Who won the cup final in 1957? All correct answers will receive a…well…they won’t receive anything (except perhaps a big smile).
Welcome to all you fine people out there who are brave enough to consider the causes of suffering rather than trying to ignore them. Part six of my up-dated series on suffering (first published in 2011) concerns the subject of testing…
Like it or not, we’re all tested at different times in our lives-perhaps throughout our lives-believers and non-believers. Our faith, our character and our motives are tested by the circumstances we face in life, by temptation to sin and to do wrong, and (this one is difficult for many believers to accept) by God himself. Our enemy the devil also tests us, inasmuch as God allows him to.
Original Greek and Hebrew words in the Bible translated ‘test’, ‘trial’ and ‘tempt’ can be used interchangeably: they have related meanings. They’re often only selected by the motive of the source.
Mankind has been tested from the beginning of creation. I’ve already discussed in part four how Adam and Eve failed the simplest test they could have had- that of resisting the temptation to eat the one forbidden fruit compared to the many that they were allowed to enjoy freely. Remember that God intentionally placed that tree of forbidden fruit in the garden where they lived. He could have left it out, if he wanted: see part two of the series.
Later in scripture we see the struggles of the Israelites, as they wandered in the desert after failing to enter the promised land by faith. Over and over we’re told that they were being tested:
“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 God provided Manna, he said, “In this way I will test them and see if they will follow my instructions” (Exodus 16:4).
Once they were finally in the 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 testing. He said “I know, my God, that you test the heart…” (1 Chronicles 29:17) and he even invited the Lord to test him:
Test me. O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind (Psalm 26:2).
Testing was not just an Old Testament phenomenon. James 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” …“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 (James 1:2, 3,12).
Even Jesus Christ himself was led by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1).
It’s during the hard times that God, and others, and perhaps we ourselves, see what’s really inside us, and the true condition of our hearts. I’m not trying to say that every hardship we face is sent by God, or that he’s going around like some malevolent, hateful ogre. We need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit so that we can hope to discern the reason for our problems, and then we need to have the correct, godly attitude towards our situation, as Job did.
Sometimes God doesn’t have to do anything to test us: our real character is shown in the way we respond to everyday trials which come to us by the laws of nature and the nature of man. Whether our trials are expressly sent from God or not, He allows them to happen, and all trials can reveal our true character!
Some people make the mistake of blaming the devil for all their problems. Everything pleasant is from God, and everything unpleasant is from Satan, they think. Even when they sin they blame the devil. This is the “devil made me do it” mentality, and it’s not scriptural. The devil can’t make true believers do anything, and very often our problems are our own fault. That’s not to say that our enemy doesn’t ever test us: he does. Sometimes he’s the one to put that proverbial spanner/wrench in the works of our life. Satan tested Job with severe suffering. However, it’s important to remember that he had to get God’s permission to do it (Job 1: 6-12).
Job was severely tested when Satan decided he should be, and though Job was a righteous man 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).
Jesus said to Peter, “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31). Jesus didn’t say that he refused Satan’s request, but that he was defending Peter’s faith.
We’re all being “shaken” and sifted like wheat. The good grain is kept, the weeds disposed of. In the future all of humanity 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).