Dr. John Feinberg’s life has been spent in large part wrestling with the problems of pain, suffering, God, and evil. Dr. Feinberg has been a professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for many years, but in 1987 his studies concerning pain, suffering, evil, and God became much more personal. Dr. Feinberg’s wife, Pat, was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease on November 4, 1987. Pat was 28 years old. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Huntington’s disease, it is a genetically transmitted disease that gradually destroys physical and mental capabilities. Physical effects include a growing inability to control voluntary movements, a loss of balance, difficulty in swallowing, slurred speech, and twitches in various parts of the body. Psychological symptoms include memory loss, deterioration of mental function, depression, hallucinations, and eventually paranoid schizophrenia. It is a slow, but steady decline that ends in death. There is no cure. Pat is now confined to a wheelchair, she is being fed through a feeding tube, and she can’t communicate with John or anyone else. To make matters even worse, each of the Feinberg’s three children have a 50% chance of suffering from the same debilitating disease that they are watching take their mother’s life. Dr. Feinberg wrote,

I was raised around people who suffered greatly; my mother had one physical problem after another and this in part sparked my interest at an early age in the problem of pain and suffering. In seminary, I wrote my master of divinity thesis on Job . . . My doctoral dissertation even focused on the problems of evil and led to my book The Many Faces of Evil. If anyone had thought about this and was prepared to face affliction, surely it was I. (John S. Feinberg, “A Journey in Suffering: Personal Reflections on the Religious Problem of Evil,” in Suffering and the Goodness of God, ed. Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 219.)

Needless to say John was not prepared for what would unfold during the past 30 years of dealing with his wife’s debilitating illness, but isn’t that true for many of us concerning the trials and sorrows we’ve experienced, or are presently experiencing in life?

We have to admit that we’ve not been duped, misled, or sold a bill of goods about the nature of life. We see and hear about tragic occurrences, heartache, troubles, and unimaginable sorrow each and every week of our life, but we have somehow convinced ourselves that trouble will not come knocking on our door. And then it does…and when it does we are prone to ask the same question Job asked over and over again, “Why? Why me? Why this? Why now?” After many years of living, and many years of sharing life with others, I have come to the conclusion that those are natural questions. By “natural questions” I mean we don’t have to have anyone point us in the direction of “Why?” When trouble comes we wonder, “Why?”

This morning, as we continue our study of James, we will read the opening counsel of James to those who were suffering a variety of troubles and trials. James’ counsel to his brothers and sisters in Christ in his day is as applicable and relevant today as it was the day he sat down to write these words. I want us to read James 1:1-12 so we can see how these verses fit in with the whole context of what James shared with his readers, then we’ll focus our time on verses 2-4. Read along with me from James 1:2-12.

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. 9 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. 10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. 12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:1-12 NIVO)

The problem of pain and suffering is as old as human existence. People in every culture, in every age, have struggled to make sense of suffering. Religions have come up with answers for their followers. Hinduism and Buddhism both adhere to a teaching called “Karma.” Karma is the belief that our suffering comes because we deserve it. Mahasi Sayadaw was an influential Buddhist teacher from Burma until he died in 1982. He wrote, In this world nothing happens to a person that he does not for some reason or other deserve.” So our pain and suffering are a result of our actions in a past life. If you are enjoying a good life now then you must have lived well in your past life.

The Bible teaches us something very different from Karma. There are definitely examples of those who suffered because of what they did or failed to do, but not in another life. David suffered the consequences of his decision to commit adultery with Bathsheba and have her husband Uriah killed. Ananias and Sapphira experienced consequences for not telling the truth. That’s not hard for us to understand because most of us have suffered the consequences for what we’ve done at some time in our life. The Bible makes it clear that we can’t trace all suffering and pain to our actions.

On Wednesday nights we’ve been studying the book of Job. Job’s losses are unimaginable as he lost everything, literally everything including his business, his ten children, and his health. He was left with his wife and his friends, none of whom were helpful to him in his suffering. His wife encouraged him to “…curse God and die.” His buddies all tried to convince him that he needed to figure out where he had sinned and confess it to God. Job’s friend Zophar said,

14 Get rid of your sins, and leave all iniquity behind you. 15 Then your face will brighten with innocence. You will be strong and free of fear. 16 You will forget your misery; it will be like water flowing away. 17 Your life will be brighter than the noonday. Even darkness will be as bright as morning. (Job 11:14-17 NLT)

