The first image James buries in the first paragraph of his letter needs a little coaxing out, at least for those of us who speak languages other than Greek.
For lots of people, that idea of looking at the Greek makes us shrug and say, “how can anyone know anything about the Bible, if we can’t even trust the words in front of us? We can make it say anything.”
But don’t we have to wrestle with what English words mean sometimes, too? To look at different shades of meaning? And to accept that as something that is part of communication?
For example. Think of the word “testing”. For some people, that brings memories of school and stress and questions designed by the instructor to find out whether you had memorized the bottom word on page 47. That kind of test is horrible.
But testing in the process of learning can tell us what we know or do and what still needs work. Jim Collins asked a mountain climber why he kept climbing a wall that he kept failing to finish. An article reports
In fact, Caldwell viewed failure as an essential part of his search for the outer reaches of his capabilities as a climber. “To find your limit and experience the most growth, you have to go on a journey of cumulative failure,” Caldwell said. “Even if I never succeed in free climbing the Dawn Wall, it will make me so much stronger, and so much better, that most other climbs will seem easy by comparison.”
In that way, when James writes “you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance”, the image of testing he is talking about is the heating of gold to purify it, as in a cauldron. The crud rises to the top, where it can be skimmed off, leaving purer gold.
In trials, our faith is heated. Questions surface. Doubt in the middle of a difficulty is an honest reaction. When surface, questions can be considered, wrestled with, accepted. Allowing us to persevere.
And climb stronger.