I’ve always struggled with James 1:2 and the idea that trials, tests, or trauma is equated with “pure joy.” What has helped me, upon further reflection on this passage, is to realize that we don’t have to like or love our trials to learn from them. I think the NLT gets more to the heart of what James is after when it translates verse 2 this way: “Consider it an opportunity for great joy.”
The joy is not in the pain, but in the hope of what may eventually grow out of the pain, maybe in the midst of the pain, but especially after the pain. The joy is not in that which is terrible and traumatic. The joy is that God can birth beautiful things after the ugliness.
Psychologists coined a term a few decades ago that I think James was alluding to 2,000 years ago. The term is Post Traumatic Growth, and it refers to the ways that we can develop and deepen following difficulty. The word post in the term Post Traumatic Growth is helpful. Sometimes we put pressure on ourselves or on others to “find the pure joy right now” while in full trauma, survivor mode. That’s usually not be the most conducive time for deep introspection.
I like the description James gives in verse 3. In the middle of the trials and trauma, faith is often about persevere. Perseverance is holding up, hanging on, not buckling, not caving, but continuing. It is often at the end of perseverance (“Let perseverance finish its work” 1:4) that growth and maturity can happen, that new priorities and perspectives can take place.
We’ve all been through a lot these last 18 months. Many of you are going through a lot even now. It’s not easy, but there is reason for joy. We hurt, but not without hope, because if we are open, God can bring deeper lives even out of the depths of our trials.