There are times, that I look at people who are less mature than me, and I want to say “Really?!? All you have to do is ________ and you can’t simply do that and just figure it out and get along with other people.”
My own kids and my students are two groups that come to mind, that occasionally I think this about.
As if it doesn’t apply to me.
I have been meditating on the opening of the book of James, today. We focused on it at the amazing Fellowship church.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”
Seeing the oppurtunities for peaceful, blessed living, that is right in front of us… That is maybe our fundamental mission in life. And just maybe, it’s the difference between heaven and hell.
What if eternal torment is a real, living possibility, but it’s not a place we are sent by God? What if our experiences, maturity, and responses to the challenges of life determine what the after life is like for us?
When I am feeling judgemental, I look at others in “easier” positions, and I think, “Man, if I was in that position, everything would be so easy. If I didn’t have to worry about bills, providing, balancing professional and personal obligations, it would be so easy.”
Of course, there was a time before I had all these challenges. And at the time I didn’t see it that way at all. Souls more evolved than mine, people with different, bigger challenges, might be tempted to say the same thing to me. “The Kingdom is right there, so close! Why don’t you just grab for it?!?”
James is making a huge and radical statement: trials produce perseverance, and perseverance makes us complete. He specifically says that when we are complete, we will not lack anything. If we were truly complete in this way, if we lacked in nothing, what need would we have of the comic-book version of heaven, where we sit on the clouds, or participate in some sort-of eternal theme park.
This reading makes sense of the otherwise strange segue; suddenly James is talking about wisdom in verse 5. But if this complete-ness is actually a deep and Godly sort of wisdom, then it begins to be a reasonable transition. Leaving this implication, that maybe, sometimes, we can side-step trials and the accompanying suffering, by making like Solomon and asking God for wisdom.
In the middle of it all, it can be hard to find comfort in all this… But when we sit back and reflect and recall on our pain and suffering, I think maybe there is some reassurance here.