A Scripture Often Used Against Abuse Victims — “Count it all joy when you meet trials” James 1:2-4
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
Here is a very good comment / observation that we received from Katy when we ran a post* on Scriptures that are often used against abuse victims, pressuring them supposedly with God’s authority to remain in the abuse:
One that makes me hurt is James 1:2-4
I thought this meant that my marriage was a trial that I was meant to endure for as long as I lived, and that if I made it to the end of my life enduring his abuse that it would magically turn me into a better person. ?? I still wonder to this day — how long is a “trial” supposed to last? our whole lives?
According to some pastors / authors / Christians the answer to this question “how long?” is, forever, at least for the duration of this life. Here is a quote from a well known pastor, author, and conference speaker:
Perhaps you’ve heard me say it, and I will say it again, and I’m sure that I will say it again in the future, that the real purpose of marriage is not happiness. The real purpose of marriage is holiness. And if you get some happiness thrown in, that’s good, but it is really holiness that God is after. And that holiness means that we are taught patience, we are taught love, we are taught long suffering, we are taught lessons in forgiveness—all of these things that we would never know unless God brought some difficulty into our lives. And sometimes the difficulty that He brings into our lives, unfortunately, happens to be our mate. (Erwin Lutzer)
Oh yeah, thanks a bunch Mr. Famous Pastor. This is a clueless remark that fails to take the issue of abuse into account. In fact, I think I would disagree with this teaching even in non-abusive marriages. I don’t think it is a biblical doctrine that the real purpose of marriage is not happiness, but holiness. God gave Adam and Eve to each other primarily because “it was not good for the man to be alone.” Lutzer makes it sound like the more conflict is in your marriage the better suited it is to make us holy!!
Anyway, the problem here is that Scripture must NEVER be interpreted in isolation from the rest of Scripture. That is to say, you cannot just take a verse or a few verses and turn them into a kind of universal apply-this-passage-in-every-case-in-the-very-same-way carved in stone rule. Who is writing? To whom are the verses being addressed? These details and more must be considered.
In this case, James (the brother of the Lord Jesus) is writing to Christians throughout the Roman Empire who are suffering. Probably primarily suffering persecution for their faith. Many of them were Jews and when a Jew chose to follow Christ, all hell came down upon him at the hands of his Jewish family, prior friends, the synagogue and so on. The earliest persecutions of believers came from the Jews, not from Caesar. This was all very intense and painful and grievous to endure. You could have your property seized. Ex-communicated from the Temple and from society. (Hey, that sounds a whole lot like the kind of thing abuse victims suffer today when they determine to leave an abuser!).
Now, let’s ask this question — Do people who are in that kind of suffering, that kind of persecution, have a choice to escape it? Or are they pretty much “stuck”? I propose to you that the answer is, they are pretty much stuck. Where are they going to go? To whom are they going to go, besides to one another? I suppose many small early local churches consisted of people who had lost everything and now turned to Christ and to one another. And James is writing to encourage them. He tells them that in spite of being in the suffering they are in, they can take great joy in the fact that their faith in Christ still holds, that the Lord, in fact, is going to use this suffering to make their faith even stronger and make them shine more perfectly with the glory of Jesus. What James is NOT doing is telling them, “Now you be sure that you remain right in that persecution, even if you have a way out, because God uses persecution and suffering for your good. So stay there. It’s His will.”
We actually find other NT texts (Old Testament as well) that show us that it is a very good thing, and perfectly permissible, for a Christian to escape persecution and suffering when they can:
Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) (1 Corinthians 7:20-21)
Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. (Acts 8:2-4)
We could go on citing examples. You can think of others. Jesus Himself escaped persecutors, as did Paul many times, such as when he went over the wall in a basket.
James instruction is an encouragement, not a command! “Count it all joy” does not mean “Get that smile back on your face now!” It means, “Don’t despair even in the most difficult and grievous times. The Lord is at work. He is going to use this all for His glory and for your good.” And when a way of escape opens, well:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
So count the abuse all joy, for your sanctification, and then run out through the first open door you see!
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