Buddha said, “pain is certain, suffering is optional.” Buddhists believe that trials and difficulties need not cause sadness nor suffering. We can detach ourselves from whatever causes us pain.
Pop singers and Darwinists would say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger." Many accept the reality of a physical world where only the fittest survive. In this world, survival demonstrates strength and gives a person more knowledge and power to thrive in the future.
Buddhists deny suffering. Many of us just try to survive it. What does the Bible say about suffering?
According to James, the Christian response is to “count it all joy!” What?! Is James agreeing with Buddha that pain is only what we make of it? Just put a smile on? No, we must read on.
James writes, “For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (1:3).
So our joy comes from knowledge, from something we know and cling to. What is it we know? That our trial is producing endurance in us. Is endurance something we really want?
James goes on to compare those who doubt to waves tossed by the wind. He compares those who boast about an easy, wealthy life to grass that withers under the summer heat. These images are the opposite of something steadfast. Waves and grass have no staying power. Trials, on the other hand, require a firm footing.
So, is James saying that whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger? Is our goal to become scrappier so we can win? No, he is not saying that either. For Christians, there is an entirely different dimension to life that neither Buddha nor our best motivational speakers comprehended.
For James, we face trials with the goal to “receive the crown of life” (1:12). This crown is promised to those who love God and who stand fast through suffering. What exactly is the crown of life? It is mentioned again in Revelation 2:10, where John encourages the church in Smyrna to face suffering with courage knowing that their faith will win them the “crown of life” (ESV).
We tend to think of crowns as the mark of a king or queen. However, in the ancient world, crowns were given as a reward for great accomplishments. Think of the laurel wreath given to athletes in Greece—like how today we award a gold medal to Olympians (1 Corinthians 9:24).
Those who love God know that God loved them first. God himself suffered on our behalf through the person and work of Jesus on the cross. The Bible tells us that “for the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV). Jesus suffered with a goal in mind—setting us free from the power, presence, and punishment of sin so we could enjoy eternity with him. We can have joy because we know that at the end of all our suffering, we have eternal life waiting for us, which was not won by our endurance, but the endurance of Jesus on the cross for us.
For the Christian believer, any suffering we face isn’t a sign of God’s displeasure, and it’s not ultimate. It’s actually working for our good (Romans 8:28), to make us more steadfast, more wise, more whole.
Persevering through trials is also an opportunity to demonstrate our love for God. When trials come, they often test our love for him, asking us, “Do you love the Lord even when you don’t like what he’s doing in your life?” In the process, our trust in him is refined (1:4) and we will be rewarded with a eternal life when this brief life has ended. This is why Christians “count it all joy.”
As Christians, we don’t detach ourselves from this life or embrace suffering to prove our own strength. We stand firm through trials with the help of God’s Spirit. We persevere in loving God. We trust him to deepen and strengthen our faith in him through difficulty. We count it joy knowing that one day we will hear God say, “Well done!”