"Count it all joy when various trials come your way..." That what it says in the Bible book of James, first chapter, second verse.
Seems a bit ridiculous at first glance. Consider my problems as something to be joyful about? Are you kidding? Do you know what I've been going through?
I've sat through many sermons on this particular topic and all of them end up going down a very similar path: life's painful experiences test your faith in God and refine you much the same way fine metals are refined in fire... therefore, be happy about what you go through.
Have you ever gone through anything difficult and maintained a smile on your face? Who does this? And don't say Tibetan Monks - because there's a part of me that wants to believe that even those robed ethereal types wince a bit when something bad happens to them - say, burn their tongue on the soup, or something.
The reality of life is that things are difficult. For you, for me - for all of us. Shit happens, as the bumper sticker says.
I used to misunderstand this verse. I read it as saying "God is testing your faith and that's why all this bad stuff is happening to you." But I don't believe that any more. I don't believe for one moment that the Almighty God of all we will ever know actually sets out to make my life hard. He loves me - unconditionally, completely and totally. He wants the BEST for me. Always. Therefore, God does not orchestrate the calamities of our lives. I also don't believe that God is a magician who waves a heavenly wand and simply zaps us free of pain. That would also not be loving. What He does do is allow us to learn from the mistakes we make as well as from the circumstances of life we encounter which are sometimes the results of mistakes those around us make.
So, the way I now view this verse (concept) is that life is difficult - sometimes it's my fault, sometimes it's your fault - sometimes it's the simple result of unpleasant and unexpected circumstances of life that impact us even though we have nothing to do with the cause. And what this verse does is remind us how we are to respond to these events - with JOY!
Responding joyfully in difficult circumstances is not easy to do. Anyone who tells you it is easy is either a liar or not living on this planet, walking among other human beings. Bad things happen all the time. And those bad things impact us. They can do everything from bend us, to break us, to destroy us. And it's in the course of those events - the on-going, the day-by-day, that we learn what it means to BECOME people who are able to consider such life events as moments of refinement, maturing, shaping, crafting... and THAT is what leads us to choosing to live JOYFUL lives rather than lives of bitterness, anger, despair and hopelessness.
Jesus did not look forward to being hung on a cross. The Bible does not seem to paint a picture of Him gallantly marching forward to face his death with heroics. He was not afraid - don't get me wrong. But Jesus Himself stated to His Father (God) that he'd rather not go through with this type of death. I can't imagine Him being "happy" about this. He knew it had to happen as the culmination of his ministry on Earth and the birthing of salvation for the rest of us. So, I can also imagine Jesus being somewhat "joyful" knowing what was COMING, though what he was going through was certainly not a "joyful" experience.
There is something to be said about endurance. Perhaps you have gone through days, weeks or even years of enduring - enduring painful life experiences you never thought you'd encounter. And now, today, you are still alive. Scarred, scratched and perhaps a little scared. But you are alive. (I know this because you are reading this blog!) Apparently, those events you never thought you could live through - well - you've lived through!
Here's that verse again... let it sink in...
Count it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.