Pragmatic Compendium

inspiring the pragmatic practice of intimacy with Christ

does God “send” trials or just “allow” them?

In my post entitled “an unextraordinary life” I wrote:

“When I’ve experienced trials in my life, sure God might have sent them, but it’s just as likely He allowed them. Either way, He’s promised that He will work it all for good. Even when, from my own perspective, it didn’t seem like it was for my good.”

A reader commented:

“I agree with you that God allows trials to happen and then brings something good out of them, but I don’t believe that he sends them. Matthew 7:11 gives the picture of God as a Father who delights in giving good gifts to his children. I can’t picture a loving father purposely bringing trials into His children’s lives.”


I spent some time in 2009 reading and learning about the seeming paradox of evil and suffering vs. a loving and all powerful God. I don’t like to think of a loving Father “sending” his child trials, but I can’t ignore some evidence.

I should probably begin with my definition of the word “trials.”

I view a trial as anything in my life that causes me pain – physical or emotional. It’s something in my life that I don’t want in my life. Something I fear or dread or suffer through.

I should clarify what I mean by my use of the words “send” and “allow” as well.

When I say I believe God “sends” some trials, I’m referring to trials God intends for us – plans for us – to experience.

When I talk about God “allowing” trials, I’m referring to the things God does NOT intend for us, but doesn’t intervene to prevent or to protect us from. Maybe these trials are consequences of our own sin, maybe they are consequences of our sinful nature and freedom of choice or maybe they are just the result of random circumstances in this life.

Make no mistake, I believe Matthew 7:11:

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”


When I think about my own children, I can identify with Matthew 7:11. I want to give them “good gifts” all the time. But if I never disciplined them, I would play a starring role in turning them into Veruca Salt. Leading me to Hebrews 12:6-11:

“because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”


And again, thinking about my children, my mind automatically goes to the story of Abraham and Isaac. Here’s a question for you: When God told Abraham to take his son up a mountain and sacrifice and kill him, would Abraham have used the word “trial” to describe his experience? He had waited 100 years to have a son. The feelings that overwhelmed him as he left home . . . NOT telling Sarah what God had instructed him to do . . . as the minutes dragged during the agonizing climb up that mountain . . . would “trial” not be a descriptive word for that experience?

I’m thinkin it would.

And if we can agree that was a trial for Abraham, the real question is: Did God intend for Abraham to have that experience? God instructed Abraham to sacrifice his son, not as punishment for sin or to hurt him, but to test and strengthen Abraham’s faith. Abraham’s obedience – letting go of his own will for the sake of God’s will, even when it didn’t make any sense to him and wrenched his heart – was a test of faith I’m not sure I could pass.


And then there’s John 9:1-3:

“As he went along, he [Jesus] saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

I agree with what Matthew Henry has to say about the trial of this man:

That they [trials] are sometimes intended purely for the glory of God, and the manifesting of his works. God has a sovereignty over all his creatures and an exclusive right in them, and may make them serviceable to his glory in such a way as he thinks fit, in doing or suffering; and if God be glorified, either by us or in us, we were not made in vain. This man was born blind, and it was worth while for him to be so, and to continue thus long dark, that the works of God might be manifest in him.
(emphasis added)

I wrote this blog post in bits and pieces over the last 36 hours, after hearing a message emphasizing that God blesses us with strength through anointed weakness. All the while I couldn’t help thinking of Nick Vujicic. Last night, I watched a number of Nick’s youtube videos, looking for the “right” one to include in this post. I had already seen a number of Nick’s videos over the last few months but I had never heard him talk about his decision to serve Christ in any of them. I bought his biography last week, but haven’t begun reading it yet. I knew I had found the video to include when I got the 3 minute 45 second mark. Go ahead, it’s worth the 8 minutes.

Because I have no arms and no legs He’s using me all around the world and we’ve seen so far, approximately – and this is conservative – 200,000 souls come to Jesus Christ for the very first time in the last 6 or 7 years . . . I would rather have no arms and no legs temporarily here on earth and be be able to reach someone else for Jesus Christ – and then spend eternity with them there.”

