Joy in suffering
Observing AdventDecember 15, 2020 - Tiffany Pickett
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.
~ James 1:2 (New Living Translation)
When I read this verse in preparation to write this, it struck me how negative my feelings were toward this passage. The year of our Lord two thousand and twenty has been one for the record books. Record-setting hurricanes; canceled proms; murder hornets appearing in the Pacific Northwest; drive-through graduations; a Iowa derecho, the most costly thunderstorm in U.S. history; the death of groundbreaking United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; not to mention a once-in-a-century pandemic that has taken the lives of over 280,000 Americans and over 1.5 million souls worldwide to date.
Besides these newsworthy and attention-grabbing trials that are happening around us and to us, I’m sure there have been troubles in your own life: jobs lost, loved ones sick, financial stresses, political anxiety and more.
So when I reflect on the amount of hurt, grief, anxiety all of us are feeling, it is hard to be on the same page that James was when he wrote this passage. We absolutely live in a world of suffering, injustice and pain, but so did the people James was writing to in this letter. I don’t think it’s productive to get into a game of comparing pain, but I think it’s important to remember the hardships of living in this time period.
When James tells individuals in the first century to count trouble and hardships that come their way as joy in a world where medical care was minimal, enslavement was a common practice, being a Christian could be a death sentence and women and certain ethnicities weren’t considered full citizens and oftentimes property, it puts our hardships and troubles as Americans in the 21st century into perspective.
James finishes out his thought in verses three and four by saying, “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” Those James was writing to had their faith tested.
I know my faith has been through a standardized test amount of testing this year. But through deep breaths and fervent prayers to endure all that comes my way, I am working my way to counting it for joy. Because in the darkest seasons of my life are when I have seen God work the most. It is in those dark nights of the soul that God has shown me how suffering and evil can be used for good. I have experienced the love of God through a kind word during a season of self-doubt or a provided meal when a loved one has died. I have experienced God’s peace through small moments of a hug or held hand.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think any of us do. But I know we must confront
our pain – our suffering – in order to see God work. No matter the time one lives,
suffering and pain will endure, but so will the peace of God that goes beyond any
of our human understanding. And as we work out our faith with fear and trembling,
we can count it as great joy.
Tiffany Pickett serves as communications project manager in the Office of Communications & Marketing. She earned her Master of Divinity degree from Mercer University in 2015.