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Being Tested

February 11, 2018

Tests are never pleasant. Whether it’s a blood test, a MRI, a biopsy, a Medieval Literature test, a physical education test, or an achievement test, we would almost always prefer to be doing something else than taking the test. Anyone who has taken the bar exam, especially in states with low passage rates like California, has a story to tell of difficulties experienced during the course of studying for or taking the exam. And most of us have a recurrent nightmare after we get the news that we passed that it was all a mistake. But these experiences pale in comparison to the tests recounted in our Biblical texts this week.[1]

Next Sunday is the first Sunday in Lent, a time for reflection and sacrifice. Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is February 14th this year—when we will also joyously celebrate the loves of our life on Valentine’s Day. We will send expressions of love to our spouse, partner, friends, and family members. As we rejoice in our love for those closest to us, it is almost impossible to understand the test that God put Abraham through when he asked him to sacrifice his beloved son: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you” (Genesis 22: 2).

I would have pulled a “Jonah”—put my son in my SUV and taken off in the opposite direction. I get that the passage is about God’s testing of Abraham’s faith, and his insistence that we trust and obey him, but the test he put Abraham through seems beyond the pale. I plan to sign up for Moses’ class on Genesis when I get to heaven, and I am hoping that Abraham and Isaac will be our special guests when we study Genesis 22, so that I can finally wrap my head around what was going through their minds. After all, God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of all nations a dozen or more years earlier when Abraham was 99 years old (Genesis 17: 1-7). How could that happen if Abraham sacrificed his beloved son? Did he think that God made a mistake? Apparently not, because he followed the instructions he received. One commentator suggests “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac from death. When God’s people act in faith, they never try to designate the method God will use to achieve the ends they believe he has promised.”[2]

But of course, God knows exactly how Abraham felt, because he sacrificed his only Son for us on the cross, and actually went through with it. But even before he died on the cross, Jesus was tested a number of times, including during his time in the wilderness just before he began his public ministry: “At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being temped by Satan.” (Mark 1: 12).

God shows us in these Scriptures that Jesus and Biblical heroes of faith were tested as we will be. We are tested during the course of our lives in many ways. We are challenged by the everyday stresses of our jobs and family life. We are tested by illnesses, accidents, and natural disasters. We are tested, tempted, and led astray by our own thoughts and by people we encounter. James tells us not to blame God for our temptations: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1: 13-14). We are constantly tested by difficult people and circumstances. Our faith is tried during periods of unemployment, marital discord, financial difficulties, and by long periods of physical or mental illness—our own, or that of a family member.

Or you may be tested by your success. That is a test you would welcome, you say?  But as the old adage says, be careful what you wish for. Many successful people pull away from God, because they don’t think they need him or because their resources lead them to temptations they can’t resist which ultimately prove to be their downfall. They don’t think that they will ever need a refuge—that their money or power is all that they need—that it will insulate them from everything.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Success, like tragedy, can test the strength of your faith.  You need to hold onto the Father’s hand during good times and bad during your life, and trust him to keep you on the path that he has planned for you. Even King David asked God to search him and point out his shortcomings, to test him, so that he could repent and follow God’s guidance: “Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— then guide me on the road to eternal life” (Psalm 139:23-24, The Message). Your power, acquisition of art, estates, cars, jewels, and other expressions of material wealth will not influence the God who can give you blessed assurance of his love that will never die.

David also writes “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust . . . Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in your all day long.” (Psalm 25: 1, 4-5).   David knew better than most that whatever your circumstance in life—whether you are a lowly shepherd boy or a mighty king with untold riches, God is your only hope and salvation.

When you are in the midst of trials, turn to the one who can bring you through safely—the one you can depend on now and forever: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows” James 1: 17.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the First Sunday in Lent are Genesis 22:1-8; Psalm 25: 1-10; James 1: 12-18; Mark 1: 9-15.

[2] Gangel and Bramer, Holman Old Testament Commentary: Genesis (2002), Holman Reference, p. 198.

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