"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." James 1:2-3
What do we do when we face trials? Often, I believe, our first instinct is to wrestle our way out of them and find a "solution." We seek the solution in accordance with the wisdom around us, by investing, by shopping, by moving up in the world, and by pursuing higher status so we can move to the suburbs with all the people who we think don't have problems like we do. As the Devil tempted to Jesus, the world tells us to turn the stones of our affliction into bread and to take advantage of the power at our finger tips even if it means disregarding God's kingdom and abandoning all hope of true and eternal restoration. Even if this does not happen to us in a literal sense, we do so often in our minds look for a way around trials and around our problems. Rather than taking up the cross to find holistic redemption, we seek quick-fix, surface-level solutions which can never reach the heart of the problem. But God's wisdom, revealed in Jesus Christ and nurtured through prayer, says we must go through the cross to find resurrection. We must defeat death's power over us rather than simply avoid it. It is with this vision, the vision of eternal life and "the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him" (James 1:12), that we can look trial in the face and rejoice, nevertheless. It is because we trust Christ's promise that "blessed are the poor" that we can rejoice in our lowly position and it is our knowledge that possessions are inadequate in offering fulfillment that we can say that even what wealth we do have is not the solution.
We so often find ourselves tempted by the world's wisdom and the world's false sense of solution. We find ourselves tempted to avoid trials and avoid the tough path, that straight and narrow path which holds to the hope of resurrection and leads toward holy communion, rather than go through knowing that the path of comfort is no less troublesome and leads to a kind of living-death where fear reigns. We must not fool ourselves into believing that this is what God wants for us. We must not confuse God's wisdom with the world's wisdom. This only produces a distorted gospel like the "prosperity gospel" we hear preached in the churches of suburbia; a false wisdom that breeds death because the suburban, wealth-centered life, can never sustain true prosperity for the whole world. And thus, through it we don't defeat death, we only avoid it and press it upon some other unfortunate customer. Don't ever think that this is God's wisdom, "For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone" (James 1:13).
"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17). Therefore, wealth does not sustain, comfort does not sustain, and escape does not sustain. Only God's gifts of community, hope, resurrection, and rescue can sustain us so that we may be joyful--suffering together toward redemption and going together through the cross toward resurrection so that the heart of the problem, death itself, might be defeated; having done its' worst and yet come up short. For the capstone of creation is not wealth, it is life and our shared life in the wisdom of God is the first-fruit of new creation. It is this shared life through which God's salvific image is mirrored and in which we can consider it pure joy.