Rabbi Harold Kushner attempted to answer one of the philosophical dilemmas of all time in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
He wrote for those who are angry with God and walk away from Him or for those who want to blame themselves, believing they deserve their suffering. Neither response is healthy or right.
The early Christian Jews were “scattered abroad” (Gk. diaspora) because of persecution, were coping with the loss of everything, were abandoned by countrymen as traitors to their ancient religion, and were mercilessly killed or imprisoned by the political regime. They questioned God’s involvement or trustworthiness.
James begins his book with a surprising aorist command: “immediately begin to consider it nothing but joy” when your whole world falls apart. Was James out of touch with reality? He was no stranger to suffering. His own brother was Jesus! The command deals with how we are to think and the “truth” phrases we are to repeat in our minds. We are warned not to allow ourselves to think false thoughts.
A trial should not be viewed as a punishment, a curse, or an accident without purpose. The verb “count” (hegomai) literally means “to be a leader or chief,” but metaphorically, it means to “lead out before the mind, [or] to view, esteem, or consider” something to be a certain way. This is a controlling or dominating thought that we allow to lead us through life’s difficulties.
The Phillips translation reads, “Don’t resent [trials] as intruders, but welcome them as friends.” We must respond not just with joy, rather “nothing but joy,” or lit., “all joy.”
Happiness is a natural response to pleasant circumstances, but joy is deeper and unchangeable; it is a response to truths about God and His ultimate purposes. Because we have learned to trust Him to forgive us, we can trust Him to never make a mistake or never allow anything in which He cannot be glorified.
A believer can be both sad about circumstances and joyful that God is present and has a plan. To consider these experiences a joy requires a trust and value in God’s perspective. Bitterness is symptom of unbiblical thinking. Can you trust Him?
“Lord, Your promises of an eternal purpose through persecution and reward for faithfulness to You help me accept hurt and rejection for obeying Your word. Thank You.”