Trials in Three Biblical Lights

If you only ever study the Bible using your preferred translation, you may at times find yourself facing a dilemma not present in the original text. For example, in the King James Version of the Bible, James says to “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations,” only to later add, “every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (James 1:2, 14). It would be easy to jump to an improper conclusion, namely, that you should rejoice when you are drawn away by your lust and enticed. It only takes a little digging using a lexical tool though to discover that James originally used two different words that naturally divided his discussion. The word temptation in James 1:1-12 would be more properly translated as “trial” (as it is in several newer versions), while the word tempt in James 1:13-15 carries the idea of temptation to sin. This solves one dilemma, but presents another: James is telling his readers to be joyful… in trials?

While the command may seem strange, it’s there. However, it represents only one of three ways that trials are presented in the Bible, namely, as a blessing. In making this statement, James is merely expanding upon what Jesus said in the opening words of perhaps His greatest sermon, in which He stated that those who faced trials were “blessed” (literally happy), were to “rejoice,” and were to be “exceedingly glad” (Matthew 5:10-12). While Christ’s discussion centered upon trials earned in righteous service, James’ statement seems to envelop every peril that man faces – from persecution to physical pain. James is clear to present the blessing of trials – they produce patience (literally steadfastness), and allow one to be perfect (literally complete) (James 1:3-4). One is reminded of Job, who said, “When He has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:10 ESV).

The mortal side of any Bible student though is glad to learn of another light into which the Bible places trials: as a burden. In one of the Psalms, for instance, the author feels so distressed by outward trials that he utters this inspired statement, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” a sentiment that would be both felt and quoted by Jesus on the cross (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46). Trials cand definitely leave us feeling at times as though God has left us. Careful consideration (often in hindsight) though reveals that God was there all along. When one woman screamed at a preacher, “Where was God when my son died,” the preacher responded, “The same place He was when His Son died.” The Psalmist who felt forsaken by God would later say, “He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard” (Psalm 22:24). No faithful servant of the Lord is ever truly alone to carry his burden, as God carries it with him. After quoting Psalm 22:1, Jesus later said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit” (Luke 23:46).  

To transcend the natural reaction that humans have to view trials as burdens instead of blessings, it is important to consider trials in yet another Biblical light: as the means of producing great breakthroughs. Philippians, one of the greatest letters ever written on the subject of joy, was penned by a man held as a prisoner. Paul realized that his imprisonment had opened doors for the spread of the gospel: “the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). Trials allowed Paul to envision his life as situated between two realities: Christian service and heaven (Philippians 1:23-24). Such is true of any faithful Christian; trials endured will open doors either to greater service on earth or the gift of heaven and eternal life.

When we consider trials in their full Biblical light, we can find in them great blessings, as it is often under the greatest burdens that one achieves the greatest breakthroughs. Athletes tear down their muscles through grueling physical strain, only to be rebuilt stronger. Trees endure terrible storms, storms that wiggle trees’ roots and allow for deeper growth. The Christian cannot be complete without trials; as we successfully endure them, we begin to understand both James’ command and his connection of the subject of trials with the subject of temptations. Trials can certainly be tempting, but overcoming trials allows one to be strong in the face of temptations and more fruitful in the fight against Satan. This truly is cause for great joy.
-Patrick Swayne