Monday, November 14, 2011

Trials - how we should react to them

It is unusual for me to blog twice within a week, but I feel compelled to comment on something that has come up in two consecutive bible studies. And that is the subject of 'trials'. We all go through trials yet there seems to be little good Bible teaching about how to approach them.

What most of us have seemed to develop is sort of a 'blanket theology' that seeks to explain each and every situation, but leaves us no better off. Let me put forth two approaches that fall well short of what the Bible says concerning the trials of life.

The first originates in the book of Job where Job's "comforters" tell him that his afflictions must be the result of sin in his life. They reason that God is just and that He would not allow bad things to happen to the righteous. Bad things come about because of sin. This is nothing more than a 'blanket theology' that seeks an intellectually satisfying explanation for all bad things that happen.

What Job, and his friends, did not know is what we know from the first chapter: he has an Adversary, Satan, who is testing Job and trying to get Job to blaspheme God.

Aren't you glad that the church today has left this old theology behind? I wish. This past Friday I was speaking to someone who has recently gone through cancer treatments and told me about a fellow patient whose church told her that her cancer was the result of an unforgiven sin. (I would have found a new church.) Now most of us are appalled and disgusted by this, especially since Jesus clearly taught that not all sickness or infirmity is the result of a particular sin. (See John 9) However, some of our theology regarding trials is not much better.

Yesterday, I heard someone discuss an approach to trials which is common today. Once again, it is a blanket theology where one can lump all trials together and approach them all the same way. I am sure you have heard it before. It is "God will not put more on us than we can bear". Now I have heard this for a long time but I now realize that this is more than just a way of explaining all trials; it is a wholesale manner of dealing with trials. It is used to not in conjunction with other scriptures that deal with trials, but a substitute for anything else the Bible says about them.

For the record, the Bible does say something like this in 1 Corinthians 10:13 "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." There are two things that we should notice here. First of all, it may not be talking about 'trials' at all, but about temptations to sin, although it is true that the Greek word for trials and temptations is the same. Second, we leave out the part about God 'making a way of escape'.

What we have done is taken a partial scripture, lifted it out of its context and made it say something it does not say. It does not say, as my friend suggested, that God does not put more on us than we are able to bear. First of all, God does not put this stuff on us in the first place. "Every good gift and every perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights above, with whom is no variation or shadow of turning." (James 1:17) God never varies from that which is good and perfect. James directly says that God tempts, or tries, nobody. (1:13) Jesus said, "The thief (Devil) comes not, but that he may steal, kill and destroy; I came that you may have Life, and that you may have it abundantly". (John 10:10) Also, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil." (Acts 10:38)

In Sunday School, we are studying the book of James. It contains general principles about how to handle any kind of trial. James tells us what to do when faced with any kind of difficulty. "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you fall into various trials." (1:2) This means all kinds of trials. The main key to our approach to trials of any kind is in verse 5. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally." (1:5)

Wisdom! That is what we need in the trials of life. We do not approach them all the same. If we could, then we would not need this advice. We would simply apply some blanket theology or formula given to us. But there is not a single approach or 'good explanation' of the trials we face.

Wisdom can mean two things. First, it means the 'big picture' or overall understanding of what is happening to us. Since we know that Satan, and not God, is the source of our problem, we know that God will make a 'way of escape' for us. Then we need to know what to do in the midst of the trial. Sometimes we think we know what to do when we don't. We need to humble ourselves and seek his wisdom. If we are overwhelmed by the situation, then we should seek the aid of others who can pray with us.

Another thing: you might have to go through a trial without an adequate explanation or understanding of what is going on. After God rebuked Job and Job repented for blaming God, God still did not explain to him what had happened to him. We will not always know in this life why certain things have taken place. There is, however, some wisdom from God that we can use that might shorten, lessen the effects of, or deliver us from the trial.

God is not the source of your trial, but He is the solution.

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