The American culture seems to be getting away from us; that, at least, is how many Christians with more traditional values feel.
One of the most seriously threatened values is the sacredness of marriage between one man and one woman for life. First, we saw the "for life" part mostly fall away as divorce grew more common, and now the "one man and one woman" portion hangs in the balance.
Most states already have redefined marriage as including same-sex relationships, and now many experts think the U.S. Supreme Court is about to make that redefinition apply to the remaining 13 states, including Texas.
For many of us, this just seems downright wrong. We hold to the tradition, which is well-grounded in biblical faith, and in the broader history of humanity. This legal redefinition can cause anger or sadness or both. In our churches, we can retain our biblical beliefs, but those beliefs may increasingly be seen as wrong or dangerous or mean or discriminatory.
How do we respond? The Bible can help us in many ways to deal with this cultural shift, but James 1 may be an especially good place to start.
In this small New Testament book, James says, "My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing" (vv. 2-3, NRSV).
Our Christian faith today in America is not being tested as severely as it was for those addressed by James, but it is being tested. James said to consider "trials of any kind" to be a "joy." I surely have experienced no joy in watching the American cultural shift regarding sex and marriage.
James, however, was not speaking about happiness or exuberance. He was talking about something deeper.
"There is a curious thing about the Bible's testimonies of joy and injunctions to joy: they very often come in the midst of negative experience and difficulty," wrote Joe Haag for the Christian Life Commission in 1994. He mentioned several passages:
Isaiah 66:10 says joy is for those who mourn. Psalm 30:5 says that those who weep at night will find joy in the morning. Psalm 51:8 cries out to God, "Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice." Psalm 126:5 says, "May those who sow in tears reap shouts of joy." The author of Hebrews describes Jesus as "the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame" (Heb. 12:2).
Haag said Christian joy "is not the same as happiness. Happiness is our normal response to things going right. Joy, in the Christian sense, is the exquisite possibility of our souls thriving when things are not going right. Happiness flows from the good times we rightly hope to happen. Joy is born in the middle of the difficult times which nearly always do happen."
In the midst of cultural changes today regarding marriage, we Christians can still experience the joy of our souls thriving in tough times. And this joy can overwhelm the sadness and destroy the anger.
James next wrote:
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord (vv. 5-8, NRSV).
We need wisdom in these days, and Scripture says God will give it generously and ungrudgingly. Faith opens us to God's wisdom, and I suspect that will be understanding related to God's will and to our neighbors' hearts and minds.
There is much in the first chapter of James, but I will close with this quote:
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls (vv. 19-21, NRSV).Lord, help us to listen - to You and to others. Help us be slow to speak. Help us be slow to anger. Help us, Lord, to live Your righteousness and experience Your joy.