The Testing of Faith
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4
Affliction and suffering are experiences no one asks for. Even the most theologically-minded person balks at the idea of suffering and pain, although we know in the back of our minds it is part and parcel of the Christian life. But when suffering and affliction (or “trials” as James calls them) come upon us, how are we to view them? Furthermore, how do we view the God we’ve trusted in, who allows the suffering to come?
Today, the affliction of COVID-19 has significantly challenged many people’s faith, whether due to issues of physical health, financial and economic downturn, or other challenges. We’ve been told (or conditioned to believe) God only wants our happiness, a loving Father wouldn’t bring suffering upon his children, and the gospel is a gospel of health, wealth, and prosperity. We’ve come to believe Christianity is a religion of triumph, exaltation, and glory.
Yet no one today is living in triumph and victory. Health is breaking, hard fiscal decisions are having to be made, even essential needs are difficult to meet. The stark reality is we’re under deep afflictions. The Biblical reality, however, is trials come for our formation and development in character.
This is what James, the brother of Jesus, is getting at in his opening statements in this letter (James 1:2-7). When we face trials and afflictions, we are to “count it all joy” because the trials placed before us enable us to persevere and grow. We are to “remain under” those trials in order that true Christlikeness and growth may happen. Or, as James says it, “That you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” These trials are here to help us be more like Christ, and they come from the loving and sovereign hand of our God who rules and reigns over all things.
Still, the question remains, what do I do with the God who has brought these trials on me? What do I do at this moment when everything is crumbling around me?
James’s response is to ask God for help! He tells us to go to God for wisdom. He encourages us to ask because our Father generously gives the wisdom we need.
Take your problems. Take your hard situations. Take your weakness, infirmity, struggle, and even your doubt, and ask for wisdom! The Lord gives what is needed without scorning or scoffing at your request.
This is the very nature of faith and following Christ. When we trust him, we lay our life in his hands. We are saying, “You, God, are sovereign and all you have ordained for me is for your glory and for my ultimate good. I rest my entire life in your hands.” In the afflictions of COVID-19, true faith is faith that has rested its heart and trust in Christ. This is the life banking completely on Christ, not diversifying its spiritual portfolio in order to weather the rise and fall of the economy.
You, God, are sovereign and all you have ordained for me is for your glory and for my ultimate good. I rest my entire life in your hands.
The warning James gives in verses 6 through 8 is for those who view Christ and his rule and reign as one option among many. The person who seeks the Lord’s wisdom during a trial can come with freedom, asking for it in whatever way they need. They won’t be turned back. But the person who sees Christ as only one way among many to “hedge their bets,” who diversifies their spiritual portfolio, will receive nothing. Christ wants our whole heart, or none at all.
We may wonder how this situation will come to an end, or when. But we do not wonder who holds it all in his hands, the source of our help and hope. We either trust him fully and completely, or we don’t trust him at all. Doubt in who God is, what Christ has come to do, or his purpose for his glory and our good makes us “unstable in all [our] ways (v. 8).”
A heart that says, “Lord, I don’t know what happens next, but you have my whole devotion and affection, I trust you” will be met with his full and bountiful supply.
The trials may be hard, but they are for his great glory and our ultimate good. The question of his ways may come to our minds. But may we never question who he is and all he’s done for us! Let’s remain under the trial so we are made more like Christ, and we find his glory displayed in all the world!