Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
John 1:1-5; James 1:1-11; Ecclesiastes 1:1-11; Jeremiah 1-2
James opens his letter with a challenge to his readers. He calls on them to consider it ‘pure joy’ when they encounter various trials. This would have been a challenging perspective for them to adopt, just as it is for us. When illness hits, when bills pile up, when conflict arises, when we suffer because of our faith, it is difficult to have joy. James claims that we can find joy if we approach trials with God’s wisdom.
This does not mean we should be happy as we suffer. James is pointing to a mind-set which we can adopt when suffering hits us. We can choose to believe that God can bring good from bad circumstances. These circumstances are a way to test our faith in the same way that exercise tests our fitness. When I ran competitively, we would train by running 400 metre laps of the track. After running a fast lap, we would jog for a few minutes and go again. Each lap was a test to see if we could keep up a certain pace. If we questioned why we were doing this, or focused on how tired we were, we would soon waver and drop out. When we focused on the goal of competition, and the endurance we were building up, we enjoyed our training (even if others thought we were completely mad).
Likewise, James calls on us to face each difficulty knowing that God can use it to build up life endurance and help us achieve the goal of maturity (1:4). Training moulds and shapes the athlete’s body to make it fit for purpose. Suffering can shape us into more mature people, fit for life’s purpose.
The alternative is to face suffering with doubt. This is not the doubt of those honestly seeking answers to their questions. Like a wave getting blown by the wind, the double-minded doubter has no stability. The ups and downs of life rock these people to their core. They see no purpose in trials, and focus on finding reasons for why this happened. Yet rarely are such answers available, which each circumstance knocking people on way and then another.
Jeremiah struggled this way. When circumstances got particularly bad, Jeremiah cursed the day he was born, wishing he had died in his mother’s womb (Jeremiah 20:14-18). He doubted God’s protection and let his circumstances get the better of him. He forgot his unique call from God (Jeremiah 1:5). Before he was conceived, God knew him and had a plan for his life (Psalm 139). While in his mother’s womb, God formed and shaped him and set him apart to be a prophet. When Jeremiah later wavered, he forgot God’s promised to protect him and provide him wisdom (Jeremiah 1:8-9). God continues to provide us wisdom in our trials, once we go to him in prayer (James 1:5).
Jeremiah’s calling was specifically for him, but has broader relevance, particularly for abortion and suicide. God actively works within the womb, shaping the unborn for their futures. He values the unborn and has a plan for everyone. When Jeremiah thought his life was worthless, God disagreed. We might not see the value in our life or that of the unborn, but that is not our call to make. We might think the trials too difficult, the circumstances undignified, the potential for good impossible, but God proclaims otherwise. He can work for good in any circumstance for those who love him (Romans 8:28). Our pain may make it difficult to see this. But with the eyes of faith, and prayer for wisdom, we can rely on God’s promise to build endurance and maturity, which gives us joy even in the midst of trials.