Light at the End of the Tunnel
James 5:7-12 is a pretty straightforward passage. James is writing to Christians who were most likely experiencing persecution of some sort, and in this passage is exhorting them to patient endurance of their trials.
But there's something implicit in the passage that is hard for many people to swallow. When the prophets and Job are brought up as examples of steadfastness through suffering, and you look at their situations specifically, you see that their trials were brought upon them by God himself, in order to magnify his mercy toward them. This flies in the face of our expectations when we hear so often about an all-loving God who would never wish harm upon anyone, especially not his cherished people.
But, whether it rubs us wrong or not, it's the truth. Just look at Job. He lost his family and his possessions, going from 60 to 0 in 4.5 seconds. And we're quick to attribute his suffering to Satan. And it's correct that his plight was immediately caused by the devil himself. But if you look closely, God is the one who initiated the whole thing. In chapter 1, Satan gets back from his wanderings, and God asks him whether he had considered Job. God is the one who called him to his attention! If he hadn't done that, Job would have continued living the nice life he had always known. But no, God brought affliction upon him through Satan, so that Job attributed his suffering to God and DID NOT SIN in doing so (Job 2:10). The author of Job acknowledges plainly that the LORD had brought "evil" upon him (42:11).
If you were just to leave it at that, you may be justified in thinking that God was a meany. But James 5:11 makes sure we don't believe that for a second. "You have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful." God orchestrated terrible events in Job's life SO THAT Job would be blessed beyond his previous imagining. God doubled Job's fortunes and gave him long life to see four generations of his family. And NOT because Job responded so well throughout his trials. Job repeatedly tried to justify himself, and in the process called God's intentions into question (in a bad way). God didn't bless Job because he deserved it. God blessed Job through suffering because God is compassionate and merciful.
This habit of God's, bringing about good through the bad things in our lives, is quite unnerving. I usually mistake it for him saying, "I don't really like you after all." Of course, that's a lie of the devil that I've just believed. If I take my bad circumstances to mean that God is not for me, then the devil has succeeded in his attempt to make me question God's motives and sin against his honor.
But God is ultimately honorable, and he is supremely adept at bringing about good through suffering. Take, for example, the worst thing that ever happened: the crucifixion of the Son of God, Jesus himself. We know that God was the one who offered his Son up to his tormentors (Acts 2:23), and through this was able to bring about the greatest good that ever happened: the full and sure redemption of his beloved people. You can't question the motives of God toward you when you see that he didn't spare his own Son for your sake. Once he's done that, it's proven his love for you, and he's not going to turn his back on you now.
And that's not all that should cause us to patiently endure our trials. James mentions the coming of the Lord, which is the sure hope that ought to inspire his people to trust him and live for him through thick and thin, the light at the end of the tunnel. At our church we proclaim "the mystery of faith" before coming to the Lord's Table. That mystery is this: "Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again." The Second Coming of Christ is spoken of some 300 times in the New Testament. If they were evenly distributed, that would be once every 13 verses! Yet even if it were only mentioned once in God's Word, it would be enough for you to trust that, just as surely as Christ has already died and has already risen, Christ WILL come again. Even though it hasn't happened yet, the assurance of God's own promises makes it as though it had.
So when you find yourself in the dark tunnels of life's hardships, focus on the light at the end, and trust that God has already done everything to get you there. That light is the Day of the Lord, and on that day you'll see that the Lord's purpose for your life has been to show you compassion and mercy, from beginning to end.