“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
If God the Father is the giver of “every good and perfect gift,” then why is life so hard? Why does it feel like He withholds these gifts at times?
Let us explore James’ letter to better understand what he is saying.
James writes to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1). This refers to the Jews who were scattered in the Dispersion due to heavy persecution. James also mentions suffering multiple times in the first chapter of his letter, telling believers, “Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2), and also saying, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial” (James 1:12).
These verses are important because when James describes God as the giver of “every good and perfect gift,” this clearly does not mean God will prevent all forms of suffering.
God’s giving of good gifts actually requires suffering, for trials produce perseverance, and perseverance produces spiritual maturity (James 1:2-4). If God withheld trials from believers, then He would actually be withholding one of His good gifts: spiritual growth.
This is because the ultimate good thing we need is more of God Himself.
This is why we can “consider it pure joy” when trials attack us from all sides. Although they can stretch our faith to the point that we feel certain it will snap, trials build a spiritual maturity like no other.
This growth occurs because we come face to face with the smallness of our faith; before suffering, we tend to live under the illusion that our faith is big and unshakable.
When we see how fragile it is, how easily it fails, that causes us to depend on God in a way that is sweeter and more intimate than anything we could possibly imagine. We realize our faith was never our own to begin with.
We take refuge in Him because He is the only refuge we have ever had; everything else just gave us the illusion of safety.
Suffering teaches us to cry like David, “My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge.”
We have a sweet and gentle Father who is intentional in His tender care for us. He knows the number of hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7), and He bottles our tears (Psalm 56:8). If trials come upon us, we should not doubt His goodness.
That being said, James knows how hard it is to believe that every good gift comes from God. He knows our humanity. That’s why he states, “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters” (James 1:16) immediately before describing God as a giver and then follows by saying that God “does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). It doesn't feel like a Father who lavishes good gifts on His children would also allow them to suffer great trials.
But “do not be deceived,” for God’s character to “does not change like shifting shadows.”
He is not only sweet by giving good gifts; He is sweet in the midst of suffering, and even because of suffering.
Hebrews 2:10 states, “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.”
He is good. He was a faithful Father to you by sacrificing His only Son, but that’s not all. He was a faithful Father to Jesus by letting Him endure such suffering, for Jesus was made perfect through it.
He did not waver in His goodness to any of His children: His Son for eternity past and future was perfected, and His adopted sons and daughters were brought to glory.
If it was good for Jesus to experience suffering, how much more so should it be for us?
As Peter says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Again we see the indescribable joy that suffering can produce, as Peter says to rejoice in participating in Christ’s sufferings, for this leads to being overjoyed when His glory is revealed.
Notice the magnitude of this! Suffering's ultimate effect for the believer is not pain and despondency, but ecstatic joy!
On earth, suffering produces a sweeter intimacy and dependence on God; in heaven, it can produce a deeper enjoyment of His presence. Eternally, all suffering will be removed. As J R. R. Tolkien says, every sad thing will come untrue in heaven.
His is a good, good Father. And that necessitates that all of His children suffer to some degree. May we count it all joy.
William Cowper summarizes suffering nicely in his hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.”
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines Of never failing skill He treasures up His bright designs And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread Are big with mercy and shall break In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err And scan His work in vain; God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.
Check out Chris Tomlin’s rendition of the song “Good, Good Father”: