Sunday, November 22, 2009

Jm 1:1-18

1:3. What could be more boring than to be reminded simply that bad times and good times both come, and we should take the bad times with the good? But that's not what this text says.

It might be helpful to try and think outside the box about what James 1 is saying, and, once again, not reading what we think it's saying into it.

Because it might be the opposite. Wins and losses for example. "My team" won a big game yesterday. Lots of high fives on the sideline. That is, on one sideline. But the text doesn't say, in this case, consider it all joy, my brethren, when you win your various trials, but when you encounter them (1:2). High fives at the beginning of hard times. What? Not only that, but high fives particularly at the encountering of hard times -- particularly at encountering various trials of them.

The exhortation is like the depiction of the sun in Ps 19. Fewer things are more exuberant than "a bridegroom coming out of his chamber," which the Psalmist says the sun acts as if it does, and then? "It rejoices as a strong man to run his course" (Ps 19:5).

Somebody might say, well, that's the sun, and sunrise is inevitable, just as the run is. Really? Is either inevitable? If you know your science, you also know that science is based on the assumption of uniformity, not the guarantee of uniformity. Also, ask a runner, or a strong man! Or, this life! Is it a guarantee, that the course will be completed? Of course not. But the strong man rejoices to run, and our text says to consider it all joy at the beginning. Who can stomach that kind of advice!

One thing might help: the text doesn't say that winning the trial produces endurance, but the trial itself produces endurance. I once told a friend I'd like to go sometime into a discussion of the place of loss in the Christian life, and maybe the day after so many teams lost big games, I could start. Here is the start: Being in the game produced, and produces, endurance.

What if "it stunk" that you went through that, and that you're sick to your stomach and wanna go off and die, because of something that happened to you, something really bad? What if you failed at it, failed the test? Am I supposed to be happy that I failed the test? Certainly not!

Here is where there's another surprise in our text. What is the test, a test of? Somebody might anticipate that if I'm going to say "faith" I should go jump in the lake, because religious people should get over having to make everything into a religious act, and that the vast majority of doable things in this world have nothing to do with whether or not somebody has faith, of any kind. The vast majority of doable things would end up in failure if people trying to get something done were constantly checking for religious aspects of what they're doing. Of course.

But faith is not stuck with religion, religious activity, religious knowledge, religious feelings, etc. There's faith in getting out of bed! And there's no guarantee from God or anyone that you'll be able to do so tomorrow. Raising your arm to your face, if your arm works, still requires faith, and there's no guarantee of that either.

But why are various trials a test of faith? Ask somebody in a relationship. Have you ever had a relationship where you "have to" trust their judgment? I personally hate it. Inside of you is something that would rather die than not trust their judgment, you regard it so highly. Then, it seems like, by trusting their judgment, you will die, or have. So how are trials a test of faith?

I picture somebody again telling me to jump in the lake, because if I'm about to say that my sorry circumstances are put there by God, then I'm one sick individual.

Of course, not all circumstances are directly put there by God, as the text points out in one example (1:13). But we're not investigating the tornado, we're in the tornado. In the tornado, whatever your tornado handling skills are, may they increase! Even to strap yourself better in your seat, however. There's some faith there.

So to round out the idea, in relationships, trusting somebody's judgment is very hard. We may not succeed. In our trials in general, faith in God is very hard and it gets tested.

The last objection I'd like to deal with probably also occurs to you, if you're of a particular frame of mind. Why not just deal with hard times as they come, instead of this high five stuff, and thinking of trusting the judgment of others, even God? Partially, I of course agree with it, in saying above, that we have to concentrate on the particulars, not God and Bible verses (unless those are the particulars!).

My answer to that is, have you ever been told, "just deal with it?" It's an answer that usually comes from somebody to us, who has (temporarily, hopefully) forgot that they're in the tornado too, and the two of you might be of some help to one another. Maybe.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, for every "high-five" win, there is a corresponding loss. Hopefully the losers learn as much or more than the winners.

But to what extent does that analogy help us in the trials of our faith? Must we, like the world of sports, resign to lose 50% of the time (or more, if we're talking about tournament results)? Or is this chapter of encouragement in James designed to encourage us with the *inevitable victory* of those who trust in Him, despite the trials?

Thanks for spurring my thoughts,