Biblical Counselling often involves gently inverting assumptions. Things that we have seen one way in the past, get turned upside down in the light of Scripture, and as that happens we change to be more like Jesus.
One place that happens time and again is in our view of hardship and pain.
The Bible says that God will keep us safe until he takes us to be with him forever – John 6 makes that deliciously clear. Everyone the Father gives Jesus comes to him, and Jesus loses none. Really – not one. All who are chosen reach eternal life.
It’s a wonderful truth. We are told it so we can relax and trust in our generous God. But how does it work?
Instinctively we think that safety means an absence of bad things. “If God were doing his job, I would pass my exams and not get cancer. My wife certainly wouldn’t get cancer. My children absolutely definitely would not die before me” we muse. Safety feels like it should be easy – a life where no-one would be facing an internal battle to stay faithful to their spouse or to grab enthusiastically the benefits of singleness.
Some pseudo-Christian pedlars will lie that this life of ease IS what God has promised. Health and wealth in the here and now. But he hasn’t. Hard things will happen. They will happen repeatedly. Contrary to what we so often assume, God is not keeping us safe by stopping bad things from happening.
He is using the hard things to keep us safe.
That’s the perspective of James 1: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything … Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:2-4, 12)
They are words that can turn our view of life on its head. Christianity is not going wrong when things are hard. God is not messing up or letting us down. God uses the trials he brings across our paths (exactly the tough things we talk about, counsel for and agonise over) to grow our faith, to develop perseverance. In the middle of trials, our faith grows from easy, “oh yes, God you are great and I love you”, into hard, “you are in fact solid and true and deep in every conceivable circumstance and your love for and in Christ is actually the unmoving centre of reality.” That perseverance, says James, is faith-as-it-ought-to-be, the response to God with which the new creation will hum.
It’s not what we expect. But it is gloriously transforming. God keeps us safe by growing in us the perseverance we need to get there and stay there. That’s what the trials are doing. It hurts, but in God’s hands it always works. Pure, surprising, joy.