by Rob Tims
The site 99percentinvisible.org once reported that Citicorp Center in Manhattan was, at 59 stories, the seventh-tallest building in the world when built in 1977. You can pick it out of the New York City skyline by its 45-degree angled top, but it’s the base of the building that really makes the tower so unique. The bottom nine stories are stilts.
The design originated with the need to accommodate St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, which occupied one corner of the building site at 53rd Street and Lexington Avenue in midtown Manhattan.The stilts suspend the building over St. Peter’s church. But rather than putting the stilts in the corners, they had to be at the midpoint of each side to avoid the church. Having stilts in the middle of each side made the building less stable, so architect and structural engineer designed a chevron bracing structure—rows of eight-story V’s that served as the building’s skeleton. But the chevron bracing structure made the building exceptionally light for a skyscraper, so it would sway in the wind. So they also added a tuned mass damper, a 400-ton device that keeps the building stable.
It was an ingenious, cutting-edge design, and everything seemed just fine until the engineer received a phone call in 1978 from an undergraduate architecture student making a bold claim about the building—namely, that it could blow over in the wind. The student was studying Citicorp Center as part of his thesis and had found that the building was particularly vulnerable to quartering winds (winds that strike the building at its corners). Normally, buildings are strongest at their corners, and it’s the perpendicular winds (winds that strike the building at its face) that cause the greatest strain. But this was not a normal building. The engineer had accounted for the perpendicular winds, but not the quartering winds.
To be clear, all was repaired and the building is totally safe, even in quartering winds. A little more testing can go a long way toward producing a better building, and as we see in James 1:2-4, more testing is the primary way God grows our faith.
Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
We experience many emotions during trials: frustration, desperation, loneliness, hopelessness, agony, loss. And to be sure, the exiled Christians of Syria and Palestine knew great trials (poverty and religious persecution are especially prevalent topics in James, suggesting that these were of their many trials). And yet James launches into his letter with the admonition to consider such trials as “great joy” … “all joy” … that is, PURE JOY. James’s point is not that we only have joy and nothing else during trials, but that we should have an intense, pure joy during such trials.
Why? Because such trials are the means by which God gives us a faith of integrity. Says Douglas Moo, “The difficulties of life are intended by God to refine our faith: heating it in the crucible of suffering so that impurities might be refined away and so that it might become pure and valuable before the Lord. The “testing of faith” here, then, is not intended to determine whether a person has faith or not; it is intended to purify faith that already exists.”
And what does a more pure faith look like? A lasting one. An enduring one. A persevering one. Again, Douglas Moo: “Testing, James suggests, is intended to produce, when believers respond with confidence in God and determination to endure, a wholeness of Christian character that lacks nothing in the panoply of virtues that define a godly character.”
To be clear, not all such trials are as weighty as a disease or religious persecution. God tries us rightly. I remember the incredulity I expressed to a contractor installing my kitchen countertops about 15 years ago. The contractor was doing it for free, and the guy installing it was too … but hey, what did I care? How was I supposed to microwave my lunch without countertops? To which the godly installer replied, “Sounds like one of those times when the Lord decided you needed more character.”
The guy knew I had faith, but he also knew it was relatively untested. I’m thankful for the little trials because much bigger ones have come and will come.
And all of them will give me a faith of integrity.
Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.