“Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).
Why does God even allow trials, since He is ultimately all-powerful? Why doesn’t He shield us from all these so that we can just be happy?
How is it possible to have joy in trials? Isn’t that completely unreasonable? To answer that, we need to know why trials even exist—what is their purpose? And the answer to that depends on whose perspective you take.
For God's enemy, the devil, the purpose of a trial for any practicing Christian is an effort to cause them to fail—to break their covenant with God, to create distance between them and their Father, and to be so discouraged that they give up. Why? So that they will not finish their race nor receive their prize. Why? To inflict pain on the Father and Son (the father of lies is also the source of jealousy, spite and bitterness).
So with that in mind, why does God even allow trials, since He is ultimately all-powerful? Why doesn’t He shield us from all these so that we can just be happy? We’ll get to that, but first let’s look at Psalm 103.
It’s a song written by one whose life reflected a full range of experiences: times of great faith and great failure; times of strong character and great weakness. At times the writer had been attacked, and he had also been the attacker. What set the author, Israel's King David, apart as a man after God's own heart? It was his response to trials, whether he did or didn’t bring them on himself.
No matter how unjustly he was accused, or how close his pursuers came to killing him, he trusted in God’s path for his life. No matter how morally low David went, or how far away from God he wandered, his heart still was amazingly tender enough to recognize his own evil and turn away from it in order to seek God and His righteousness. He listened when God confronted him. He had to overcome each sin by going to God in honesty and receiving the forgiveness and instruction needed to start fresh with a clean heart. Imagine the great joy with which he wrote, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
Reading Psalm 103 with all of David’s history in mind gives us a great example of just how amazing the joy of God’s salvation truly is. The mercy that David was given—contrasted with what he deserved—sets the stage for this song, which overflows with joyful praise. “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities.” So it is with us, too. David could earnestly sing with a full heart: “Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!”
For Christians, there is great joy that comes from knowing that even in a troubled world, God has a plan that is greater than all of it, and that His strength is greater than any evil power coming against us. Long ago, one of God’s prophets named Elisha knew that very well. The king of Syria was quite upset that his plans to attack Israel were being thwarted by this meddling prophet of God. So overnight, the Syrian king sent his armies to surround the city in which Elisha and his servant were staying. In the morning, the sight of their encampments struck terror in the heart of Elisha’s servant: “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” (2 Kings 6:8-17).
We too can begin to feel overwhelmed by the trials that seem insurmountable. It would be nice if we were as cool and confident as Elisha, who already had prior experience. But if we’re more like Elisha’s servant, feeling very small surrounded by that army, we need to ask for God to open our eyes to see His awesome power at work. We may not need to see chariots of fire, but maybe we do need to see how our lives fit into His bigger plan, and what His and our ultimate purpose are.
“But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him . . . To such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them” (Psalm 103:17-18). Trials test our faith, and prove our character growth over time (that’s why we keep having them). More than our earthly happiness, God is concerned with our character. He gave us free will to choose, but before He actually gives us eternal life as spirit beings in His family, we must be proven. Even Christ had to prove His character as a human being. He received His reward. Now it’s our turn, by continually returning to Him.
The trials we face are never pleasant, but understanding that something priceless can come as a result? That is a joy worth singing about.