This morning in church my pastor, Danny Wood, preached on James 1:2-12:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.
12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
The thrust of Danny’s message was how the Lord uses trials to refine us. This process is often impeded by the fact that we are, by nature, “double-minded” (v. 8), which literally means, he said, “double-souled.” That is, we are torn between our desire to serve God and our desire to pursue the things of this world. Our task is to overcome our darker impulses so that we might become sturdy vessels that the Lord can use for His holy purposes.
As Danny was preaching, I was reminded of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Victorian thriller The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). Perhaps you think of the story as just an old sci-fi horror flick; Hollywood has, after all, made several film adaptations of the novel. But it is so much more than a horror movie. While the novel isn’t, strictly speaking, Christian, it is infused with Christian principles. The story assumes the double-souled nature of man of which James warned and of which Danny preached.
Dr. Jekyll is a good man of high character. But he recognizes and hates his own sinful nature. If he could rid himself of it he would be, he reasons, a better man. Indeed, he would be a perfect man. So he comes up with a scientific solution to his problem. He invents a potion that will separate the evil in his being from the good, isolate it, and kill it. It’s the way diseases are destroyed, and Jekyll hopes the same formula will cure him of the one disease that has infected all of humanity since The Fall—evil.
The potion works. Sort of. Dr. Jekyll succeeds in separating the evil from the good, but that’s it. The evil isn’t destroyed. Worse, no longer restrained by good, the evil is wholly evil and is embodied in his new alter ego, Mr. Hyde. By day, Dr. Jekyll is a good man, a good doctor, and an outstanding member of the community. By night, however, Mr. Hyde takes over and commits the most heinous of crimes. As the story unfolds, Jekyll realizes that he is losing control of Hyde (i.e., his own evil nature) and that he must destroy him before he can do more harm to others. So Jekyll commits suicide, thus killing himself and Hyde. It’s Judas’s solution to the same problem. So full was Judas of self-hatred that he committed what Matthew Henry calls “self-murder.” Of all of his sins, this is the greatest, because it is, with absolute finality, a failure to believe the promises of God and accept his grace and forgiveness.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has always intrigued me, not the least because people seem to miss the central point of the novel. Stevenson clearly understood the dual nature of man. One wonders if the novel expresses something of his own desire to be more angel and less demon. Regardless, it is a problem that we all face. The solution isn’t a potion—think of all of the medications people take these days to curb sinful desires—and it certainly isn’t suicide. The solution comes in verse 12: perseverance under trial. It is through trials that the Lord refines us, sharpens us, strengthens us. This process is what Christians call “sanctification.”
Of course, we never fully achieve it in this life. A Mr. Hyde lurks in all of us. As the Lord warned Cain in Genesis 4:7: “Sin is crouching at your door; its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
This does not mean that suffering always produces good in the life of the sufferer. “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” is not in the Bible, though people often quote it like it is. Friedrich Nietzsche, who hated Christianity, said it. Nietzsche contracted syphilis, and I assure you it did not make him stronger. It turned him into a raving lunatic. No, that which does not kill you can still maim you for life. Trust me. I know. The promise that good will come from our trials is one made exclusively to Christians. Romans 8:28 reads: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Even then, the promise is nullified if we don’t, as James 1:12 says, persevere.
Image Credit: Library of Congress