Do you think that God tests us? If he does, then does that make him unloving? To discover the answer, I want to lead you through three ideas: expectations, normal, and seasons. After this, we’ll consider the most famous “test” in the Scripture. Finally, we’ll consider what testing teaches us about God.
If you expect everyone in Boston to obey the traffic laws, then you’ll be very frustrated when you drive there! But if you set realistic expectations, then you’ll learn to take Boston driving in stride. You’ll recalibrate your expectations. If a friend does us a wrong turn, then we’re crushed. If an enemy does us a wrong turn, we don’t sweat it. Why? Because our expectations are screwed on the right way. We expect enemies to do us harm, but we don’t expect friends to.
The thoughtful person will soon realize that our understanding of expectations affects our definition of “normal.” What’s a “normal” life? Here’s what we’re likely to say, or maybe if we don’t say it, we still think it—or expect it! In a normal life, I…
- Have just a few trials—any more than just one a decade, then something is fishy.
- Have intact parents.
- Have an iPhone or some other device that costs $600 in my pocket at all times.
- Have a flatscreen—in multiple rooms of my house.
- Have cable television, satellite tv, etc.
- Have air conditioning.
- Have access to good doctors and hospitals.
- Have the opportunity to retire with sufficient money to live on.
If we lack “basic” things like these, then we think that our life is not normal. To sum, we typically set our expectations according to the following formula: normal = no suffering.
But, let’s take a moment to see what’s normal by the world’s standards. Here are some “normal” statistics:
- It’s normal to live in major cities (the world population is predominantly urban).
- It’s normal not to be able to read (84% of the world population cannot read).
- It’s normal to live on less than $10 per day (80% of the world population does).
- It’s normal to lack basic sanitation (2.6 billion people do).
- It’s normal for a child to live in poverty (there are 2.2 billion children in the world and 50% of them live in poverty—1 billion).
- It’s normal for women to spend several hours a day just collecting water (as do millions of women around the world).
We could examine many more “normal” statistics, to help us set realistic expectations. As you can see, we live way above what’s normal, even on our very worst day.
The Bible also helps us with our definition of “normal” and how to set realistic expectations for yourself. In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, we learn the pattern of the normal life. Here’s what it says:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”
Are you making time for all of these events in your life? Just as sure as the season will change from summer to fall and from fall to winter, so will you go from weeping to laughing and dancing to mourning. Going through the seasons of life is “normal.” Joy is normal and suffering is normal.
Testing is normal.
Now that we have realistic expectations on what is normal, there is something else that’s normal to go through: being tested by God. Every Christian should expect to be tested. Set your expectations accordingly. Otherwise, when it happens, you might freak out.
The first line of Genesis 22:1 is normal. “After these things, God tested Abraham.” After what things? After some seasons of blessing! God gave Abraham some land, a child, and favor with the people around him. Times were good, but the seasons of his life were about to change. Just as God was behind the blessing, so is God behind the testing. “God tested Abraham.”
What is testing? Are you ready for this definition? Testing is a privilege. You won’t find that on dictionary.com. Those that God tests, he thinks much of. Testing is a privilege. It means that God has identified something worthy in you. He only tests those who are worthy of the test. Think about the profiles of the people in the Bible that God tested. God tested Job, who was called the most righteous man on the face of the earth. God tested Zechariah in Luke’s gospel, who was also called righteous. God tested Joseph, also someone who was favored by God. The list goes on. Only those who are favored by God are tested. “God tested Abraham.” It’s normal for those who are loved by God to be tested. Testing is a privilege.
Why does God test us? God tests us to see if we are willing to follow him just for him. One scholar puts it like this: “Are you willing to follow God if there is nothing in it for you?” Do you love God just for God, or for the gifts that he gives?
That’s why God tested Abraham, to see if Abraham loved God just for God or for the gifts that God gave. What if God did not give Abraham a child, would Abraham still love God? What if God did not give Abraham land or peace with those around him, would he still love God? Would Abraham love God during the “normal” times as well as the good times? “God tested Abraham.”
This is why God tested Job, by the way, to see if Job would love him just for him. Actually, the devil accused God of not being very lovable. The devil basically said that nobody would love God just for God. He said that the only reason why humans love God is because God gives them life and blessings. But take away all that stuff, Satan smacked, and even the best human will curse you to your face. God, the devil said, You are not worth loving!
That’s why God said, “Test your little hypothesis on my servant Job.” God put his reputation on the cosmic line when he selected Job. Job had the opportunity to vindicate the goodness of God. Yes, testing is a privilege.
How about you? What if there were no promises? Would you still love God? What if there were no heaven for a reward? What if there were no justice, comforts, vindication, peace, answers, or relief from pain? Would you still love God? Would you still love him just for him?
When God tested Abraham in Genesis 22 by asking him to sacrifice his son, God was not trying to see if Abraham loved God more than his child. Rather, it was a test to see if Abraham loved God just for God. We’re not called to kill our children to prove our love for God; but we’re called to love God despite whatever “normal” we might wake up to. That’s the test.
WHAT DOES TESTING TEACH US ABOUT GOD?
The passage about Abraham in Genesis 22 teaches us some things about God.
- First, we learn that God is in control of all things, whether good or bad.
- Second, we learn that God will not give us more than we can handle. It’s fashionable these days, for whatever reason, to say the opposite. Some people are claiming that God will give us more than we can handle. But I don’t believe that.
- Third, God does not test his children so that he can come to know the answer (the future), but so that he can experience the answer. Our actions and responses are very important to God. He does not want just to know the answer, but he wants to experience the answer. He cherishes our love and wants to feel our faith, as we trust in him.
- Fourth, God stretches us to the limits. That’s normal. He often prepares us for bigger exercises by smaller stretches beforehand.
- Fifth, God has every right to test us. It is completely fair, because he made us and all things.
- Sixth, God is worth it, even if he doesn’t give us any blessings.
- Seventh, and most important of all, God provides. We see this in the story of Abraham when God provides an animal for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son, Isaac. (God never intended that Abraham kill his child; it was a “test” from verse 1. God knew that he would provide a ram.) “Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’” (22:8). Then later, “So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The Lord will provide.’” (22:14). God will test us; but God will provide for us. God will provide us with company during the dark times. God will provide us with hope and encouragement. God will provide our daily bread. Yes, God will provide all of that, but we’re to see mainly one thing that God will provide.
What is that one thing? Ultimately, God will provide a person who loves you just for you. Just like he calls you to love him just for him, he will provide Someone who loves you just for you. This is the Lamb that showed up at just the right time. This Someone doesn’t love you because of the gifts you give him, because of how you worship him or follow him. He doesn’t love you because you deserve it. He loves you just for you.
God provides a sacrifice who loves you just for you, even if you don’t love you. His name is Jesus, the Lamb that was sacrificed in our place. God will test us, but he also will provide for us a Sacrifice, who loves us just for us.
Yes, you and I will be tested if we are God’s children. But we also know that God has provided for us. Do you live in the “normal” of God’s love? Do you live each day knowing that God loves you just for you, that you don’t have to sacrifice yourself for him? The other side of the coin is this: do you love God just for God?
This might seem like a paradox, but what did you expect?