I’ve had a number of conversations recently with people asking why they are going through something. On some level many believe it’s a test. However, tests are actions for omniscient beings. Why would God give a painful test to find out an answer he already knows?
Some tests are merely exercises to find out how much we know – or perhaps who we are. However, some tests – those we have often called trials – are tests that actually make us into something rather than just reveal what we already are. That is, we become something in the test – it forces a choice and therefore a definition of identity and character.
This doesn’t change the issue of omniscience. God still knows the end from the beginning. It just changes the status of whether or not we needed the test. If the test merely reveals what is already true about us – we might question why God needs to test us. But if the test, or trial, actually produces something in us – then it may prove necessary even if painful.
The minute we slightly refine the definition of the word test – the use of testing in God’s providence becomes much more understandable and no longer susceptible to the objection of God causing unnecessary suffering.
A second, and much less popular explanation of God’s testing is in the book of Job, and probably also in Ephesians 3. Here, God is allowing someone to be tested not to increase his own knowledge, but to increase the knowledge of other beings – whether people, or in both scriptural cases mentioned, Angels and Demons – nonhuman intelligent beings of unspecified numbers and classifications.
This may not be the first explanation of trials that we would run to, but it’s clearly in the Scriptures, and God does not seem inclined to apologize for it.
Until we begin to place some of these explanations in our doctrine of God’s sovereignty – his rulership over all creation – we will not be able to deal with many of the difficult things that happen in human life. We would get emotionally stuck on the why question and only grow more bitter of heart.
In one sense, Christ has already asked the why question once and for all for us – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He knew the answer to that question was in the Psalm he was quoting: Psalm 22. The answer in that song is the same answer that Jesus gives to his own why questions in the garden of Gethsemane – “not my will but yours be done.”
That is, he trusted his why questions not just to God’s love – but to God’s loving PROVIDENCE. He didn’t just trust the God who is love, but the God who is loving as the holy ruler King of all creation and all existence. It is because God is both completely sovereign and entirely loving that one can trust him in the most difficult trials, trusting that they are not in vain, and they are not allowed at the hands of a careless father. And yet, we don’t forget for a moment that all of our sufferings and the purpose in them are completely mystifying to us, and are easily mistaken by many to be entirely random and without purpose.
But, if the sovereign God seems too far away mentally for us to cling to, we can look to the Savior who suffered most completely and most unjustly, who cried out in his agonizing abandonment on the cross, and yet who said concerning that work, “not my will but yours be done.”
Scripture teaches that it was through this testing trial that Christ became our Savior, and I suspect it is only through our trials that we will become what we will become.