­mal greeting in his letter: “Consider it all joy … when you encounter various tri­als.”

Joy? In trials?

The problem with the
 classical statement of the problem of pain is that it seems to assume we are already what we as hu­mans need to be. David Hume, who first expressed the problem of pain in a philosophical way, was a humanist philosopher dur­ing the Enlightenment, an intellectual movement in the 17th and 18th centuries, and he had a skewed view of human nature. Hume did not detect any purpose to human life. Therefore, pain could never accomplish any good. It’s just pain.

Scripture reveals some­thing
 altogether different. While James goes on later in the first chapter of his letter to show how God does not cause pain, these first few verses reveal that he does allow and use pain for helping us become bet­ter people.

Pain and trouble and tri­als, according to James, is for producing endurance and making us more like Christ. The same way metal must be beaten to take a useful shape, we need to be shaped — sometimes forcefully and painfully — into the kind of people Christ would have us be. 

Paul says in Philippians 1:6, “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” The pain and trouble in our lives is part of that perfecting. 

So, why joy? 

If we belong to God, and God uses trouble to shape us into being more like his Son, isn’t trouble in our lives evidence of God’s activity in our lives? 

And, if he is active in our lives then our trials are not in vain and when they do come, we will be ultimately safe. In the middle of pain and trouble, you are safe in God’s hands, and that will never change. That’s a place where there is no reason to not have joy.

What do you think?

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