Why did God who is omniscient, eternal, almighty have to test the Jewish people in ancient times and continues to test us now in order to see our faith and to understand the way we react to trials? Psalm 139:2-16 describes the infinity of our Creator’s power. Can it be a mistake in the translation of the Bible? God, who knows each hair that falls from our heads, does He really need to test us in order to understand the way we react?
I think this question is on many people’s minds. In Hebrew the word translated “temptation” or “trial” is the word /נסה/ and it means: 1) to be tested, to be experienced, to have the skill, 2) to test, to tempt, 3) to try, to make a try, to make an attempt.
According to the definition we find in Strong’s dictionary, “a trial” is not only a test of our faith, it also aims at our perfection. Trials are exercises or trainings that aim to form certain skills that make us experienced people. Thus James in his epistle encourages the recipients to consider it all joy when they encounter various trials and he explains why. It produces in them an upright character and makes them perfect, meaning corresponding to God’s standards.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).
On the other hand, trials are the way God shows us the quality of our faith. According to the statistics of the census from 2004, more than 95% of the population of Moldova declared themselves to be Christians, people that have faith in Lord Jesus Christ. Does it mean that they all will inherit the Kingdom of heaven? The testing of our faith brings to light its quality. Abraham’s case is an explicit example to this.
In Genesis Chapter 15, the book of the beginnings, God promises Abraham an heir and a numerous seed as the stars on the sky. Let’s remember that at that time Abraham was approximately 80 years old and his wife Sarai was barren. He was concerned about the fact that he was dying without an heir and his successor will be the servant born in his house (Eliezer of Damascus). Even though Abraham was too old and his wife was barren, he believed God, and his faith was reckoned as righteousness by God (righteous means not guilty according to the standards of the Law, in this case God’s standards). So, Abraham was saved that very moment because God knew his heart and He knew the quality of Abraham’s faith. However, many years later, when Abraham was more than 100 years old, after Sarah gave him a son who was already old enough, God put Abraham to a test (Genesis 22). He asked Abraham to bring his only son, whom he loved and in whom God promised him a seed that will truly carry his name, as a sacrifice (Genesis 21:12).
According to the epistle to Hebrews 11:17-19, it was Abraham’s confidence in God’s promises that made him bring Isaac as an offering:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.(Hebrews 11:17-19)
In the epistle of James it is written that when Abraham brought Isaac as a sacrifice, the word written in Genesis 15:6 came true “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness”, which means that this deed confirmed the authenticity of Abraham’s faith. It was more a proof for us, because God had reckoned his faith as righteousness long before it was confirmed by that test:
But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:18-24)
Another important moment about trials that we all need to know is that God cannot be tempted by evil and He himself does not tempt anyone, which means that through trials God does not cause anyone to do harm:
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
Maybe someone will ask: why does Lord Jesus teach us to pray with the words “…and lead us not into temptation…”? The answer is in the contrast Lord Jesus uses further: “but deliver us from the evil one”! So, temptation comes from the evil one, which is the devil, but God can deliver us from him. A very good example of this we find in Job’s story. God allowed Satan to touch Job to prove his faith, but He also set Satan’s limits in testing Job (Job, chapter 1 and 2).
There is more to say about this subject, and if you want to learn more about trials and temptations, I recommend you to study the book of James inductively.