Read James 1:2-4
2 Dear brothers and sisters,when troubles of any kind come your way,consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested,your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow,for when your endurance is fully developed,you will be perfect and complete,needing nothing. (NLT)
Passages like this seem to encourage a sort of spiritual masochism,a glad embrace of suffering because it will do us good. A sort of castor oil for the soul. Christianity is all about gritting your teeth as you endure misery till you get to heaven.
This sad distortion of faith and Scripture arises out of a misunderstanding of that one word,’joy’. James isn’t urging us to be happy and do cartwheels of delight when suffering comes our way. Happiness is not joy. Happiness is an emotional response to favourable circumstances. Joy is a glad confidence in the goodness of God. We can’t be happy all the time: there is too much sadness in the world for that. But we can always rejoice.
This is because joy is based on God’s goodness not our variable circumstances. We can choose joy because fundamentally it is a disposition towards God,an intention to ‘seek the rainbow through the rain’. Two people can face the same difficult circumstance. One can sink into despair because they believe all is lost. Another can have glad confidence in God because they believe that in the midst of the pain there is a promise: that God is greater than the pain.