"Count it all joy...": Is it a sin not to be happy about suffering? (James 1:2)


Salvete, omnes!

In James 1:2, we are told to “count it all joy” when we experience suffering because of its positive spiritual benefits.

So, then, are we not at all to feel sad/angry/bad/depressed/any negative emotion whatever when we suffer? Why or why not? After all, James does say here that we are to count it all joy, not just partially or a little joyous, but, apparently, completely joyous.

I mean, I can see that there is obviously a positive side to suffering and I am well and good with that, as, of course, it produces positive spiritual benefit, but the actual suffering itself can still very natural produce negative emotions/a negative reaction in a person which I always thought was perfectly natural and acceptable. Is it? Should it be?

I can immediately think of at least 2 examples of people in the Scriptures being sad at suffering. I am thinking (possibly?) of Jesus mourning as His friends mourned over the death of Lazaurs. I can think of Him lamenting over His People’s refusal to come under His tender care. I can think of Paul mourning over even the potential loss of one of his friends and fellow-workers in the Gospel. Paul also expressed a sad/discontented(?) longing to see his churches when he was sometimes prevented from coming to them. And, I am sure thaere are many more examples that others could come up with that I have not mentioned here.

So, what is the deal here? Why does there seem to be this contradiction?

Is perhaps Paul “exaggerating” or “hyperbolizing” here to make a point? Maybe he means that we should count it “much” joy when we suffer because of the positive effects? Or, maybe he is contrasting our usual attitudes toward suffering very sharply, again, in terms of hyperbole, to indicate that our attitude can often be wrong in this, only seeing the immediate suffering/doom-and-gloom?

Indeed, if God expected us not at all to feel negative emotions at suffering, surely He wouldn’t have told us that it was a sin to cause other people to suffer? After all, if we tried it and if ideally the other person xperienced no ill emotional effects from it, our action would indeed be moot.

If a person dies, should we rejoice in it since it can strengthen us spiritually? Should we not mourn at all? If we are ill or disabled, should we not leap for joy at every opportunity since it will only make us stronger?

Gratias multas.


No emotion is right or wrong. It’s there neither right nor wrong to “feel” anything.


Joy is an emotion, and we are seemingly commanded to “count it all joy”… If we disobye the command, we are doing wrong, are we not?


In a similar thread to thsi one, I pointed out also that, if God had wanted everyone simply to “buck up” and be joyful even at hte worst suffering in this world, He would have simply taught this rather than being so serious about the sin of causing suffering to others.

Still, we have that pesky problem with “all” in our passage in question. If we are to count suffering “all” joy, then surely there is no room for any negative emotion to exist along with it? Am I missing something here?

While I can agree that we should rejoice in the positive spiritual effects that suffering causes, it just seems to me somehow wrong and even unnatural that we should react with complete and utter joy to a negative event per se. Does God really expect this of us? Why or why not? Any Scriptural proof on either side of this issue that you can give?


You cannot limit “joy” to the emotions. The martyrs who went to their deaths were most likely scared, but nonetheless, joyfully sang praises to God, because they knew their reward was at hand. Their joy, was therefore not a mere emotion, but a choice, an act of the will. That’s why we are commanded to count it all joy, because it is something we choose. What we feel is not up to us.


A common theme in Christianity is that, while we should not seek out suffering, we should recognize that when we do there is a silver lining, as in suffering we can be united with Christ’s own suffering on the cross. Catholics often tell their children to “offer it up” (to God) when they get scrapes and bruises, and many carry it into adulthood and with other trials we face.

James was writing to a persecuted people. And people also have to deal normal illnesses and injuries, too. Christians have their unique approach to suffering. James was writing encouraging words. However, the extreme interpretation in your first post goes well beyond what is understood to be James’ intentions.


As human beings, we cannot make ourselves feel a certain way; so no.




To comment on this, it’s largely about perspective. Do we give up on God in the face of suffering, or do we retain our faith and hope?


But, what about hte “all” in this verse? No-one seems to have been able to answer my question about the “all” either in this post or elsewhere where I have brought it up.


Retaining our faith through trials is one thing. Being joyful about trials is another.


A touch of hyperbole.

Jesus himself was fond of hyperbole. We do not literally pluck out our eyes, cut off our hands, and make ourselves eunuch (well, except Origen).

James is asking his audience to try to embrace the suffering that comes their way, to use it as an opportunity, to see the joy in that.

I’m not really sure was this strict literalist approach is attempting to accomplish, or why it’s a preferable reading to the one proposed by the others in this topic, or why this should be taken alone outside of the rest of the gospel message and the exegesis and teachings of the Church fathers and the Church herself.

