One of the hardest things for someone to hear when going through a particularly difficult trial is, “Consider it joy! It will make you stronger.”
Yes, the Bible tells me so. But it so often seems so callous for someone to remind me of it. There might even be a smile that goes with it that makes me angry.
Those who are acting as counselors and advocates for abuse survivors have likely struggled with this issue. We want to encourage our clients and friends to rightful thinking which we know will lead to greater peace. We want them to see the good that can come from the trial that they may have a sense of peace in it.
And as we share these thoughts with them, we find that they shrink into a shell or become angry or walk away, never to return.
It just isn’t that simple to slather a verse on a victim’s pain. Have you noticed that taking one verse from the Bible is simple until you practice good exegesis and consider all those other verses that complicate things?
First, I want to do some of that work on James 1:2-5 where the Lord tells us that the “testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” That is the reason why James says one verse before, “Count it all joy . . . when you meet trials of various kinds.”
There is a goal to suffering – that we be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” That’s a pretty good trade off. That is what trials are intended to produce in us. And that is why James tells us to “count it all joy.”
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible helpfully says, “Not that these afflictions were joyous in themselves, but in their circumstances, effects, and consequences.”
The goal is joyous.
It is not the trial that is joyous. The trial is not intended to make us happy. In fact, to be a trial it needs to do quite the opposite. It creates hurt, disappointment, maybe confusion, and frustration. That is why it is called a trial. It challenges how we view our lives.
It causes us to take stock of our beliefs and desires and expectations.
I face trials when my boss or spouse is manipulating, demeaning, shaming, or blaming me. When my manager takes credit for the work I do. When my spouse tells me I am stupid, or my pastor preaches shamefully from the pulpit referring to something I said to him earlier in the week supposedly in confidence.
I am not expected to take joy from the trial. And so, we must be careful to distinguish between expecting someone to be joyful about the trial, rather than taking joy in the knowledge of the outcome.
Who among us knows what is God’s specific purpose for another man’s trial? Who can with confidence give that kind of judgment.
God does not always show His hand immediately or within the trial itself. At times it is mysterious. Consider Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. Paul has some knowledge – it is there to keep him from being “conceited” – but why doesn’t God take it away? Paul begged that the Lord would do so, but He did not remove it by the time of Paul’s writing.
It is not my place to tell a victim why they are suffering. And then tell them, “Count it all joy!”
They will likely, though not necessarily, learn what the Lord is specifically teaching them. Give the Lord His room.
So, what do we do? What is the godly response?
We must be careful in our expectations for those who are suffering horribly from the abuse of a wicked individual – whether a boss, boyfriend, neighbor, or husband. In the midst of that suffering, jumping for joy neither makes sense nor generally happens.
This is a broken world, and a giddiness about that brokenness is never suggested in Scripture. Don’t expect your friend or counselee to be rejoicing in the way you think of rejoicing in the midst of their abuse. It is unreasonable and unlikely.
So, the first step in hearing of abuse of any kind is “weep with those who weep.”
The full verse in Romans says:
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.Romans 12:15-16 (ESV)
Humility. No conceit. No arrogance.
If you are counseling or advocating for a victim of leadership abuse (in the home or workplace), you need to humbly respond to their suffering. As they pass through the fire of trial, they need to be shown respect and their trial needs to be honored.
Weep with them. It is not a time of rejoicing when they face various trials.
But when the goal of that trial – their perfection and completion – is accomplished, it will be a time of rejoicing.
In the trial, it is a time of weeping and seeking the wisdom only God can give as James goes on to say:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.James 1:5
Weep with them as they face the struggle. And seek wisdom as to how to respond to that trial with them.
In essence, we are talking about being empathetic. No matter what foolish theologians say about empathy, Romans 12 is about empathy. God desires you to be empathetic . . . to appreciate and understand another man’s travail. And you are to weep with them when they weep.
In time, hopefully you can rejoice when they rejoice.
However, as you empathize with your friend, you may encourage them on a path to the point of considering it joy. As the “Barnes’ Notes on the Bible” says,
You are not to consider it as a punishment, a curse, or a calamity, but as a fit subject of felicitation.Barnes’ Notes on the Bible
When facing abuse, many victims feel that they are cursed. They may think they are being punished by the Lord much like many of the Psalmists.
But abuse is never the result of the victim’s actions. It is because the abuser has an unrepentant heart. He is sick in sin. It is HIS fault, not the victim’s.
So, encouraging the victim to rest in Jesus’s loving arms, not condemnation of any kind, is the godly response to their despair.
Advocates can list story after story of the survivors of abuse testifying to the shame that have been heaped upon them. They have been trained by their abusers, particularly if their abuser was a Christian leader, to think of themselves as unworthy of Jesus’s love and affection.
You do not criticize them for feeling cursed or angry at God. You share with them the love that God has for them . . . telling them over and over they are a child of the Heavenly Father, the Ruler of Heaven and Earth.
Those are two very different things. One is heaping more shame on them for feeling the way they do: How dare you feel that way. One is sharing the reason they need have no shame.
Consider it Joy! Yes, the Bible tells me so. But there is a time for weeping for and mourning what is lost. There is time for the Lord to make Himself known and felt by victims of abusive leadership.
Give victims that time.