When the Bottom Falls Out :: A Targum on James 1.1-18

by Brian Walsh 

James, a slave of God and of Jesus, the Messianic King,

            To the people of God scattered to kingdom come around the world,

            Greetings.

When the bottom falls out,

            when things come apart at the seams,

            when the stock market crashes,

                        your job is up for grabs,

                        the mortgage payments are getting harder to pay,

                        and you really don’t know how you are going to make ends meet,

            this is a time for pure, unadulterated, ecstatic and contented joy!

When your church is without a pastor,

            when older, faithful members are moving away,

            when you are in a time of transition, unsure of the future,

            when the budget looks like an unattainable dream,

            that’s fantastic!

When you face all kinds of trials,

            the infirmities of older age,

            the insecurities of being a young person,

            the struggles with loneliness,

            painful confusion about sexuality,

            the collapse of beloved institutions,

            a marriage that has seen happier days,

            tensions within the family,

                        you name it!

            then again I say to you, this is pure joy!

“Joy?” you ask.        

            Grin and bear it, maybe.

            Dig in and get through the trouble, perhaps.

            Maybe even patience.

                        But joy?

            This is the kind of stuff that strips me of any capacity for joy.

                        Economic anxiety,

                        worries about the future,

                        deep internal pain,

                        that debilitating sense of loss,

                        that impending death in so many areas of our lives …

            and you say we should receive all this with joy?

                        Pure joy?

Yes, my friends, joy.

            I understand that all of this is hard.

            I’ve been there, I know.

            And I know, you know, we all know,

                        that all of these trials,

                                    these economic and personal anxieties,

                                    this kind of pain and confusion,

                        all that would strip us of joy,

                        all that would tempt us to cynicism or despair,

                        all that might render us numb and disconnected,

            is, at heart, a test of our faith. 

Derailed and desperate,

how did I get here,

hanging from this high wire

by the tatters of my faith.

           Hanging here for dear life

            by the tatters of our faith.

            Faith that is like a fraying rope

            getting closer to breaking.

            Faith lost its promise,

            and bruised me deep blue.

It’s all about our faith,

            my beloved, well-tested,

            trialed-to-the-end-of-your-rope friends.

It’s all about whether we can believe the promises,

            when the evidence is pretty thin.

It’s all about a faith that knows deeply that

            this world belongs to God.

It’s all about a faith that believes that

            this God is faithful.

It’s all about a faith that hangs on to that high wire,

            even if all we have left is the tatters of our faith.

It’s all about a faith that continues to sing,

            even when it has been bruised deep blue.

Such faith doesn’t come easily.

Such faith may well be a gift,

            but it takes hard work.

Such faith perseveres in the testing,

            endures in the trials,

            is proven in the fire.

Pure joy, my friends,

            for this opportunity to grow.

Blessed are you,

            for proving your faith through endurance.

Persevere,

            hang in there,

            don’t look back,

            dig deeper,

            grow your faith.

Trials test your faith.

Testing produces perseverance.

Perseverance brings maturity. 

Trials make you feel incomplete.

            You are lacking something,

                        money,

                        security,

                        health,

                        happiness,

                        leadership. 

Perseverance,

            when it has done its job,

leaves you complete,

            whole,

            fulfilled,

            lacking nothing.

I know, I know.

            It sounds crazy, but its true.

I know, I know.

            You can’t quite believe this.

I know, I know.

            This all seems beyond you.

“Lacking nothing?”

            Unimaginable!

            Impossible!

I know. I know.

            We seem to lack what it takes

            to believe that we could lack nothing.

So pray.

            If you lack the wisdom to embrace trials in joy,

            then pray.

            Ask God.

            His generosity is infinite,

                        and he won’t come down hard on you

                        because you can’t quite accept all of this. 

Just ask.

            But one caution, my friends.

            When you ask, really ask.

            Don’t try to keep your options open,

                        saying,

                        “Yes, God, give me the wisdom to live with such faith,”

while secretly trying to control things on your own.

                        “Yes God, help me to face these trials with joy,”

while anxiously imposing your own agenda on things.

In a well-managed world of control,

            faithful and honest prayer is a rare thing.

So don’t go playing these kind of games with God.

            If you ask, then ask with integrity.

            If you pray, then mean it.

            Don’t be double-minded,

                        trying to have your cake and eat it too.

I know, I know.

            None of this makes sense.

I know, I know.

            All of this seems to turn everything upside down.

                        Receive painful trials with joy?

                        Faith even against the evidence?

                        Prayer without doubt?

Who lives in this kind of world?

You do. We all do.

But we have to open our eyes to see it.

 

So you want to see things upside down?

            You want to see the world turned on its head?

Then consider this.

            The person who is at the bottom of the heap,

                        is at the top.

            The person who is in the lowest position,

                        should take pride in being in the highest position.

            The poorest of the poor,

                        the lowliest of the lowly,

                        they are the ones who are rich and esteemed.

            And the person at the top of the heap,

                        is at the bottom.

            The person in the highest position,

                        should take pride in being in the lowest position.

            The highly esteemed,

                        the most powerful,

                        the richest of the rich,

                        they have as much staying power as a summer flower.

