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God's Grand Conspiracy

Updated on May 27, 2013

A Devotional Reflection from James 1:1-8

The British poet, “Robert Browning Hamilton” once said, “I walked a mile with Pleasure, She chatted me all the way but I was none the wiser for what she had to say; I walked a mile with Sorrow, and ne’er a word said she, but O the things I learned from her when Sorrow walked with me.” [1] Pleasure has an important position in our society and people of all walks of life go to great lengths just to taste her sweetness. Trial, on the other hand, seems to be shunned at all costs. One would sooner face the decay of Pleasure’s deteriorating sugars than shake the hand of Trial for even a brief period of time. Yet, the warning has been sounded throughout the pages of history that little is to be gained in such a blissfully unchallenged life. This is not to imply that no redeemable value is found in pleasure; for we would do well to recognize that our abilities to both identify and experience pleasure are both from the hand of God, our Creator. Nevertheless, it takes little effort to notice the depravity of our discernment regarding pleasure; such is the fruit of our fall. In his fascinating satirical masterpiece, “The Screwtape Letters”, C.S Lewis describes quite aptly our quandary through the mouthpieces of a senior demon and a demon in training; “Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s [God's] ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is [God's] invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever-increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula…. To get the man’s soul and give NOTHING in return–that is what really gladdens [Satan's] heart.[2]The enemy has seemingly worked out his battle plan quite effectively according to the status quo of most that ascribe to themselves the name “Christian”. That the wonderers of the world would seek without hesitation a land of no pain is reasonable, for they know not of the comfort of Christ, but even in the land of the redeemed the battle seems to rage without pause to discover a world free from the thorns and storms of life and full of polluted pleasures. Without doubt, if we were left to ourselves we would create an army of spineless soldiers who are more than capable of celebrating the victory but who are ill prepared to fight the battle. Soldiers such as these certainly exist, but the Captain is ever so diligent to teach His own a better way. A grand conspiracy is at work behind the curtain of providence, a plan so other worldly that it could only be thought up in the mind of one who is limitless in wisdom. When the curtain is drawn it’s the tools of trial that reside in the Masters hands not the playthings of pleasure. It was Lewis who also said that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”[3] God’s objective is neither to make life happy nor to eliminate pain but to shape, mold, form, chisel and transform us into the image of His Son. It is in His Son that we find one who was subjected to trial, ridicule and death but who has never tasted defeat. For in ages past He stood in our midst, like us in every way, yet, without the soiled garments of sin…it is He whom we are to be conformed to. Accomplishing such a divinely designed task must be left in the hands of one capable, for the tools of trial could never be held in hands of flesh, only the incorporeal hands of Him who spoke the world into existence is able to wield such instruments. Those conformed to the image of His Son will enjoy blessings beyond imagination; however, to do so, one must walk the road which he walked, a road littered with the entrapments of those who have traveled ahead and who themselves realized that it could not be done with the clinging weights of sin. To traverse this road one must look not at the obstacles of his or her faith but at the object of his or her faith; to do otherwise will prolong ones journey and pervert ones perspective. This is precisely what the author of Hebrews calls us to, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,”.What is it that we behold when we look to Jesus? Do we see one who overthrows the opposition and who sweeps them from his path with the irrepressible winds of his wrath? On the contrary, when we look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, we see one who lived for 33 years only to die in six hours…yet, make no mistake, there was purpose behind His pain! The author of Hebrews goes on to say that “for the joy that was set before him (He) endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.[4] He models for us in its most pure form what it means to endure in the midst of trial. Only in the theatre of God’s mind could joy, suffering, purpose and glory be found on the cosmic stage at once. Nevertheless, in Christ we see this majestic drama unfold and though our understanding may fail us, our hearts rejoice in the knowledge that He knows. He knows the seemingly evading nature of joy, yet, He captured it. He knows the debilitating sting of suffering, yet, He endured it. He knows…not merely through the intellectual assent of one who possesses all knowledge, but through the crucible of experience. He alone paints a portrait of joyful suffering which saturates every word spoken in James 1:2-4; “2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”[5]Apart from Christ, there would remain room enough only for the mocking crowd of doubters, critics and skeptics in the face of such a command, but Christ places flesh on its brittle bones and in Him we see life as it ought to be. Though he left not a single article of sinful shame on the road to Calvary, He did leave His footprints…footprints of one who knows our struggles and understands our trials…footprints of one who knows also of the need for us to experience them, for without doing so we would not only be a gross misrepresentation of who He is but a poor representation of the purpose for which He came. Just as He was captivated by an unseen joy, so shall we be. Just as he remained triumphantly under the heavy load of His sin-weighted cross, so shall we take up our own. He knows our every need and has felt our every pain; yet, He has made possible the priceless treasure of endurance, a quality He alone possesses in purity, for those who walk in His footsteps. It was that fellow traveler, C.H. Spurgeon who reminded us of this soul stirring truth when he said; “Christ was also chosen out of the people that he might know our wants and sympathize with us. “He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.” In all our sorrows we have his sympathy. Temptation, pain, disappointment, weakness, weariness, poverty—he knows them all, for he has felt all. Remember this, Christian, and let it comfort thee. However difficult and painful thy road, it is marked by the footsteps of thy Saviour; and even when thou reachest the dark valley of the shadow of death, and the deep waters of the swelling Jordan, thou wilt find his footprints there. In all places whithersoever we go, he has been our forerunner; each burden we have to carry, has once been laid on the shoulders of Immanuel. “His way was much rougher and darker than mine Did Christ, my Lord, suffer, and shall I repine?” Take courage! Royal feet have left a blood-red track upon the road, and consecrated the thorny path for ever. [6]

