“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4
All summer long I have been working on a book on suffering based on the Book of Job. Always the question asked by those enduring suffering is, “Why, O Lord?” For the most part, the answers given in the Book of Job are of one type: the law of sowing and reaping. People suffer as a direct consequence of their sins. God is a God of justice and cannot tolerate evil in his world. However, it is clear that the Bible has a much broader and more complex array of answers to the problem of pain. One of the major themes in the New Testament is the redemptive purpose of suffering, that God uses pain to shape and mold his people and prepare them for eternal glory in heaven. These themes are not developed at all in Job and would have been a great comfort to this man in all his trials.
"Nothing can touch a child of God apart from the direct and selective will of God."
But James says it straight out. Look at the passage cited above. Christians are to count it pure joy whenever we suffer trials of any kind at all. Nothing can touch a child of God apart from the direct and selective will of God. There truly is a “hedge of protection” around every child of God. So, if a particular sorrow comes into our lives, it is for a specific purpose. The trial is a skillful stroke by a master sculptor using his hammer and chisel on our souls. Yes, it’s supremely painful. But every stroke has a purpose. According to James it is to develop vital character traits in us. It begins with the testing of our faith. The concept of “testing of our faith” is of two aspects: 1) to prove that it is real… not temporary faith, like the stony ground hearer, or demon faith or dead faith (as James discusses in the next chapter of his epistle); 2) to purify it as gold is refined by fire (as Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:7). The testing of our faith, once it is proved genuine and refined enables us to know with greater and greater certainty that God truly is working salvation in us. We really are children of God, our sins really are forgiven, we really are going to heaven when we die. This subsequently develops perseverance in us. The opposite of perseverance is giving up… quitting. The stony ground hearer… his faith dies whenever persecution and trial comes because of the word. But this person is more convinced than every before of his genuine status as redeemed. So, in Romans 5:5 our proven character becomes the ground of our stronger hope… a greater confidence that heaven is our destiny. This results in a powerful perseverance, because he knows that God’s work in his soul is not in vain.
James then says perseverance must finish its work in us so that we will be “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Turning that around, James is implying that without trials we will be immature, incomplete, lacking significant aspects of sanctification. Therefore, according to James, suffering is indispensable to Christian maturity. No one grows by painless pleasure. We grow by suffering the chisel strokes of the master craftsman.