Count It All Future Joy

I’ve thought a lot about the experience of suffering and the Bible’s response to our suffering this past year. Before our miscarriage and infertility I quickly passed over passages on suffering, not because I didn’t see them as important, but I just didn’t relate to them. I had faced trials before, but nothing that really made me wrestle with God’s good plan for my life in the way I have recently. I don’t doubt his goodness; I just need to understand it more than ever before. While difficult, that is a good result of our suffering. It causes us to lean hard into him and desperately seek his face because without his presence in our lives we are hopeless.

Often when we are counseling suffering people there are a few key verses that quickly come to mind, and one of them is James 1:2-4. We want the hurting person to get to counting the trial as joy as fast as possible. We want them to see that God has a plan for them and be happy with it. But I’m not sure that’s where James is ultimately going with his exhortation to “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” James isn’t talking about happiness here. His reference to joy is not some triumphalistic, plastered smile, everything-is-going-to-be-alright attitude. That’s not joy. Rather, it’s a confident hope in God’s good plan for me even when my heart is breaking or my world is falling apart.

How do I know this? Consider Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). The expectation of the agony of the cross was not a happy thought. It made him sweat profusely, like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). But it was the “joy set before him” How? The future joy of what his death on the cross accomplished. He is now seated at the right hand of the Father, having completed the work of redemption. That was the joy. The event wasn’t the joy. The finished work was his joy.

That is our hope to count trials as joy. Not that losing a child is a joy, or another negative pregnancy test is a joy, or unemployment is a joy, or a neglectful, abusive spouse is a joy, or a prodigal child is a joy. No, these are not joys. These are sufferings that rip the wind out of our sails. Joy for the Christian is future minded. It realizes that perfection, and the ultimate fulfillment of our joy, doesn’t always come until the end when we see the Perfect One who makes our joy complete.

Like Jesus, our hope in the agony of our trials is rooted in a deep theology of who God is and his goodness in all things. His plan is perfect, even if it doesn’t seem like it in the moment.

But James doesn’t end there. He gives even more encouragement for the struggling believer in verses 5-8:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

When we are struggling to see the future joy of our trial, we need wisdom. We need wisdom and faith to believe God’s promises for us. James gives us a way of escape. We can cry out to God when we feel tempted to doubt his goodness and he will act. He is always wise and always good and will give us the grace we need to endure trials. If we don’t, then we are unstable and unable to see his grace in our lives. These verses are there for the believer who is tempted to doubt God’s goodness in their trial. They are there for you and me, reminding us that we serve a God who hears and acts on our behalf.

I don’t pass over passages on suffering anymore. In fact, I cling to them now. I don’t always feel like my trials will one day produce a future joy. Honestly, a lot of the time I buck against that. But I want to trust more and have eyes to see God’s perfect plan for me for eternity. May God make us all more like our Christ, who endured the agony of the cross for us knowing that a future joy was coming—one that would make the present reality of suffering fade away in light of his glory.