Faith faces testing. We are considering the testing of faith by troubles in life. Ill-health, difficult relationships, unemployment, and many other difficult circumstances test faith. We noted that we should not be dismayed by these as they are precisely what the Bible says life in this world will be like. Many, says the Psalmist, are the afflictions of the righteous (Ps 34:19).
One important distinction to bear in mind is that in all testing both God and Satan and God are active in quite different ways.
- In any trial Satan is at work to destroy us and God is at work to discipline us and define us in the image of Christ. Satan acts out of malevolent loathing but God acts in merciful love.
We are told by Peter (in the context of persecution but the principle holds good for all trials) that Satan intends to destroy
1Pet 5:8-9 (ESV)
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
However, God in the same trial, is deepening faith that will receive a rich reward
1Pet 1:6-7 (ESV)
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
He is disciplining (training) his children.
Heb 12:5-11 (ESV)
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
This distinction is important because it is all too easy when under extreme pressure to feel that God has a hostile face. This, of course, is exactly Satan’s intention. He is intent on destroying our faith. He wishes to cast God in a poor light and alienate us from him. He sows in our minds doubts about His goodness and love. He accuses God of injustice, of harshness, and of malignity. If he can get us to cast God as the villain in our suffering, as cruel and sadistic, he has won.
Satan’s intention with us, as with Job, is to incite us to curse God.
Job 1:8-11 (ESV)
And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”
The way of faith in the heat of suffering is to hold resolutely to God’s goodness, however much circumstances and our pain push us to the contrary and to recognise that while Satan may mean it for evil God means it only for our good. Like Job, faith says,
Job 13:15 (ESV)
Though he slay me, I will hope in him.