Job’s friends would never have admitted it, but they believed in a variation of Karma. We need God’s counsel about pain and suffering or we will fall into the same karmic pit of attaching every ill that assails us to something we have done or failed to do or we will blame and question God for allowing us to experience what we don’t deserve. The truth is this: No matter how good you are, or intend to be, you will experience suffering, pain, and sorrow at various times throughout your life. For some, it seems like pain and sorrow are a constant companion in life. Tim Keller wrote in his book, “Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering,”

No matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable with friends and family, and successful with our career—something will inevitably ruin it. No amount of money, power, and planning can prevent bereavement, dire illness, relationship betrayal, financial disaster, or a host of other troubles from entering your life. Human life is fatally fragile and subject to forces beyond our power to manage. Life is tragic. (Keller, Tim. Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering. pg. 3)

For some of you, I’m sure you are thinking, “What a pessimist. What a fatalistic view of life.” Pastor Keller’s words are just the opposite. It is only when you know the diagnosis that the best prescription can be administered. Let’s take a look at the prescription for how to deal with the pain and suffering of life. In James 1:2-4 we read,

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 NIVO)

When we hear these verses we immediately lock in on the word, “joy,” and we immediately conclude that James’ advice is absurd. Who in their right mind would be joyful as a result of the pain and sorrow they are experiencing? Rather than focus on the word, “joy,” we need to first focus on the word, “consider.” The Greek word translated, “consider,” is the word, “???????” (hegeomai), and it means, “to think, to lead, to rule, or to consider.” It’s a thought-filled word and not a word of emotion. Remember, James is writing to people who have been scattered because of persecution, they are emotional, suffering, and all kinds of thoughts are racing through their minds. James says, “Don’t let your emotions, your feelings, dictate your response to what you are going through. Remember what you’ve been taught. Remember who He is and what He told us.”

James isn’t the only person in the New Testament who believed and taught this truth. Let me give you a couple of examples from the Apostle Paul and Simon Peter, men who also wrote New Testament books. Paul writes,

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:1-5 NIVO)

Paul was not a philosopher who shared his thoughts, he was a practitioner of what he taught.  He wrote to the people in Corinth and told them about his trials. He had been in prison, flogged, “exposed to death again and again.” He had received 39 lashes on five different occasions. He had been beaten with rods, stoned almost to the point of death, constantly on the move, and in danger from Jews and Gentiles alike. He had been hungry, been deprived of sleep, subjected to the cold, and been stripped naked. (2 Corinthians 11:23-27) Eventually Paul was beheaded because of his commitment to Jesus. Yet Paul saw an unseen hand at work both in allowing all of these things to happen and in sustaining him when life was intolerable.

Simon Peter, the author of 1st and 2nd Peter, knew what it meant to suffer in life. He suffered the same kinds of ailments all people suffer and in addition to the sufferings common to all people, he suffered because of his allegiance to Jesus. Peter wrote,

6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith– of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire– may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7 NIVO)

And then, in 1 Peter 4:12-13, Peter once again addressed the “painful trial” the followers of Jesus were experiencing, by writing,

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13 NIVO)

Joy is not a byproduct of pain, sorrow, and suffering. There is nothing fun about the trials and hardships of life. Joy only comes from knowing, setting our minds and hearts on the truths that are shared in God’s Word. Truths like, “God has promised to never leave us or forsake us.” Truths like, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Truths like, “God is close to the brokenhearted.” And the greatest, most comforting truth of all, “When we go through the trials of life we follow a nail scarred Savior who will lead us through to the other side.”

James tells us to “consider” our trials, “trials of many kinds.” I’m so thankful he phrased it like he did. What are “trials of many kinds?” Well, they have to do with financial hardship, addictions, incarceration, relationships that are frayed, broken, and yet causing us unending pain and sorrow. They are the loss of a loved one, a myriad of health issues, psychological and emotional issues that weigh us down and won’t leave us alone. The loss of a job, the loss of our integrity, the loss of our identity. These and many other scenarios describe “trials of many kinds.” James says we are to consider them all through the lens of God’s truth.

