Trials 3 - Where do trials come from?

This is a really tricky section, so let’s walk carefully.

The Bible is full of people who experienced trials. Look anywhere and you will see difficulties and suffering. Sometimes they are explained, sometimes they aren’t. That’s the way it is. If we look at a couple of examples that do have some explanation we’ll find an answer to the question of the origin of trials that is slightly confusing but true.

Job and Paul both lived well: they loved God and worshipped Him with their whole lives. Yet they endured terrible suffering. Their stories give us an insight into the origin of some trials:

“And the LORD said to Satan [about Job], ‘Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.’” (Job 2:6)

“So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.” (2 Corinthians 12:7)

Who is behind this?
So, this seems a bit confusing. Both God and Satan seem to be involved in Job and Paul’s suffering (Paul’s acknowledgement of God’s action is implied)... but it can’t be that God and Satan are working together, can it? Of course not. However, God is so much more powerful than Satan that He can use even the enemy’s schemes for His purposes. Here’s how…

Looking at the rest of the sentence from our starting point in James gives some more insight on this: “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (James 1:2-3) We’re going to see in the next section how steadfastness is a good thing, and the giver of every good gift is God (James 1:17). It certainly isn’t Satan’s intention for us to grow in any good way or receive good things, but he may be inadvertently involved in the process. Both Job and Paul suffered at the hands of something satanic, but the situation was allowed and used by God.

So is God good?
Now you could use this to argue that if God behaves in that way He is wicked and not to be trusted, let alone loved. But that is not the conclusion that Job or Paul came to, nor is it the testimony of the Bible, so somewhere along the line you must have got your sums wrong. It’s at moments like this that I return to one of my favourite verses in the Bible:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
This is not to say that everything is good, but that anything can be worked by God for good. This was Joseph’s conclusion when, speaking as Prime Minister of Egypt to his brothers who had sold him into slavery years before, he declared:
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20)
Trials may be the direct result of evil but there is a greater meaning to them if we will take hold of it: “that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness”. This is one of the ways Jesus triumphs over evil: by taking it and using it for His glory.

Although we’ve established that trials are not punishment for sins, sometimes suffering comes as a result of our foolish behaviour:
“If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Peter 4:14-16)
There are two causes of suffering in this passage: one is good (the first and third lines) and the other is not (the bit in the middle!). Let’s not suffer as a consequence of sinful actions! And let’s not expect that living a good life before God will make things easy – Peter (and Paul, and Job) doesn’t give us that expectation.

Now we’re getting close to the purpose of trials…