“You just need to learn how to be more joyful”. Such a common statement most of us have heard when we express our frustration, sadness, and discouragement over a difficult situation in our lives. James tells us to count it all joy when we face trials of various kinds. Count it all joy. Believers are commanded to respond to trials and suffering with joy.
This would mean Christ had to respond to trials and suffering with joy. He had to face the cross with an element of joy. That sounds strange doesn’t it? We read the Scriptures, and the last thing we would describe of Jesus as he prepared to die on a cross was joyful. Is it possible that our definition of joy is off? Is it possible that joy can still make way for expressing emotions of grief and sadness?
We make this mistake to often. There are many in Christianity that tell us there are some emotions we are meant to shut off. Any sadness must be overridden with happy thoughts. I don’t like that. I don’t think it’s Biblical. Certainly we do not want to live in despair and grief, but I think it is natural and acceptable to acknowledge those feelings of grief and sadness. Christ showed those emotions in the garden. Was he joyful in that moment? Was he count it all joy in that moment? I believe He was.
It is our understanding of joy that is the problem. I would argue Jesus was filled with joy on the way to the cross. I believe he was filled with joy during that period of grief in the garden. I believe this because of how we see Jesus handle the whole situation. He does focus his vision on the moment of grief. he does not focus his vision on the trial and suffering itself. he focuses on what lies beyond that. he sets his eyes on the result of the trial and suffering.
That’s what James is really getting at when he tells us to count it all joy when we face trials. He tells us to count it all joy because of the beneficial results of that trial. I don’t know about you, but this changes my perspective on the whole being joyful issue. Joy doesn’t mean putting on the fake smile. It does not mean we ignore any of those “bad” emotions. It does mean we don’t live in them. it does mean we focus on what lies ahead rather than on our present circumstances.
We focus a lot on that singular event of the cross. It is a good thing. It is a powerful moment in the history of humankind. I think Christ focused more heavily on what came after the cross though. He focused on that resurrection. He focused on what the death and resurrection meant for His creation. He focused on how He was going to be able to rewrite the history of creation. He was able to be joyful because of that. He was able to weep over his present circumstance, but be joyful about what would live beyond it. Joyful does not mean acknowledging the pain you are in during your suffering. it means we remember that it doesn’t end hear. The story keeps going. The final chapter in the story is the best one. Suffering and trials culminate towards getting us to that final chapter. It is in our future that we can find joy in the present.