It is only through viewing our trials through the lens of God’s truth that we can experience the state of joy. I want to clarify something that is vitally important for you and me. Joy is not happiness, joy is not giddiness, and neither is joy an emotion to be experienced. Joy is a state of being that comes about from a relentless trust in God in spite of our pain and suffering. Philip Yancey, in his book, “Where Is God When It Hurts?” writes about the strange call to “rejoice” in our trials. He writes,

By using words like “Rejoice!” the apostles were not advocating a spirit of grin-and-bear-it or act-tough-like-nothing-happened. No trace of those attitudes can be found in Christ’s response to suffering, or in Paul’s. If those attitudes were desirable, self-sufficiency would be the goal, not childlike trust in God. Nor is there any masochistic hint of enjoying pain. “Rejoicing in suffering” does not mean Christians should act happy about tragedy and pain when they feel like crying. Rather, the Bible aims the spotlight on the end result, the productive use God can make of suffering in our lives. To achieve that result, however, he first needs our commitment of trust, and the process of giving him that commitment can be described as rejoicing.  (Yancey, Philip. Where Is God When It Hurts? pg 110)

Left to our own devices we will focus on the pain of the moment, the sorrow we are presently experiencing, and do everything in our power to escape any further suffering, but Philip Yancey says, “The Bible aims the spotlight on the end result, the productive use God can make of suffering in our lives.” This is why James reminds his readers,

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 NIVO)

When we consider, think about the fact that God is Sovereign and present in our suffering, we can know that the trials we are going through are doing a work in us that can only be done in the furnace of trouble. The testing of our faith develops, or produces “perseverance.” That’s an interesting word in the Greek New Testament. It is the word, “???????” (hupomone), which means “steadfastness, constancy, or endurance.” Strong’s Concordance says, “In the NT the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”  

Athletes understand what this word means because on the first day of practice their coach puts them through the rigors of drill after drill designed to build their endurance. The first day they feel like they are going to die they are so exhausted, but they make it through and show up for the second day. The second day is just as tough. They might cramp, throw up, and want to quit, but if they keep showing up they will develop perseverance. As a matter of fact, the only reason they keep showing up for what many would call abuse, is because they have a goal in mind, they know that going through the pain and suffering of practice is accomplishing something important in them and for them.

And so it is with the trials, pain, and suffering we experience in life. It is only in knowing that they are accomplishing for us and in us what only God can do, that we can experience the joy James, Paul, and Peter hold out for us. Dr. Elsa Tamez, a Latin American Bible teacher, says this process is “militant patience.” She writes, “James is not advocating a downtrodden passivity, but rather an engaged waiting, a concept foreign to our culture in which patience is often considered letting others walk over us. In short, ‘endurance is faith stretched out.’”

We don’t desire “perseverance” or “endurance” so we can simply make it through the present trial we are experiencing. As we trust in God, cling to God, and cry out to God during our trials we are becoming “mature and complete.” James writes,

4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 NIVO)

Maturity in the Christian life is growing up in Christ, becoming more and more like Him as the days, months, and years pass. I became a follower of Jesus the summer after my Senior year in high school. I’ve been following Jesus for going on 40 years now. Maturity wise, I should not be where I was when I was eighteen years old. I should be more mature in my faith, my faith should be more seasoned, more solid now than it was way back then. There are a number of ways God grows us up in the faith. One way is through consistent and persistent time in His Word. Paul wrote,

2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3 NIVO)

There’s just no way to grow apart from spending time in God’s Word. God has many tools to grow us, mature us into the people He desires for us to be. One of His tools is suffering and pain. James tells us perseverance must finish its work so we will be mature and complete, not lacking anything. Maturity is a lifelong journey which will culminate in that glorious moment when we see Jesus face-to-face. Until that day, time and time again in God’s Word we are called to fix our eyes on Jesus, the One who suffered, who is familiar with our suffering, who joins us in our suffering, and will never abandon in our suffering. The writer of Hebrews says,

2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3 NIVO)

There’s that word again, “consider.” Think about Him. Set your mind and heart upon Him. The One who suffered for no reason of His own. The One who willingly suffered in our place so that we might have the opportunity to be reconciled to God. Set your mind and heart on Him. When life doesn’t make sense, and I promise you that you will experience those times when life simply doesn’t make sense, think of Him. Think about His presence, His promises, and allow Him to comfort you in the storm.

I want to close where I began by sharing Dr. Feinberg’s words with you. After 30 years of watching his dear wife suffer, and suffering with her, Dr. Feinberg has written,

While there are still many things about our circumstances that I don’t know or fully understand, I do know some things with certainty. I know that throughout eternity I’ll be thanking God for the wife and family he gave me and for the ministry he has allowed us to have in spite of (and even because of) the many hardships. I am so thankful that God is patient with us and always there with his comfort and care. (Feinberg, John. Why I Still in Christ, In Spite of Evil and Suffering.)

It’s not the answer to our questions of “Why?” that are needed during our times of pain and suffering. We need, desperately need the presence of God, the comfort of our Savior, and He is present even now. Won’t you invite Him in?

Mike Hays

Britton Christian Church

922 NW 91st

OKC, OK. 73114

October 1, 2017

James 1:2-4
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