In the Greek, “Count it all joy” means, by way of commandment, that we are to let joy or rejoicing lead the way, to let the mind esteem joy when we fall into and are surrounded by varied and diverse testings of faith. Faith testings that are from God and are to prove and strengthen our faith (Jam 1:2-4). Other testings are related to temptations which come by way of Satan and are meant to break our relationship with God, harm us, create doubts, and destroy our faith.
If one’s pen runs out of ink and lacks another instrument to write with, is that a test of God? No! If one is ill for a day, is that always God testing to prove one’s faith? No! If a person doesn’t have the money for a new, needed car, is that always a testing of faith by God? No, it could be a consequence of one’s poor decisions regarding money management. Understanding the origin and purpose of every pain in life is far from simple.
If “count it all joy” was meant to be applied to everyone for every occasion, then why was Jesus severely stressed and in agony in the Garden and ask for a way out? And why was Paul afraid (2 Cor 7:5)? Does anyone seriously think a person should have “any” joy, let alone “all” joy, in response to being sexually abused? We do not respond with joy in most evil circumstances. But there is an exception to one kind of evil — more on that in a moment.
Again, a pen running out of ink and a day-long illness is not a testing of faith, but it is a part of the whole-world “groanings” of Romans chapter eight. And so, joy, which is to lead the way in our thinking and feelings, is not being commanded of us when we enter into the general groanings of life. Also, count it all joy is not our response if we suffer when we have done something wrong, but only when we suffer for Christ, for our spiritual beliefs, or under persecution.
The attitude of being joyful and being “blessed” in suffering for God is possible because the “Spirit of glory and” the Spirt “of God rests on you.” (1 Pet 4:12-19). In suffering for God we find joy possible not in the circumstances of pain itself, but in the hopeful responses of God. And joy can be present in suffering for our faith because we will be rewarded by God at the bema seat of Christ regarding our earthly deeds (2 cor 5:10).
What the false theology of “count it all joy in every life circumstance” does is unhealthily move a person to avoid or deny troubled emotions and questions, which leaves a person with unreconciled, negatively influential, and often unconscious emotional energies that will impact one’s future, such as a person wondering why they cannot trust God (or others) more whole-heartedly or why they cannot experience more of the comforting presence of God.
Cutting off emotions is cutting off truth, a felt reality, a part of one’s self, and that is contrary to Scripture’s wisdom and commands to face, hold, and speak the truth or reality. While we are never to ignore our God-given emotions, we don’t permit them to rule our lives either. He gave to us the capacity to feel. Emotions are a gift, such as guilt (a warning device), or those we have corrupted, such as a care gone to far that turns into anxiety. They are all worthy of our attention, understanding, and resolve. Further, those who believe they should count it all joy but can’t do it will almost always experience a harmful, weighty guilt. In turn, that guilt creates anxiety because guilt anticipates that justice must be accounted for by being chastised or punished, sooner or later.
As an alternative to the bad theology of count it all joy in every life circumstance, consider this paraphrased, Greek-based version of James 1:2-3, “Let joy go first in your thinking and feelings when you are fully embraced by various trials and temptations that are related to the testing of your faith (not the general pains of life) because they grow your ability and confidence to bear up under pressure from being distressed. And in verse 12 it says (paraphrased), Happy is the one who perseveres under testings of faith because he will receive what the Lord has promised to all who show they love Him, the ultimate prize, the victorious “crown of life”, of salvation.” Our testings of faith both grieve us and give us an occasion for rejoicing, unlike the general groanings of life, which grieve us and may have nothing to do with testing our faith, Rejoicing, when appropriate, helps us overcome the pain of faith testings.