It's about making us shine brighter and improving our value, if not in God's eyes, who already loves us perfectly, then perhaps in our own.Â Â
(Read once to be introduced to the series. After that skip this to go right to the good stuff!)Â
Welcome to my Devotions Series. This series features devotions based on the Scriptures of the Common Lectionary. The series is being prepared for eventualÂ print publication.
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Lectionary Series Year A: Sixth Sunday of Easter
Psalm 66:8-20 (Read it on Bible Gateway)
Why We Are Tested by God
This Psalter reading is divided into three sections. For the purpose of this reading, we will be focusing on the first section which is specifically in verses 8-12.
The focus here is on being tested by God, or as the Psalmist puts it...being refined like silver. For those who may not know, the reference here is to a process that precious metals are put through, where they are heated in a crucible for the purpose of removing impurities. It's an intense process by which the precious metal itself is put through extremes, but the end result is a more beautiful, more pure, and thus more valued product. It's a very effective analogy when being used to refer to the understanding of how God tests God's children, which is a theme we find time and again in the Scriptures.
Whether it be direct temptation, such as Adam and Eve faced in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), or a given directive that challenges a person to the core, such as when Abraham was told to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19), or the allowance or direct application of suffering, such as that experienced by the Jewish people while slaves in Egypt (Exodus 1), we find multiple images of God finding reason to 'refine' us human beings.
While this was simply accepted as the way things were by the early Jewish people and even by early Christians, we modern folk seem to wrestle more with the concept. For example, even during the time of Christ, most people saw disease, physical ailments or handicapping conditions as resulting either from the sin of the individual, or possibly of their parents or other ancestors (especially when the condition was in place at birth). Now however, we look for answers more in medical terms, looking for causes of illness or other conditions. Likewise, many more modern Christians would look at challenging situations and more often than not, look for very earthly causes and explanations as to where those conditions originated.
However, the theology of God directed suffering, challenge or upheaval is still very much with us, and with it, also a belief that God does test us at times. Indeed, just as many Christians will ask themselves what they may have done to warrant suffering when it comes, many others will also try to find in various circumstances the hand of God testing them.
So why does God test us? Maybe we should start by looking at the whole concept of testing in a broader spectrum. When we think of something or someone being tested what do we generally think of? Well, that may vary. Students will no doubt hear the word and think of tests in school, where they have to study and then show how much they've learned. Doctors or nurses will hear it and most likely think about medical tests to determine illness or other conditions in their patient that may need treatment. Engineers or Researchers would hear it and most likely think of development tests where theories are put to proof.
So, it seems that no matter what angle we come at it, testing is about introducing some set of circumstances or conditions to the one being tested, in order to gain some kind of insight or knowledge about the one being tested. Yet, God is supposed to know us better than we know ourselves. In fact, God is supposed to be all-knowing, so, that begs the question of why God would ever need to test anyone or anything? After all, wouldn't God already know the answers? Yes, as a matter of fact, God would.
So, then any testing we endure from God is clearly not for God's benefit. Then whose benefit is it for? Well, if it's not for God's, it must be for our own, which really makes sense in one of those obvious ways. When I was in school, I remember dreading a number of tests, feeling like I could never measure up to the expectations being put on me. Knowing the test was coming was a great motivation to do what was needed in order to prepare. Then when the test was done, especially in those times when I doubted my ability, the test results helped me to better gauge my own limits and abilities. If I didn't do well, I knew areas of weakness and what to focus on to improve. If I did do well, then I found myself gaining confidence and willingness to handle bigger challenges.
It is in this perspective that we might be able to find the true purpose of God testing us. It's less to provide God insight into us, God's precious children, but to allow us to gain insight into ourselves. It motivates us to push ourselves, it challenges us and allows us to see the challenges we can indeed face and take on, thus giving us confidence and encouragement that we might take on even more.
In my professional ministry career, I faced a number of challenges that at times made me cry out against God wanting answers. These were times I was sorely tested and I was trying to find God's hand in there and beyond that, trying to understand God's purpose. For many of those circumstances, once I was able to detach a bit from the emotion, gain a little distance and perspective from those situations, I often realized how much those situations helped me grow. They often helped me better define my beliefs, my commitment, my dedication and my conviction. By the same token, those situations often gave me better insights into what I could handle, where my strengths and weaknesses were and where I should focus in my own growth. They often gave me the confidence I needed to face other similar situations, or sometimes, even worse ones. Finally, they also gave me the empathy which was invaluable when dealing with others who were going through something similar.
So, just like that refined silver, the testing we experience is really about purging our impurities, like doubt, low self-esteem, lack of faith in our abilities and gifts, and perhaps our lack of conviction. It's about purifying us in God's eyes by removing those obstacles to our growth. It's about making us shine brighter and improving our value, if not in God's eyes, who already loves us perfectly, then perhaps in our own.
For the complete listing of our Devotions, see our Devotions Archive