            They look good,

                        they are incredibly attractive and draw attention to themselves,

                        but in the end the bloom falls

                        and the flower dies.

Make no mistake,

            those who trust in their riches,

            will fade away.

            Those who boast in their financial security,

            will be the first to go in the scorching heat of economic collapse.

            Those who shield themselves from such trials,

                        through their stock portfolios,

                                    their extended health plans,

                                    their monster homes,

                                    their overly consumptive, self-indulgent lives,

                                    their business-as-usual lifestyle in the face of crisis,

                        will not stand in the heat of the day,

                        will not survive the trials before us,

                        will not persevere,

                        will not come to a mature faith,

                        will never feel that they “lack nothing,”

                        and will never, ever, ever, experience “pure joy.”

So, blessed are you who are poor,

            for yours is the Kingdom of God.

And woe to you who are rich,

            for you have already received comfort.

And blessed are you who persevere under these kinds of trials.

Blessed are  you when you have stood the test.

Blessed are you when you gave up everything, but held on to Jesus.

Blessed are you when you were poor for Jesus sake.

Blessed are you.

            Your trials produced perseverance.

            Your perseverance made you mature.

            Your faith was made complete.

            You have lacked nothing.

And for you who have persevered in the very face of death,

            there is the crown of life that was always God’s promise,

            there is the crown of life for those who keep faith,

            there is the crown of life for those who have embraced life,

            there is the crown of life for those who have loved God,

                        even when tempted to let go,

                        even when tempted to curse,

                        even when tempted to break faith.

But let’s be clear about something, my friends.

            It is a false piety to say that these temptations came from God.

            It may sound all spiritual to say that these trials were put there by God.

            But it’s a lie!

            A fine-sounding, pious, misdirected lie

                        about God,

                        about evil

                        and about ourselves.

God is the God of light

             and there is no darkness in him.

God is the God of all goodness

            and there is no evil in him.

Evil has no legitimate place

            in God’s good creation.

Evil is an alien intruder,

            a distorter,

            a liar.But evil isn’t something “out there,”

            lurking around looking for people to tempt.

No, evil is deeply internal to our broken lives.

 

Are you tempted?

            Then don’t blame God.

            Don’t even blame evil itself.

            Don’t say, “The Devil made me do it.”

No, if you are tempted,
            then take a good hard look at yourself.

Whose desire leads you into temptation,

            if not your own?

You know what that’s like,

            and so do I.

Your desire is your desire.

            It is not imposed from somewhere else.

            This is your desire,

                        for security,  

                        for wealth,

                        for health,

                        for status,

                        for honour.

            And yet, somehow, this desire takes control of you.

            These are your desires,

                        these are my desires,

                        and yet we find ourselves,

                                    dragged away,

                                    enticed,

                                    seduced,

                                    perhaps even raped,

                        by our own desires.

            We become slaves of these desires,

                        sex slaves.

            And from our unholy copulation with our own desires,

                        after those desires have conceived,

                        after we have become pregnant

                                    through this perverse form of self-rape,

                        sin is born.

            And when sin grows up,

                        when sin comes to maturity,

                        when sin becomes full-grown,

                        sin itself gives birth

                                    … to death.

 

From trial to perseverance to maturity to wisdom and life,

            or

from temptation to desire to full-grown sin to death.

 

From trial to perseverance to maturity to wisdom and life,

            or

from temptation to desire to full-grown sin to death.

 

That’s the stark choice before us, dear friends.

That has always been the choice.

So don’t be deceived my brothers and sisters.

            Don’t be duped.

            Don’t fall prey to the lie.

All that is good,

            all the gifts of this creation,

            all that is worth having,

            comes from the exceeding and abundant generosity

                        of the Father of all light.

The God of light,

            the God of all goodness,

            the God of all life, and life abundant,

            is a God of faithfulness.

He is not double-minded.

            He calls us to bear his image by being faithful.

 

We know that desire seduces, sin is born and sin will kill us.

We know that sin is born of lies,

            deception is at its heart.

Well here is the good news that I proclaim to you this morning.

            Here is the good news in the face of the deceit of sin.

            Here is the good news in the face of death.

            Here is the good news in the face of the trials that we face.

 

God chose to give us birth,

            through the Word of Truth,

            that we might be the firstfruits

            of all he created.

 

Evil desire’s birth of sin unto death,

            or God’s birth of us unto life?

Death rooted in deceit,

            or the Word of Truth?

The passing beauty of a wildflower born of economic wealth,

            or the firstfruits of all of creation?

Wisdom or foolishness?

Truth or deceit?

Joy or anxiety?

Life or death?

Choose life, sisters and brothers.

In the name of Jesus, choose life.

Amen

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is entitled Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination.
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3 Responses to “When the Bottom Falls Out :: A Targum on James 1.1-18”

  1. Ian

    this really spoke to me in the midst of where i am today. i linked to it in a post that i put up on my blog recently too.
    just wanted to say thanks and God bless.

    Reply
    • andrew

      Hey Ian – Thanks for the comment and for reading the blog. Blessings to you too.

      Reply
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