So yes. I believe that sometimes God sends us trials.


And then, there’s Rachel Barkey. I stumbled upon Rachel’s story in 2009 when I was researching the paradox of evil and suffering vs. a loving and all powerful God. Rachel died of cancer at the age of 37, leaving behind a husband and 2 small children. But before she died, she had an opportunity to give her testimony in which she describes the trials of her last years. It’s a compelling 55 minute testimony that I’ve found myself thinking about often over the last two years. You can watch it HERE (start at the 2:10 minute mark to skip to the beginning), but here’s the quote I transcribed for inclusion in a blog post after I watched it back in June of 2009:

“I am dying.

But so are you.

Neither of us knows if we will even see tomorrow. And perhaps the reason that I am suffering now, the reason that God is waiting to bring judgment against all the evil in this world is because he is waiting for you. For you to acknowledge your sin and to turn to him for forgiveness.

Maybe you are the one we are waiting for.

Jesus suffered. God did not spare him. Why would he spare me? If my suffering would result in good for you? If my suffering is the means that God would use to bring even one person to himself, it is an honor for me to suffer.

Does that seem strange?

I suppose it does.

But really, it is the only way that all of this makes any sense at all.

A God who sees my suffering but is is unable, or worse, unwilling to spare me? A God who sees my suffering but allows it? With no greater purpose or hope? My God is able to save me and he will. But save me from what?

From a life without him.”


Compelling evidence.

So yes, I believe that sometimes, God sends trials.

(thank you Jessi, for inspiring this post)

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October 12, 2011 - Posted by | apologetics, christian living, intentional living, learning curve, pragmatic communion, suffering, thankfulness, what I've learned, youtube | , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. Good post.
    I continue to be disappointed in myself at my response to our trials of losing Connor and then with the medical issues with the triplets. I didn’t understand why God would do this to us and thus turned away. He COULD have prevented the premature birth. He CHOSE not to. I didn’t get that (ok, I still don’t, but it doesn’t rule me like it did)

    It took a good five years before I was willing to allow him back into my life.

    But, and here’s the amazing part, he has definitely used what we went through for good. For us, somewhat, but for others Oh Yes. I have been able to be there for two other moms whose babies died. I know that people were blessed in serving us (and the kids) all those years, and I absolutely know that He taught me how to admit I CAN’T and to ask for help (oh, the horror of that!) and then to accept that help.

    Trials, yeah. I think he both allows them and sends them.

    Like

    Comment by multiplemom | October 12, 2011 | Reply

  2. Julie, you make a very compelling “argument” (for lack of a better term) and I appreciate the opportunity to meditate more on this topic. When I said that I don’t believe that God sends trials what I was thinking was that I don’t believe that God gives a person cancer or takes a person’s arms and legs away or takes the life of a baby. I believe God is incapable of evil and these types of things just seem evil. I know in the old testament (in the days of the Law) God would strike people dead, turn them into pillars of salt, etc., but it always seemed like he gave a good warning and it was for good reason / discipline. Since Jesus’s death on the cross I have always believed that we live under grace rather than the law. Jesus satisfied the requirements of the law, bore our sins, and suffered the wrath of God unto death so that we are no longer slaves to the law. This is not to say that we do not experience discipline when we are out of line. I may be rambling off topic here. LOL. I totally agree that God allows bad things to happen to His children, but all for His glory and purpose. Not a sparrow falls in the field that He is not aware of and He promises to always be with us. It is good enough for me to know that He will help me through any trials in my life and I love your explanation using the back side of a tapestry to explain how we often cannot see the bigger picture. I’m going to keep praying that God helps me understand this topic better and gives me insight into His character. Thanks again for taking the time to explain your viewpoint. It really helps me want to dig deeper.

    Like

    Comment by jessirae76 | October 12, 2011 | Reply

  3. Hi Jessirae

    Your comment seem to differentiate God into two types of Gods (a Law-God and a post-Law-God). This is not the case. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead without warning by the post-Law-God.

    God will give / send things that might be hard / hurtful if the end result will be good.

    Like

    Comment by carel-j | December 19, 2013 | Reply


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