Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tests, Trials and Tribulations

I have come to an understanding that there is a difference between tests, trials, and tribulations. (ref James 1:1-18). I would like to share that understanding and would appreciate your response. Perhaps I'm mistaken. Maybe you have had experiences that illustrate some of this understanding or even refute it.

First, a test is a temporary assessment of knowledge base (both mental and spiritual). For almost twenty years with students from preschool through doctoral programs, I started each new class with an explanation of the purpose and value of testing. Tests are not punishments. Tests are mini-revelations of what the student has learned so far and what they still need to learn.

In my undergraduate program, I had a class on Piagetian theory of child development which made so much sense in light of what I had experienced with young children that I became like a sponge. I wanted to learn all I could. I entered the final exam with a class average of 100. The final exam had 200 items on it. When the grades were posted, I realized I had missed two items so I called the prof to ask for an appointment. She was amazed but she generously made the appointment. She invested 45 minutes of her time to explain to me how I had missed the items and how better to recognize the two elements when I saw them in a child's behavior. Five years after my graduation, I saw her again and stopped to remind her of our conversation. I reported to her that one of those items I missed on the test I had seen in a child I taught. Had she not spent that time with me, I would have been less equipped to meet that one child's needs.

I share this to relate its relevance to our spiritual life. If we "miss" some item in our spiritual testing and do not recognize the error, we are subject to repeat it. Sometimes, we think we have learned a spiritual truth only to find ourselves facing a trial which requires a firmer grasp of the miss we had in our testing.

Secondly, James assures us in verse two that we will experience "various trials" that will include testing. He says "Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance" (vv2-3). As we look at this verse, we can understand that trials are a prolonged testing (I think of this as practice and retesting) intended to produce endurance.

In secular terms, these would confirm that the original testing (temporary assessment of knowledge base) challenges whether we have a head knowledge of the concept. Trials, then, would logically test whether we have an application base. Can we use the facts we know? I may know all the basic facts of mathematics but be unable to make a practical application. For example, is I don't realize that percentages and decimals and fractions all are expressions of division of the whole of something; I will be able to calculate problems someone else provides me but will not be able to apply those to real life situations.

Lastly, endurance through the trials prepares us to face the temptations which God allows us to experience. That does not mean that God tempts us. Look at vv 12-15. God knows our nature and He knows the nature of Satan. James says (v 14) that each of us is tempted when all of three things happens:
(a) we are drawn away
(b) we are enticed by our own evil desires
(c) our desires conceive sin.

The most incredible example of this is King David. He first was "drawn away" from the battles his army was fighting to seek comfort in his palace instead of staying with his armies. Then, he "happened" to see Bethsheba as she bathed. Instead of avoiding the sight, he sought it out and his voyeurism matured into not one but two evil plans. The first was to deceive the husband about the king's child which she was carrying. The second was to kill the husband. David later repented of his sin and bore the consequences in a way that honored God. How much easier it would have been to resist the temptation in the first place.

Jesus, in the wilderness, provided us with the perfect example of how to deal with temptation. By focusing His Attention on His Father's Word and Will; Jesus resisted both the tools Satan uses to tempt us.

All the way back to Adam and Eve, Satan used the same two tools he uses today: Satan's deceit and our desire. In Eve's case, Satan led her to doubt God's Word to them (Gen 3). He began with, "Did God really say?" He started with making her doubt her memory of what God had said. Then, he led her to doubt God's Motives. "God knows when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." There's just enough truth in that statement to make her doubt God's Motives. So she succumbed to her own doubt of God's Faithfulness.

The second tool Satan uses is the persuasion of our own desires. "Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom." As I read that verse and the next, the three desires the woman would use with Adam were very clear (good to look at, good to taste and source of wisdom). Scripture just said "she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it." This is the same husband who had also been instructed not to eat it so it's possible to believe that the persuasion of desire was an adequate tool to get him to eat.

We're no different today.

Several years ago, there was a comedian whose most famous line was "The Devil made me do it." I cannot read his heart so I don't know his purpose in using that line. I do know that the Devil has no power to "make us do" anything that we do not want to do. We were given free will. Sometimes we use it. Sometimes we abuse it. But, my understanding is that tests of our faith are the first step after conversion to prepare us for the temptations which God's enemy will deliver to us. The second step in preparing us to overcome temptations is trials which produce endurance to resist Satan's deceits and our own willful desires.

God allowed Satan to tempt His Only Son. Matt 4:1 "Then, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."

But, God provided His Son with His Word to rebuke Satan and we are assured that He still provides us with the means to overcome deceit and desire.

I Cor 10:13 "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so that you are able to bear it."

Although we will experience testing, trials, and temptation, God is there every step of the way and He has good reason for providing us with the testing and trials and allowing us to be tempted. Every athlete knows that to win the marathon (life), it's not enough to know how to run. We must build endurance as well so; when the race continues to challenge us, we are prepared.

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