That Christ knows our struggles and can sympathize with us in all ways is beyond questioning…for “ though he was in the form of God, (He) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. ” (Philippians 2:6–8, ESV) It is beyond our ability to comprehend that His endurance of the cross was preceded by joy; nevertheless, that is precisely the case. Though one cannot claim with unmoving dogmatism the reason for such joy, it can be safely said that at least in part, His joy was the fruitful product of His foreknown purpose. It was Jesus Himself who said, “16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17 ESV) He was fully aware of the purpose for which He was sent and in the moments leading up to His death, the dual act of obedience to the Father and redemption for mankind created a radiance of joy that was ever before Him.

Could it be that the Father’s desire is that we too walk a road of trial? Is it possible that God has a greater purpose than keeping us from pain? Is it realistic to believe that in the hidden pages of God’s plan are the tools of trial intended for our good and His glory? Is it within reason for us to add it all up and count it unmingled, untainted joy when we face the colorful array of trials that surrounds us? Make no mistake, we will face trials, they are the inescapable appointments of a loving God. The question that remains is whether or not we will catch the wind of joy in the midst of the trial. Trained best at the task will always be those who neither grasp for the joy nor gloat in the pain but who trust the Hand of God and who triumph in His purpose. If we are to resemble in any accurate measure the image of His Son we must uncover through the rubble of a sometimes broken moment the precious virtue of endurance, “The Queen of all Virtues”.[7] It is for this purpose that God sends His messengers of trouble into our lives; endurance will always be the child of difficulty.

The “Prince of Preachers”, Charles Spurgeon, said it quite well, “Faith untried may be true faith, but it is sure to be little faith, and it is likely to remain dwarfish so long as it is without trials. Faith never prospers so well as when all things are against her: tempests are her trainers, and lightnings are her illuminators. When a calm reigns on the sea, spread the sails as you will, the ship moves not to its harbour; for on a slumbering ocean the keel sleeps too. Let the winds rush howling forth, and let the waters lift up themselves, then, though the vessel may rock, and her deck may be washed with waves, and her mast may creak under the pressure of the full and swelling sail, it is then that she makes headway towards her desired haven. No flowers wear so lovely a blue as those which grow at the foot of the frozen glacier; no stars gleam so brightly as those which glisten in the polar sky; no water tastes so sweet as that which springs amid the desert sand; and no faith is so precious as that which lives and triumphs in adversity. Tried faith brings experience. You could not have believed your own weakness had you not been compelled to pass through the rivers; and you would never have known God’s strength had you not been supported amid the water-floods. Faith increases in solidity, assurance, and intensity, the more it is exercised with tribulation. Faith is precious, and its trial is precious too. [8]

May we be a people who welcome the trials of life knowing that before they enter the corridors of our existence they first pass through the hands of a loving God. Truly, the grand conspiracy of God is that we would see ourselves in the mirror of His presence someday and realize that we are like Him. (1 John 3:2-3) Until that day, may He do all that is necessary to produce in us the characteristics that best resemble His Son. Though quiet the walk may be, may our time spent with trial never be wasted and may we learn from her all that God intends.

[1] Robert Browning Hamilton

[2] Lewis, C.S. The Screwtape Leters. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966, Pg 44-45.

[3] Lewis, C.S The Problem of Pain

[4] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Heb 12:2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5] The word translated “steadfastness” in James 1:3 is the same Greek word translated “Endured” in Hebrews 12:2. The Greek word “Hupomone” though often misunderstood means refers to a vibrant withstanding in the midst of difficulty. It is a conquering virtue, a conquering endurance that deals triumphantly with the trials of life and literally means to bear up under a heavy load.

[6] Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening : Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

[7] Barclay, William. The Letters of James and Peter. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Publishing, 2003.(Barclay credits the 4th century Church father, John Chrysostom for the statement.)

[8] Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening : Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.


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