Like it or not, we’re all tested at different times in our lives- perhaps for all of our lives. ..
Some testing is painful. Some is in the form of temptation and can lead to suffering if we give in to it. Original Greek and Hebrew words translated ‘test’, ‘trial’ and ‘tempt’ can be used interchangeably: they have related meanings. They are often only selected by the motive of the source. Life is in many ways one big test or examination. At the end of it, the papers are collected and we are graded on our response and our performance. I’m not preaching a gospel of works for salvation here, but there is no escaping the fact that we are all tested to see what we are really made of.
We first see testing in the Bible in the early chapters of Genesis. I have already discussed how Adam and Eve failed the simplest test they could have had- that of resisting one fruit out of the many that they were allowed to enjoy freely. Their failure cost them a life of ease, and ultimately their lives.
Later in scripture we are shown the struggles of the Israelites as they wandered in the desert, after failing to enter the promised land by faith. Over and over we are told that they were being tested. For example:
“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert, to humble you and to test you, in order to know what was in your heart” (Deuteronomy 8:2).
When you read about the wandering of the Israelites, you see that it was a very tough time for them, and when God provided Manna, he gave with it a set of instructions, and said “In this way I will test them and see if they will follow my instructions” (Exodus 16:4).
Once they were finally in their promised land, God used other nations “to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it…” (Judges 2: 22).
David was aware of this principle. He said “I know, my God, that you test the heart…” (1 Chronicles 29:17), and he even invited the Lord to do so “Test me. O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind (Psalm 26:2).
Hezekiah was tested. We read that “God left him to test him, and to know everything that was in his heart (2 Chronicles 32:31).
It’s normal for us to think that all suffering is agoinst God’s will. We almost can’t face a scripture passage like the one where God spoke to Moses, and said:
“Who gave man his mouth? Who made him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11).
This was not just an Old Testament phenomenon. Jesus’ disciples asked him why one man had been born blind. They thought one of his parents had caused it by their sin, but Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned…but this happenned so that the work of God might be displayed in his life”.
For another New Testament example, look at the words of James, who said “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:2, 3). He went on to encourage with these words “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (verse12). So you see, it’s during the hard times that God, and others, and in truth we ourselves, see what is really inside us, and what is the true condition of our hearts.
The apostle Paul was given a ‘thorn in the flesh’, by God, to torment him (2 Corinthians 12:7). Some believe this was an eye ailment, as some of Paul’s own words suggest. He pleaded repeatedly with the Lord to take it away, but God’s answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (verse 9).
Peter said, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
I’m not trying to say that every hardship we face is sent by God, or that he is going around like some malevolent, hateful ogre. I don’t agree with the common phrase “these things are sent to try us”. I think most trouble and trials are consequences of the other causes of suffering I have been writing about, or haven’t got to yet. If I drop a hot cup of coffee in my lap, it’s because I had an accident: the cup has slipped from my hand because I failed to hold it properly, and gravity has done its work. It didn’t happen because God knocked the coffee from my hand in order to see if I’ll swear and get angry with Him. The Father “sees the sparrow fall” (Matthew 6:26), but he doesn’t make it fall. Neither does he stop it from falling.
Even naturally occurring problems serve to test our faith. God sometimes doesn’t have to do anything to test us: our real character is shown in the way we respond to trials which come to us by the laws of nature and the nature of man. Whether our trials are expressly sent from God or occur naturally, He allows them to happen, and all trials can reveal our true character! This is always something for us to grasp when we encounter suffering.
Christ warned the church in Smyrna, “the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death…” (Revelation 2:10). This verse highlights another source of testing or perhaps another tool of testing- Satan. I will be discussing his role in suffering in the next part of the series, but for now it’s instructive to see that he is the originator of some of the suffering that we see all around us. Some branches of Christianity believe that he is responsible for all testing and suffering, from losing ones keys to living in immorality. If only we would ‘bind him‘ by faith, all our troubles would be over, and we would be healthy, wealthy and successful. This is the “The devil made me do it” mentality, and it’s not scriptural. While it’s true that Satan tested Job with severe suffering, he had to get God’s permission to do it (Job 1: 6-12). When we get clumsy, or fall into sin, it is our own fault “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed (James 1:14). Christ himself was led by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1).
Job was severely tested when Satan decided he should be. Job was a righteous man, and yet God allowed Satan to inflict all kinds of horrors on him. Satan had claimed that Job only had faith because things were going well for him (Job 1: 9-11). Apparently God agreed to the test, and only made Satan stop short at killing Job (2:6). This story is rather chilling for us- it makes us almost want to avoid being overly righteous, so that Satan will not pick on us for his next test. We can’t smugly claim that under the New Testament Satan has no power to test us- the warning to the Smyrna church is enough to discount that idea.
In the future the entire earth is going to face a time of severe trial, known commonly as ‘the time of Tribulation’. Jesus said that this “trial is going to come upon the whole world, to test those who live on the earth” (Revelation 3:10), We can see in other scripture passages that this ‘hour of trial’ is not sent by Satan (although he certainly plays a leading role), but by God himself, because He has said “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens” (Hebrews 12:26).