Have you ever thought about what is the point of trials in our life? Why exactly God allows trials to happen if He must know how it will come out? Does he allow only believers to undergo trials or unbelievers too? What should our attitude be towards trials? As usual, the best thing we can do is to have a look in the Bible.
If we look through all verses in the Bible that deal with trials (circa 70 places in total), we find that only believers are involved (people who know and profess the only true God). It is logical. The trials we talk about are always related to faith (trust) in God. Now I jump ahead a bit to tell you a 'daring' idea: "Trials are to be a vehicle for God's blessing!"
The first trial was the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, which did not turn out well. The first mention of a trial in the Bible refers to God telling Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac.
Genesis 22, 1-18 (VW): And it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, Abraham! And he said, Here am I. And He said, Take now your son, your only one Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you. And Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. And on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from a distance. And Abraham said to his young men, Stay here with the donkey; and the lad and I will go over there and do homage, and we will come back to you. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, My father. And he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering. So the two of them went together. And they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. And the Angel of Jehovah called to him from the heavens and said, Abraham! Abraham! And he said, Here am I. And He said, Do not lay your hand upon the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only one from Me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. And Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, Jehovah Jireh; as it is said to this day, In the Mount of Jehovah it shall be seen. And the Angel of Jehovah called to Abraham a second time out of the heavens, and said: By Myself I have sworn, says Jehovah, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only one; that in blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your Seed shall possess the gate of His enemies. And in your Seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.
It is a very powerful story, isn't it? I have thought today about what a terrible trauma it had to be for Isaac when, having fettered him, his beloved and loving father put him on the stack of wood and was about to cut his throat and set the stack on fire. I do not want to dwell on it at all. I believe God stepped in to relieve Isaac from the trauma. Do you think Abraham counted on God stopping him in the last moment? No, it was not the case. We can learn about Abraham's thinking from the Letter to Hebrews:
Hebrews 11, 17-19 (VW): By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, In Isaac your Seed shall be called, reckoning that God had the power to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
We can see here that Abraham's faith was based on the trust that God is able to bring Isaac to life again. Nowadays Abraham might expect life sentence for attempted murder, nevertheless, his obedience and faith in God had enormous consequences for our time. God promised not only that he would have many offspring but also that in his offspring, all nations of the world would be blessed. Yes, you are right! One of his offspring (according to the flesh) was also Jesus of Nazareth, God's Son! Try to think it over. Was it not the case that, willing to sacrifice his son, Abraham made a model of what God would do for people some centuries later? As if God had said: "If you, Abraham, were willing to sacrifice your beloved son for me, I will - when the time comes - do the same for you, humans.
Can you see how the obedience and faith of one person was able to influence the history of mankind? As you can see, the aim was not to take life away from a young boy, thus depriving a more than hundred year old man of his joy, rather, to offer opportunity for receiving God's blessing. Please read once more the last two sentences of our story. God says he will bless Abraham and his offspring because he has obeyed His voice. The underlying principle of trials is that we are supposed to obey what God tells us (whether directly or through His written word - the Bible). This is the way we are supposed to demonstrate our trust in God. If we believe God, we will find that He is really trustworthy, which will push us forward in our knowledge of Him. And we will receive a blessing as a bonus for a fulfilled task :-)
Exodus 15, 25-26 (VW): And he cried out unto Jehovah, and Jehovah showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet. There He made a statute and an ordinance for them. And there He tested them, and said: If you diligently heed the voice of Jehovah your God and do what is right in His eyes, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought upon the Egyptians. For I am Jehovah who heals you.
As you can see, it is a similar situation, in which God even makes no secret about the "reason" of the trial. He said plainly to the Israelites that if they obeyed the result would be a blessing - no diseases. God introduced Himself to the Israelites as "יהוה רפה" (Jehovah Rapha) - i.e. "Jehovah - the physician".
Let's have a look at other verses:
Deuteronomy 8, 2-5 (VW): And you shall remember that Jehovah your God has led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you had not known nor had your fathers known, to make you know that man does not live by bread alone; but man lives by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of Jehovah. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. You have come to know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so Jehovah your God chastens you.
