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)

12 thoughts on “does God “send” trials or just “allow” them?

  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.

  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.

  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.

    1. When one takes a closer look at the story of Ananias and Sapphira, it doesn’t actually says that they were “struck dead”, or that God did anything to them. It simply says that they “fell down and died”. Many assume that God was punishing them, but it doesn’t say that does it? Could it be possible that both Ananias and Sapphira died of something else, like the sheer weight of their guilt, or their shock that Peter knew what he did? So did God kill them as punishment for lying, or did they simply die? Either way, a great “fear” came over the early church.

  4. I do not believe God sends trials,He is God He can do any thing,He allows them for what ever reasons ,what ever the reason I know it is for our good.

  5. I don’t believe that God sits on His throne casting trials down upon us, His children, in order to correct our shortcomings. I understand that He is more concerned about our salvation then our earthly comfort and often it is through our trials that we come to the Lord. But, in this fallen world, don’t you think trials occur at our own hands or at the hands of others often enough? God doesn’t need to manufacture hardships for us in order to teach us or use us. We do a wonderful job of messing up our lives all by ourselves. I believe that our quest for free will dating back to the days of Eden causes God to give us what we’ve asked for…the right to make choices. He simply waits and then He uses Mistakes to grow us and draw us closer to Him. He also comforts us, weeps with us, and encourages us through His Word. Personally speaking, I have given the Lord a lot of material to work with and I’ve been a victim of the evil that exists around me. Yes, a good parent disciplines his or her children but when did you ever CREATE a hardship for your child so that you can discipline him? No loving parent does that. And neither does God. Not since He has given us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. When we step outside of God’s Will for us and we’re hit with tribulation, God Will then use it for our good and the good of others. He is kind God, a loving God…He knows the limitations of our puny human minds. We can’t love a God who represents evil to us. Thank you Heavenly Father for not allowing my mistakes to go to waste and I’ll be giving you many more mistakes to work with before I am I paradise with you.

    1. We have to leave “I think/ I believe” out of it, though, and stick to allowing God to tell us whether or not He sends trials in the Bible. We cannot lean on our own understanding! There are numerous verses that explicitly say God tests, and some trials are from God. In Hebrews 12, we are told the reason is because God is a pefect Father, and God is treating us like children, disciplining us for our own good to share in His holiness. Interestingly, Hebrews 12 goes hand in hand with James 1. Both state trials are for developing endurance. Hebrews 12 tells us the trial/hardship is from God. James 1 tells us God is never the one who tempts. Now, we have a complete picture. This is why we always use the Bible to interpret the Bible.

      God does “send” trials sometimes, but God never does the tempting. A clear example of this is Jesus’ test after He was baptized. God led Jesus into the test – God sent the test. But Satan did all the tempting.

      Another example is Peter’s denial of Jesus. Jesus tells Peter that Satan has asked God for permission to “sift him like wheat.” God gave Satan permission, and Peter’s faith was tested. God did not tempt Peter to sin, Satan did. But God ordained that test. And it was ordained for Peter’s good.

      We also forget that God sometimes has an entirely different idea of what is a “good gift” than we do. God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9) God is looking at us with eternity in mind, chastising so that we won’t be condemned (1 Corinthians 11:32). God may take drastic measures that at the time seem cruel, painful, and unpleasent (Hebrews 12:11)(Daniel 4) when his beloved kids are going astray. The sufferings we experience here are nothing compaired to the glory God has for us later (Romans 8:18). Your personal comfort and happiness in this world is not His main goal – you spending eternity with Him is.

      That’s not saying EVERY trial or hardship is from God. Like you said, we mess up stuff just fine on our own. And we live in a fallen world. Anybody who goes around assuming every hardship is God’s discipline is going to find themselves doing what Job’s friends did.

      God bless!

  6. I do not believe God sends or allows trials. I believe they are sent from the enemy. Scriptures saids in John 10:10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. Why would a loving GOD, all powerful and all knowing NEED you to suffer. Yes, trials and tribulations will come. Scripture warns us of this. John 16:33 says …In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. Luke 10:19 says Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. So through HIS word, we can see that GOD is loving and he has no desire to send suffering. To do so would be contrary to his word.

    In terms of HIS allowance. We see in scripture that GOD has empowered us as free moral agents, clothed with authority and power. We were made in his likeness. John 16:33 goes on to say… Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. So if Jesus, healed the sick, raised the dead, made the blind see, deaf to hear, and poor prosperous, what more has he given us authority to do. His word says even greater than all that we are equip to do.

    Yes trials and tribulations will come. But I don’t believe GOD sends it or allows it. The enemy is the author of death, sickness and destruction, and by our free will choice people may choose not to execute the Word of God in their lives to not allow it. You don’t have to put up with it. Trust the Word, feed your spirit with it, and use it as your armour when trials and suffering come your way.

    1. Madison, I understand and respect your points and thank you for taking time to share your thoughts. From your comment, it seems you may be replying to the title of my post and not replying to the words within my post or acknowledging the other comments in this discussion. There are a number of scriptures and examples that prompted me to explore these thoughts, including the suffering Jesus himself experienced. God is sovereign, He is just, He is merciful and loving, and as Kay said, “We also forget that God sometimes has an entirely different idea of what is a “good gift” than we do. God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)”

  7. Could it be that a trial that God “caused” would be the discipline itself? When I think about parenting my kids, I used all kinds of creative methods to try to get them back on track when they had done something that wasn’t in their best interest, when they had forgotten who they were. So I thought about what could help them get back on the path that would serve them and benefit them in the long run. I’m sure my kids thought of those as trials because they were hard, inconvenient and not what they wanted. But I think giving them those consequences were what made me a good parent. My motives were pure. I wanted them to become the people God had designed them to be. And when they “forgot who they were” I used consequences/discipline to remind them. I do not believe God causes cancer/illness. I do agree He can and does use it however.

  8. Such a good article. I have this same question brought to me when I’m counseling people through trials. In James 1:2, James mentions trials. The Word for trials in the Greek means “adversity, affliction, trouble (cf. our trial), sent by God and serving to test or prove one’s faith, holiness, character”. It’s hard to see trials as only attacks allowed by God, and not acknowledge that some are sent by God. I love Tony Evans commentary about James 1:2 “A trial is a divinely ordained difficulty that God causes or permits so that He may grow us and conform us into His image”. The discussion needs to turn from who is causing the trial to “How can we grow from here”

    1. I hadn’t read Tony Evans commentary about James 1:2, thanks so much for sharing it.
      “A trial is a divinely ordained difficulty that God causes or permits so that He may grow us and conform us into His image”.

      Nick Vujicic’s testimony is compelling evidence for this.

      And I can’t dismiss the the trial Jesus himself experienced…and his prayer: “let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39).

      I wholeheartedly agree that turning the focus toward the “How can we grow from here” question is the next best step in a trial, but there are many who blame God for the trial and turn away from him – for multiple reasons. This particular post has continued to be viewed multiple times on a daily basis since I posted it back in 2011, leaving me with the impression that people are searching for this answer, probably people who are experiencing trial(s).

      I hope readers scroll down to your comment and Tony Evan’s commentary.

      Thanks again for sharing.

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