Edit: What’s James’ intent here. Does it sound like he is issuing a firm commandment? Does that make sense? Or does it make more sense as encouraging words, in which case we should understand it differently. The author’s intent here shapes the reading.


I never said my approach was preferable to me. I am only trying to test my own understanding to make sure that it is solid and correct.

I had wondered whether the statement was hyperbole in some way and even possibly a Hebrew idiom with some other meaning, perhaps, “count it very much joy”, or, “rather, you might want to take the perspective of seeing joy in it”. Perhaps, in the latter case, James uses “all” to completely reverse our traditional notions of suffering as entirely bad?

Someone else mentioned that we are not to seek out suffering, but, I ask you, if it produces such positive spiritual effects, why not? After all, if we have the desire to flee from suffering, are we not missing any positive spiritual effects that may come of it?

Perhaps what James and others are saying is that, while suffering in and of itself is contrary to “the Good” and is thus to be avoided if possible, when it does happen, there is good that is almost (if not entirely) guaranteed to come of it and that, perhaps, God’s Providence has permitted these kinds of things because of their positive effects?

Perhaps it is permissible during the situation to lament your difficulty but, afterward, you will come to realize the strengthening effects it had on you?

Let us, if we could, try to take an example to help me (and all of us) better understand this issue:

Your girl/boyfriend leaves you and, let’s just say for the sake of argument, that he/she is the one objectively in the wrong. Is it true, then, that you have every right to lament, and even deeply, for your situation, technically, is contrary to the Good and, ultimately, results from sin in this world which is contrary to the Good? Ideally, relationships are to be harmonious. Yes, it will ultimately make you stronger in the end, but that does not blunt the seriousness of the sin and even the seriousness with which you may feel it, correct? The event in and of itself may be felt negatively. Should, indeed, the idea that you will be strengthened ultimately blunt to whatever(?) extent, even the negative reaction that you feel right after this has happened? Are indeed the positive effects said to come of suffering parimarily related to the spiritual life and faith? So, if your faith might have originally been rather weak, it is likely to be strengthened as you walk with God even when you suffer? I suppose I’m just trying to understand how much suffering one should fel in times like these and how much joy based on the encouraging words with which we are here dealing.


This sounds right to me. And if we .ca. see the strengthening effects during, so much the better!

And while we shouldn’t be inflicting bodily harm, fasting and committments to do certain actions are ways we can “mortify the flesh”, if you will. And James was writing in the age of literal martyrdom. Since those days have passed for most, we have found appropriate ways to be martyrs in different ways.

Also, because you may have missed the edit to my previous post…

What’s James’ intent here. Does it sound like he is issuing a firm commandment? Does that make sense? Or does it make more sense as encouraging words, in which case we should understand it differently? The author’s intent here shapes the take-away.


I think my question in the last post softened 1:2 too much. Certainly there is some instruction or guidance here, but I do not believe it goes so far as to be an absolute commandment that makes feeling pain/fear/etc… sins. That does not seem to be his intent or fit what we know of Christianity.


But, yet, it does seem in some way to be lessening the sadness/pain/etc.

The question is, perhaps, how much? How much less pain are we to feel at suffering because of what James says here?

After all, I always thought it was taught that, as long as we feel sadness/pain/whatever proportional to the suffering (at least as far as our own persuasions are concerned), i.e., in proper moderation, that was fine.

I mean, I just don’t see how the statement in this verse alleviates the immediate pain that originates directly from the suffering experienced. Sure, it will ultimately make you stronger, but losing a loved one, for instance, is, I would argue, still just as painful and, arguably, should be(?). After all, again, I hate to use the “such is only natural” argument, but, yes. “Natural” in the sense of what God ordains can be a good thing, of course! One could argue that God has ordained it “natural” to us to not like bad things and like good things.

I still think I’m just really confused about this whole “joy in suffering” notion that you very often see throughout Scripture, not just here.


My NAB bible has “trials” for “sufferings”. This is consistent with what Jesus expressed about carrying our cross(trials/sufferings) daily and following him.

I believe it hinges on our realizing we are in his kingdom when we experience trials, and therefore this brings us joy to understand that we are one with our crucified saviour. Similar to the martyrs who gave glory to God and sang songs on their way to martyrdom.


I think when Paul is saying count it all joy he is thinking of the reward for suffering for Christ. I don’t think he is saying we should all become masochistic and take pleasure in the suffering itself.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.