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The Bible has a strange attitude towards what we would call, 'The Trial of Faith'. In fact, in numerous places in the Bible that's the expression that is used - the Trial of Faith'. With my wife recently being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, the concept of faith being tested or tried has taken on a new and challenging emphasis for us.

 I can't but ask the question "Why?"  Yet I do so, not with a rebellious, shaking-of-the-fist-at-heaven attitude but rather a genuine desire to know what can possibly be for God's glory in such an experience as this. Further, it seems to me that if Jesus asked that question of His Father (My God, My God, why....), then somehow it's OK for us to ask the question, too.

 At the same time, it's important to note that Jesus asked the question in the context of His obedience and submission to death on the Cross, not in a spirit of rebellion and rejection.

 Let's take time to consider some New Testament propositions and examples.

Here's what Peter has to say

So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while. These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold — and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT)

My suspicion is that many Christians are enmeshed in a net of faulty theology as to the purpose of these trials. They have imbibed from somewhere the idea that the trial of their faith is proof that God is not really impressed with their faith and they fall short of what He expects. So God puts them through the "hoops" to try and bring them up to a standard that is more in keeping with a 'true Christian'. At least that's how many in the average congregation understand it.

If the verses from Peter were our only guide, what can we learn about the trial of faith?

·       There is wonderful joy ahead - beyond the trial , whatever that trial may be

·       Such trials are necessary - because of the purpose of the trial - testing and refining

·       The trial is not to expose  your supposed 'poor' faith in a humiliating way for all to see

·       On the contrary, the trial is to show the strength and purity of your faith

·       Your faith in Him is more precious to God than gold (Don't brush past that statement!!)

·       The fire of the trial purifies the gold of your faith - it's too valuable to just leave it as it is.

·       After the trial there will be much honour and glory and praise

If you think Peter is a bit over the top, you ought to catch up with James sometime:-

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  (James 1:2-4 NIV).

I'm not suggesting that we turn weird and adopt some masochistic belief system that thrives on confusion, pain and false hope. The joy of which James speaks is not limited to the narrow view of our world system. In fact, philosophies of all kinds cannot accommodate the words "hardship" and "joy" in the one sentence because, to their way of thinking, one cancels out the other. It's obvious that there are things here to learn.

·       Attitude is critical in the midst of the trial. Joy is a choice whereas happiness is the consequence of happenings. The pursuit of happiness in and of itself is a futile endeavour because it is dependent upon events and outcomes that are beyond our control.

·       The purpose of these trials is to develop perseverance which manifests in patience, maturity, fullness of life

·       "Not lacking anything".  When I read that phrase it connects me with one of my sons who, a few years back, was a fighter pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force. Among other things he used to talk about his ground crew whose task it was to keep his aircraft in "a state of operational readiness". That's what James is talking about and he may even have used that illustration had he known about aircraft!

 There is a verse tucked away in the book of Hebrews that reads like so:  (Heb 5:7-9 NIV)

  During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

 Is there anything here that helps us better understand the trial of faith?

·       Jesus underwent a series of  "trials of faith"; the most severe being referenced here

·        His posture before His Father was one of reverent submission

·       He understood that His Father could save Him from death

·       He learned obedience to His father's will from what He suffered - presumably trials of faith during His three ministry years.

Time and again in Scripture we see people who underwent severe testing of their faith. Often their circumstances were so contrary to what they might otherwise have expected. Consider those verses in Hebrews. Jesus chose an attitude of reverent submission even though He knew His father could save Him from that ultimate trial on the Cross. Isn't that what we hear in the words, "Nevertheless, not what I want but what you want be done"?

Abraham's ultimate test of faith is an outstanding example of faith being put to the test. Genesis 22 records the directives given by God to  Abraham and how he took his son, Isaac,  to Mt. Moriah, bound him with ropes, placed his son on the altar and raised the knife above his son.  In that final moment, God interrupted. The trial was over. Abraham had proved himself faithful.

"But", says someone, "Wouldn't God, in His foreknowledge of all things have known the outcome of such a test of faith?" Of course, the answer is "yes". But the bigger question is this; "Would Abraham have known the outcome without this trial of faith?"

Such trials and their purpose may or may not be revealed. Sometimes I think that even if God was to give some kind of explanation we still would be left perplexed because we do not have access to the "Big Picture" with all the facts that are needed to understand what is currently beyond our understanding.

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