In James 1:1 (ESV) there is a reference to the Jews in “the Dispersion.” It is probable that the book was written when the church was still mostly Jewish. If the dispersion, or scattering, was associated with the activity highlighted by Saul’s hostility in Acts 8:1, then Christians Jews were were being forced out by a great persecution of the church in Jerusalem. These same believers were using the opportunity to proclaim the gospel in various places like Samaria and indirectly in Ethiopia.
Assuming this context, I am intrigued by what James said in 1:2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” Were these trials involved in the persecution or was the trial the persecution itself? Regardless, James encouraged his readers to look forward. Do not look back at the loss of job, property, and family associations. Look ahead at the opportunity with joy that you will learn valuable personal lessons.
It seems that the things we enjoy the most can fatten us in unhealthy ways. It seems that is the way with impatience. It is spiritually unhealthy. Like a diet, prudence or patience is something that can be exercised and learned. However, like a diet, we are often more likely to boast how we follow some 30-day plan for 15 days! Twice as long as last year when the same “plan” was employed. So what happens when there is no food? What happens when there is no peace but only persecution?
I went to Ukraine as a teacher in 2000. There was no controlled display of largesse shown by the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of which Ukraine was a member. Communism in Ukraine was still strongly entrenched after supposedly ending in 1991. The Ukrainians I met shared with me that Ukraine had been the bread basket of their region, much like the plains states of the United States, only 80 years earlier. But Communism of the USSR destroyed both the country’s infrastructure and its will to produce enough to feed itself in just a few decades.
Spring ahead to Covid-19 restrictions in early 2020 in the USA, where they experienced an artificial “depression” because of government restrictions. Grocery shelves were emptied for weeks in some places. Without going into the myriad factors involved, there was food. The infrastructure was intact. But people could not get it in their refrigerators. (Kudos to Guatemala where we did not see some of the shortages reported in the USA.)
My parents were raised in the real U.S. Depression of 1929, one that lasted for ten years, not ten weeks. My parents' generation vowed that my generation would not suffer that same fate. The generation that follows us has known nothing but presumed material bounty as a right. They seem to feel that they may enshrine whatever pleases them into law. But the history of both Ukraine and the United States should warn us that economic deprivation and very possibly persecution lies somewhere in our future if cultural trends continue.
Will we look back or look forward? Will we count it all joy? Will we be willing to accept the protracted lessons of patience that come with world class devastation? I pray that such trials do not come. But I pray even more that we be prepared in spirit to “count it all joy” by the Spirit as we look to the future with hope.