There are several types of trial that can come the way of believers. It is important to note that James indicates that Christians are not the cause of the trials, so he does not have in mind the ones that they can cause by their own sinful behaviour. Sadly Christians can find themselves in problems because they are cantankerous and unpleasant in their attitudes or because they have been unreliable in keeping their word. These are not the kind of trials that James has in mind.
One common kind of trial is what our catechism calls ‘the miseries of this life’. Christians can be tried by ill health, unemployment, family difficulties, accidents and all kinds of events that happen on a daily basis. There are Christians living in famine areas and in places affected by earthquakes in which they lose everything. Such experiences can be a real test of faith for those going through them.
A second type of trial faced by some Christians concerns their spiritual experiences. They may find themselves suddenly perplexed with the issue of assurance, and it is surprising because they may not have been bothered with this issue before. Or they may find themselves having to deal with an issue that requires spiritual guidance, yet they do not receive it from anyone that they ask. Others may find that the Bible becomes dry in their experience and they receive no comfort from it. With others, prayer becomes a chore and they find no way of enjoying it. When these things happen, it can be a real test of faith.
A third type of trial is the one that James’ readers were probably facing, that of persecution. This form of trial can be distressing, especially if a person has a family to worry about or loses property, and there does not seem to be any help available. James does not pretend that such trials are easy, yet he does stress that joy can be known in them.
James wants his readers to persevere in their trials, and we will think about that tomorrow.