By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
Recently, my Bible study group came face-to-face with the age-old problem: “Why do the righteous suffer?” After almost an hour of discussion, a member of our group said, “I’ve recently been reading the book of James. There is a whole section about the problem of pain.” Roger, would you please unpack that for us?
Many passages in the Bible give us insight for handling pain. I’m thinking of books and passages like Job, many of the Psalms, Lamentations, Hebrews 12, and James.
James was facing intense persecution in the early church. In his writings, he shared his suffering and God's work in his life. And in doing so, he addresses the problem of pain in our lives.
Note that there are many types of pain: emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, grief, guilt, loss, sin, and on and on goes the list. Fortunately, James’ principles are effective in the midst of any type of pain or problem.
So, I’d like to answer your question by using James’ insights on the matter.
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1. We Solve the Problem of Pain By Approaching it with Humility, No Arrogance
The early church called James “camel knees” because of the hours that he spent on his knees in prayer. His was a life of deep humility.
I admire James because of how he begins his book:
James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. (James 1:1)
What you may not know is that James grew up in the same home with Jesus; but James doesn’t describe himself like that. He could have written:
He could have exalted himself in so many ways. However, James chose not to! He was too busy being on his knees in humble prayer.
So, we face our pain with humility as we understand that Jesus is Lord, and we are not. He knows us far better than we know ourselves. He knows what we need when we need it.
2. We Solve the Problem of Pain By Choosing Joy Instead of Misery
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds. (James 1:2)
“Count it all joy!” What an unnatural reaction. It’s supernatural!
One of the most important characteristics that separates mature Christians from immature Christians is right here.
When difficulties come to immature Christians, they tend to say, “Oh, everything’s against me! I’m angry; I’m bitter; I’m disappointed. Joy isn’t anywhere in sight. I know that God never liked me in the first place! I’m bitter and disappointed, I quit.”
However, the mature Christian says, “The last time I had difficulty, I faced it, trusted God, and grew. I’ll see what God intends to teach me this time around.”
There seems to be little difference between joy and happiness according to the dictionary. But a sharp distinction is made in the Bible.
Happiness has to do with circumstances. Joy has to do with a deep sense of well-being and contentment regardless of circumstances. Joy is something we deliberately choose.
Notice James says, “Count it all joy when, not if, you fall into fiery trials.”
I’ve met too many Christians who thought that when they received Christ as their Savior, all of their troubles were basically over. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, God says that if we’re not having troubles, then we’re not His children—because all of God’s children have troubles (Hebrews 12).
Christians aren’t people living without problems. Christians are people who have the Problem-Solver living within.
Christians choose joy.
3. We Solve the Problem of Pain When We Recognize That the Purpose of Pain Is to Mold Us to Look Like Jesus
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
In other words, troubles produce godly patience. And godly patience matures us, molding us to be like Jesus.
The author of the book of Hebrews, declared about Jesus: “Though he was a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered“ (Hebrews 5:8).
If the Son of God matured through troubles, so can we. If the Son of God matured through trials, so can we. But we have to “Let perseverance finish its work”—that means we must choose to submit to and endure trials in order to become like Jesus.
A man with a briefcase was running through the airport, trying to get to his gate before the airplane door closed.
He was thinking that he was just going to make it, when he accidentally ran into a small boy carrying a puzzle box full of pieces. The box hit the floor and pieces scattered everywhere.
He started to run on. He had a flight to catch. But then he thought better of it. He got down on his knees and joined the boy in picking up pieces.
When the box was full and the pieces were safe, the boy looked up at the businessman and asked, “Mister, are you Jesus?”
It’s always a good time, Matt, to pause and reflect on just how much we look like Jesus!
We solve the problem of pain by submitting to an ongoing process by which Jesus molds us to look increasingly more like Himself.
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4. We Solve the Problem of Pain By Yielding to the Truth That the Process Will Hurt
This is essential. “Trials and troubles” are not an elective course that we can take or leave. This course is required.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:8)
A young man came to pastor and teacher Harry Ironside during Ironside’s later years when he was losing his hearing. The man asked, “Will you please pray for me that I will be more patient?” They bowed their heads in prayer, and Ironside prayed, “Jesus, please send this young man some problems.”
The young man, knowing that Ironside was hard of hearing, shook him and said, “No, no, I didn’t say that I wanted problems. I said that I wanted patience.”
Once again, they bowed their heads in prayer. Ironside prayed, “Dear Jesus, would you please send this young man some troubles and problems.”
Figuring that once again Ironside had not heard him correctly, the student raised his voice and repeated his request.
Ironside replied, “Do you not understand that troubles and problems are what produce the patience?”
God knows that the best climate for making us just like Jesus is the crucible of fire and testing. Are you willing to face it?
5. We Solve the Problem of Pain By Asking God for Wisdom When We Experience It
When you are in the midst of troubles, and you don’t know how to handle it, then ask God for wisdom. He promises to answer!
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)
Wisdom to do what? We all need wisdom to react properly to our problems by counting as joy and then handling them accordingly.
6. It’s Hard to Express Joy in the Midst of Pain When We Are Wavering in Faith and Unbelief
But when you ask [for wisdom], you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” (James 1:6-8)
In the midst of pain, trials, and testing, too many of us waver: Is God adequate? Is He sufficient to trust or not? Will He get me through this? Is it worth it?
James never says that we must understand everything about God’s purpose in our lives. It is simply sufficient to know that God has a purpose.
So we declare by faith, “I will trust Him. He’s my God, and I’m committed to Him, no matter what the trial or trouble. That decision has been made. It will never have to be made again.”
We will never find that trials and troubles make any sense until we come to place where we can distinguish between the permanent and perishability of things.
The house of one of our church members burned to the ground. I was on the sidewalk watching the house disintegrate, enveloped in flames. They lost it all. The kids and their father were standing beside me on the sidewalk cursing God, the fire department, their insurance company, the police, etc.
I saw the holocaust and thought, “What would I lose if that happened to my house? If tomorrow I were to lose my personal possessions or my health, or both, would I have anything left?”
Think about it. Would you?
Well, Matt, I hope this helps answer your question. Feel free to ask another one.
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