The book of James challenges Followers of Jesus to live lives that truly reflect the gospel of the Kingdom of God. In it, we are reminded that Jesus called us not to simply believe a set of new doctrines, but to a Way, a life of faith lived practically in alternative community, in solidarity with the poor, the outsider, and the oppressed, and in resistance to injustice. But James holds no illusions that such a life will be easy. On the contrary, the short and unpretentious letter assures us that following in the path of the crucified and resurrected king will mean also sharing in his suffering. That our suffering will test our faith is certain. That our redeemer lives and will be vindicated is even more certain.
The end of James reminds us to consider the suffering of Job, describing him as “steadfast” (James 5:11). What may surprise us is that the Bible’s account of Job’s story is not one without pain, doubt, fear, or sorrow. On the contrary, much of the book of Job poetically delivers songs of Job’s grief and anguish in the middle of his pain, words shouted to heaven demanding that God give an answer for his condition.
If Job is James' example of steadfastness, then we also have permission to wrestle with questions of justice, to even boldly ask of God why we continue to suffer pain in our resistance. If it is for mercy that God's final hand of justice is held back from those who continue to abuse, deceive, and oppress, what of God's mercy for us who seek to act and live rightly, and yet receive abuse, exile, even imprisonment for our righteous, faithful resistance?
Such questions are common in the book of Psalms. Even Jesus himself prayed through sweat and blood, asking God if his cup of suffering could pass from him. We need not fear asking such questions as though doing so would betray some weakness in our faith. The entire book of Job records the suffering man's lament in the midst of his pain, and his abject refusal to accept any answer given by his dogmatic and privileged friends that did not fully satisfy his deepest questions. James' affirmation that Job remained steadfast though he asked such bold questions of God reminds us of the encouragement with which James began his letter.
James 1:2-8 (ESVUK)2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Our wrestling with our belief, faith and action in the midst of resistance is not a sign of doubt or of weakness in our faith. On the contrary, it is this very engagement with the struggle that God will use to fashion us into greater instruments of Kingdom Justice.
Our lives sing the clarion call of the Kingdom Come. The suffering of our Great King slaughtered on the Roman cross exposed the powers and authorities of Empire (Colossians 2:15). The cross made a show of them to be seen for exactly what they are: corrupt, violent, abusive, and false. Our suffering in this age is a small reflection of that same exposure. As we walk in the footsteps of our Saviour we shine like a city on a hill the truth that the world need not be as the Empire has fashioned it (Matthew 5:14). As we cry out "why?" to our Lord, we are not rebuked for our questions. Just as James describes our faith as demonstrated and made real in our actions (James 2:17), so also does our doubt not make us "unstable" or "double minded" unless we act upon it. Though tested, though mocked, oppressed, or imprisoned, we remain steadfast. Though we may walk through the darkest nights of fear or pain in the midst of our struggles, though we may raise our questions in lament, uncertainty, or even anger to God, we remain steadfast. We do not waver in our action. God does not require our unquestioning, dogmatic, untested belief, as Job's friends required of him. Instead, it is in the uncertainty of the fire that our steadfast will is forged.
We are the ambassadors of the coming Kingdom. We are the citizens living for eternity, demonstrating the new order now, even in the midst of the Empire's continued cruelty. We live in the margins, in practical solidarity with the oppressed, outside of the current order as it now is. But we do not hide.
Our alternative communities of generosity and love, and our bold proclamation of the new order and law of liberty point a finger boldly at the heart of Empire. We do not retreat, for the battle belongs to the King and the victory has already been won. The Kingdom is here. God's Spirit in us is the evidence. We continue to participate in God's work in the world. We continue to share in communities that live in resistance to the kings of this age, in humble submission to the true King. No trial or sentence by these wretched rebel authorities will end our resistance. As long as they exist, we will persevere. Our resistance will continue.
Our resistance does not stop though we are imprisoned or exiled. Instead, we grow in the face of adversity. Within it, our character and conviction is reinforced, the Empire within us further removed, the Kingdom through us more clearly seen. What once may have been doubt is converted to deeper faith more surely forged through fire. The unmistakable injustice of the spirit of the age is revealed in its oppression of the righteous and faithful. It is when confronted by this oppression that we become more intimately aware of the violent, selfish, and merciless nature of the rebel Empire and all its willing agents. Inside the prison we are brought to our knees before the Great King who walked the path before us. As we share his suffering, we most deeply know his sovereignty, his justice and his mercy.
We will resist. Though the rebel oppressors of this world may hate us, we will resist. In our continued, faithful, humble resistance, we are blessed.
Matthew 5:11-12 (ESVUK)Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Blessing is not based on a reaction to an external circumstance. Blessing is an objective and unalterable state derived from the approval and reward of the Almighty God. Like the prophets, like John the Baptist and Elijah, from within the wilderness of these dying empires we will declare the rise of living justice! We invite all to dine at the table of the King!
We are the voice crying out in the wilderness,
“Repent! The Kingdom of God is here! Prepare the way of the great King!”
When the kings of this age, of money, religion, or power, hear the news and tremble in anger or fear, some may repent. Some may retaliate. Either way, the message cannot be stopped. Should we be beaten, imprisoned, or killed, the Kingdom grows still.
The seed of the True Kingdom planted in the world at the execution of the King cannot be destroyed by martyrdom. The blood of the martyrs further scatters the seeds of the Kingdom. We declare victory over death. We fear no lesser power. The Kingdom will come.
This blog entry is an excerpt from the book Radical Religion by the Pirate Pastor, the first book of the Radical Christian trilogy. For vendor locations or how to order from the publisher, please email email@example.com.