James, half brother of Jesus says: You can reckon it joy to go through trials – on account of the outcome: gaining an enduring strength of character & depth of faith. But what about when trials make us weaker… read the rest!
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”
Who hasn’t overheard that said, accompanied by a rueful shrug?
Likely you can think of someone for whom the saying has been true.
For example, Billy Monger, the young racing driver who lost both legs but continues to drive.
Katie Piper, survivor of an acid attack who went on to be a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing and TV presenter.
Louis Zamperini, presumed KIA in WW2 but whose survival story is told in Angelina Jolie’s film “Unbroken”
Perhaps you yourself have emerged stronger through challenging times.
It’s seen as a consolation prize for going through trials.
It helps us not to complain (too much) and to hang on until the situation hopefully improves.
Yet the sentiment originally went further.
“Consider it joy when you face trials of many kinds”James chapter 1 verse 2
So wrote James, the half-brother of Jesus, to some people enduring a perfect storm of difficulty. James 1:2
At first glance this make seem to be taking the principle too far. Reckon it as joy to go through trials?!
So why have so many people found it helpful? It’s worth closer inspection.
Trials can make your internal faith stronger.
“these trials…produce perseverance, steadfastness, completeness, maturity”
Strength of character and of faith, in other words.
We are familiar with the assurance “it’s been tried and tested” to trust the integrity of something that won’t splinter and fail when loaded with stress.
Likewise, someone who is ‘persevering and complete’ has a steady wholeness and integrity to them. They live by the faith they claim, without hypocrisy. This is won by going through trials.
Therefore, James says, one can reckon it joy to go through trials – on account of the outcome: gaining an enduring depth of faith, that would otherwise be impossible.
But what if trials leave us weaker?
It could have been long covid, an accident, middle age, older age. Over the long run, bodies get weaker.
At this point “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” becomes empty of meaning for us.
But the same bible passage has more to say. It is so startling you could call it audacious.
Those who life is rich (flourishing with abilities) can actually take pride in gradually being brough low and weakened. My paraphrase of James 1:10-11
This sounds like madness to us.
Billions are spent on trying to hold back the “shame”, the withering effect that time has on our abilities, our bodies.
How can it be suggested we take pride, not shame, in the losses of aging?
In our decline, the anticipation of what lies ahead is magnified.
The almost outrageous suggestion is along these lines
There such a marvellous ‘cure’, that we can relish being brought low.
Because in our decline, the anticipation of what lies ahead is magnified.
My paraphrase, of the next sentence James 1:12
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him”James chapter 1 verse 12
You see, the trials of life (including aging), make more glorious the ‘crown of life’ to come.
Before you dismiss the very notion, consider other people.
Have you seen this faith at work in any Christians you know?
Does Jesus example “who for the joy set before him, endured the cross” Hebrews 12:2 hint to you the possibility of light, hope, joy beyond the grave?
the crown of life to come
If you are provoked by the cheeky challenge of the Bible to reckon trials as overwhelmingly positive, then come back and read more.
In particular, next you might want to follow up on the concept of resurrection life, the promised crown of life.
derived from: Katie Piper.jpg:, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85240426