Here we can see another reason for trials - to find what really is in our hearts! It is easy to praise God when we are well, but only a trial, a distress, reveals what really is in our heart. Will we be grateful to God for everything He gives us even if we are diagnosed with cancer, our spouse leaves us, we get bankrupt or we "simply" lose our job? Only then we will see what really is in our heart. The trial is not as much for God (because He knows us as well as our hearts) as it is for our own enlightenment.
Let's have a look only several verses ahead:
Deuteronomy 8, 16 (VW): who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers had not known, to humble you and to test you, to do you good in the end;
Also here you can see that a trial is God's vehicle for His blessing!
Isaiah 48, 10-11 (VW): Behold, I have refined you, but not with silver; I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for My own sake I will do it; for why should My name be defiled? And I will not give My glory to another.
God sometimes allows us to suffer to test (trial) and transfer us. And He does it not only for our sake, rather, for His own sake. As His disciples we are supposed to reveal His character (but this will be discussed some other time).
Zechariah 13, 9 (VW): And I will bring the third part through the fire, and I will refine them as silver is refined. And I will try them as gold is tried. They shall call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, It is My people, and they shall say, Jehovah is my God.
While it may not please you to hear it, only trials and tribulations can transform us in such a way that we could please God.
1 Corinthians 10, 13 (VW): No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also provide a way out, that you may be able to bear it.
Here you can see part of what happens in our lives. I'll try to show a wider picture of it. Satan is trying to destroy, capture, enslave and kill us. God does not allow him to succeed, He "measures out" his attempts. God knows exactly what we are able to bear if we trust Him. Thus He uses Satan's attempts to foster our progress. Is it not wonderful to know that no trial of us must end up in fiasco, that we can overcome every trial with God's help? Is it not fantastic to know that behind every problem of ours is God (not that He creates the problems) who wants to guide us through so that we could get to know Him better and He could bless us in the end?
1 Timothy 3, 8-10 (VW): Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless.
And here is another "reason" for trials. The preceding verses contain Paul's explanation of what is required from "bishop". The above-mentioned rule applies not only to the service of bishops and deacons but of every servant of God! Nobody will receive a big service unless tested and proven trustworthy. You may complete a biblical school or the faculty of theology, however, this does not make you a servant of God. This may help you to have a post in the church, an office, however, what is important is whether it is a service given by God. And you cannot get it without being tested! And the more important and difficult your service is expected to be and the more people are expected to come under its influence, the more thorough your trials will be! Even Jesus did not receive a task from God before he underwent 40 days of the most exhaustive testing in the desert. Let's have a brief look at that event:
Luke 4, 13-14 (VW): And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region.
James 1, 2-4 (VW): My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfecting work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
James encourages us to celebrate our trials as opportunities to grow, to enhance our endurance. Yes, we do not need to cry over every problem if we know that all our problems are "measured out precisely" and are solvable (by God).
James 1, 12-17 (VW): Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lusts and enticed. Then, when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death. Do not be led astray, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no change or shadow of turning.
Here you can see what I have mentioned before. God is usually not the originator of trials. Usually it is our old sinful nature what makes the problems. We receive good things from God the Father!
1 Peter 1, 3-7 (VW): Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in Heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the testing of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found unto praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,
It is not often heard in the present-day church of the promises related to our 'inheritance in heavens'. As if we were saying: "Oh no, it is good enough for us to be in the New Jerusalem..." However, the first church had different attitude. For the first church, these promises were a source of joy, hope and strength to overcome hardships (trials). What about to follow their example?
As we could see, trials are only for believers (there is no point in testing the faith of unbelievers). The aim of trials is not to destroy us, rather, to reveal our true attitudes (and weaknesses). If we go through a trial successfully, trusting in God, we usually get some other blessing in addition to better knowledge of God. God measures out precisely the "harshness" of the trial (though he does not create it). That is why we can know that we are able overcome any trial we may face. The verse Romans 8, 28: And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Yes, if we stand a test, it always brings an asset and a blessing for us. And we will not be entrusted with a service from God without being proven reliable (overcoming trials). Most of our trials relates to our sinful nature. We do not need to and should not cry because of trials, these can be a reason for joy. It is always a vehicle for our growth in endurance, faith and knowledge of God.
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