I was asked a really good question, which was:
Does God test us?
If so, how do you square that with being loved? A loving father wouldn’t test his children, but rather trust them? And why would he do it when he already knows our hearts??? And what is involved in a trial…?
If no, then how does that square with e.g. Abraham and Isaac?
The short and simple answer is YES, God tests us… And the most famous example is precisely in the Old Testament, where God tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac.
Then 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.
But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”
So he said, “Here I am.”
And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me!”
This story is probably the story where matters come the most to a head in terms of God testing us.
How do you square that with being loved? A loving father wouldn’t test his children, but rather trust them?
God is a loving God, but he is also “selfish”, meaning He does not allow any other gods in addition to Himself – and He is just, so we MUST follow God’s rules – rather than our own.
Since our mind is just a “human mind”, which is based in time, place, and dimension, it is just really difficult to understand the paradox that God can do all things and knows all things. He can see into the future, and God knows our innermost heart and motives (Psalms 17:3 + Romans 8:27 + Hebrews 4:12)… but at the same time, He needs to test us…?? Does that make sense? No – not in our thinking! BUT, that being said, we must understand that God CAN see the future… but He often chooses NOT to do so. God looks into our hearts as far as our relationship with Him and our motives, but He chooses NOT to look into it as it relates to the future.
BEFORE you continue reading, it is important to understand that Satan just loves to attack us Christians!! And if he can make it look like something is just God testing us, then he has reached his goal! Because that way many become angry at God and they fail to understand Him, or they turn it inward, saying “God doesn’t care about me” – and then you end up NOT taking up the fight against Satan and not applying the promises Jesus has given us. You see, it is not God’s nature to “just” pour on the trials to see how much we can handle!!! God CAN choose to test us in certain situations to see how far we are willing to go for His sake.
Let’s compare it with an earthly father who has, say, five children ages 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17, who have all been faithful to their father in even the littlest things, and who have all “honored” him. This father knows very well that his children love him – and as a matter of fact, he has never had to worry about them being rebellious against him – not even behind his back… but on the other hand, the father doesn’t really know HOW far each child is willing to go. Now, it so happens that this father has a huge international firm, where one of the children will be made vice-president in 10 years, just below his father… and it must be the child that will go furthest for him in ALL things. The rest of them will certainly get their “piece of the pie”, but not as vice-president. How will he find out? He’ll do it by testing them independently of each other – not just test them, but also pressure them, perhaps play them against each other and expose them to peer pressure to see how far they are willing to go.
Is that a mean thing for this dad to do? Does he not love them when he does that sort of thing? Is he just a selfish jerk? …Actually, this dad loves all his five children very deeply – equally deeply, even, but he wants to place each of the children in the right position suitable to the individual child. Because it is one thing that they love their father and that he loves them. Let’s assume that this father knows their hearts and their motives, but what about when they are pushed to their limits – will they be as steadfast as their father hoped? What if some things happen that make them think their father is unreasonable? Will they stand by his side when none of them know what to expect? Or will they only stand by their father, if they know ahead of time what they might “win”? Will the “honor” they hold for their father prevail? Or their own selfishness?
You see, God doesn’t always choose to see into the future, although He could easily do so. In fact, He knows that the trials we go through purify us, make us alert, and strengthen us… and at the same time, he can sort out the ones who can’t do God when it really counts (separating the sheep from the goats) – because it is so easy to say with your mouth and your heart, “God, I love you – and I will never fail you”, but what happens when the accident happens? When peer pressure hits you? When people turn their backs on you because you believe in Jesus? When loneliness strikes? How far are we willing to go when we have to make a sacrifice? Would you as a last resort be willing to sacrifice your home or your family for God’s sake? Are you willing when it really hurts, and you have to go without or even sacrifice something valuable? Or will give God the stink eye and be angry at Him, because you don’t understand Him?
– These five teenagers here in my example, who are all in the process of forming their identities, have no idea what their father ‘has up his sleeve’ either. They know nothing about the amazing task/gift their father has for each of them, if they pass the test – and we don’t know either! But will we listen to our father? Or to those around us and the world?
The only other question is: Is it even necessary for God to test us? Can’t God just CHOOSE to see into the future WITHOUT testing us…? Sure, He can, but God also wants to get us ready for the task He hopes we will take upon ourselves. You see, all the trials we go through contribute to making us even stronger in our relationship with and faith in God. At the same time, something very important is happening here…. Every time we say YES to God and say NO to the world or our own selfishness and ‘attitudes’, we also give God the opportunity to bless us.
Another example in the Old Testament of how God sends tests and trials is when he leads the Israelites through the desert.
And you shall remember that the Lord your God 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. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.
Here, again, is precisely the same human paradox: God CAN see into the future, but He chooses not to do so. Also, because we get strong through trials, and through trials we also gain an understanding of other people.
There is yet another place in the Old Testament when God tests us – but in the middle of the trials, He also takes care of us and protects us.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.
We read about this quite literally in the book of Daniel, chapter 3, verses 16-26 in the story of three Judeans who refused to “fall down with their face to the ground and worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue! And whoever didn’t do it would be thrown into the fiery furnace!”