What tests our faith the most?
Sometimes I have wondered whether suffering or death test our faith the most. If you live long enough, you will certainly suffer in some way, either physically or relationally. Chances are you will also face the death of some loved one. And, of course, sooner or later, you will face your own death.
This week I began in earnest to make an audio-recording of my book Melody’s Life Savings (about our daughter who died from leukemia). I thought I might have reached the point where reading it out loud would be easier. Yes and no. I am about one third of the way through and have already had to edit out some parts where my voice breaks too much. However, it is truly a story of perspective and hope. I hope being able to hear me read it will more strongly convey that to people.
Reading it has reminded me not only of the beauty of her life, but the beauty of our faith. It is a faith that makes sense of the world around us. It is a faith which unlocks our struggles and desires. It is a faith that withstands the pride and lies of the arrogant, while continuing to offer hope to any who will acknowledge the God who is the source of their life.
What does it mean to have our faith tested?
It is also a faith that is sometimes tested, but I think we are at risk for misunderstanding the Biblical use of that word. Consider when Jesus was tested for 40 days in the wilderness. I don’t get the impression God was doing a sting operation on Jesus, trying to see if He would get something wrong. Rather, I think God was using the situation to prove to several players what Jesus was made of.
When it seems that God is testing our faith, I think we are being given a dual opportunity. We get to see His faithfulness and we get to understand the power of His spirit in us. It’s kind of like a father teaching his child to ride a bike. The father excitedly encourages the child, wanting the child to experience the thrill. Sometimes the child falls, but the father isn’t angry. He just gives comfort and says, “Let’s try again!”
When you become aware of the perfect blend of love and justice in God, and know that He is very able to work all things for good in spite of the wickedness of people, you begin to see more clearly that effort and hardship are part of a process of building us up to our potential relationship with Him. This relationship can be enjoyed now, but will come to full flower on the new earth.
So – back to the idea of “testing” – remember Job? He was tested to show how sufficient his faith was. He didn’t understand that at first. In the end, he was not only strengthened by everything, but he was blessed even more. He also gained important perspective.
Who knows what is best?
We sometimes choose to suffer to attain a goal. Sometimes we endure physical hardship on purpose. Other times we deprive ourselves of things because it will get us something more valued. We do this with our limited human wisdom.
If we have children, there are some decisions we need to make for them. They don’t see and can’t comprehend the broader picture. Sometimes our choices make them mad.
I readily admit that God’s understanding and goals are superior to mine. It is not a cop out to trust someone so exceedingly superior. I’m grateful He has gone out of His way to make His love evident and available. It makes trusting easier. I will trust Him during suffering and when faced with death.
I have to conclude that death is at least a test of faith like no other. To be brought face to face with our mortality is humbling. We cannot stop it. We cannot keep people here who die. Fortunately, God has this under control, too. Thus, we can have peace, hope, and joy that surpass this-earthly grieving.
The sadness of sorrow without hope
Once I was on a group bike ride and for no apparent reason a man began to tell me how his wife had died from cancer. I think that being both a nurse and a mother whose child had died from cancer made me a more empathetic listener than he usually had. I had not shared my story, though.
The man seem both relieved and surprised that I was listening so much and that he was telling me so much. Then, the more he talked, the more he felt free to express his disgusted anger at bitter details and the loss. The disease had ravaged his wife’s body and devastated her emotionally. I, of course, responded with compassion.
Toward the end, he said something that made me briefly speak of my own loss. I remember how shocked he looked at hearing me refer to this with equanimity. He did not understand my peace and quiet cheerfulness. That doesn’t mean I never cry, but compared to his consuming sorrow I have profound hope.
We are not alone
After our daughter had died, I remember becoming aware that many people were watching my husband and me and our family. They made comments that indicated they expected us to implode or divorce. They had seen such a loss overwhelm others.
What they saw instead was that God was faithful. He carried us through and we saw no reason to abandon hope. In fact, our hope was strengthened. God had tested our faith, which we have by His grace, and shown Himself well able to sustain and guide.
God both answered prayer and uniquely surprised us with things during the difficult times.
- He inexplicably arranged for us to buy some property just before Melody was diagnosed. This property was a place of retreat for the nearly 2 years of illness. It was a large house on some acreage in the north Idaho woods. At a time when we basically couldn’t take Melody out in public places due to concerns of infection, we could instead all go escape to this wonderful, storybook location.
- He sent us to an out-of-town clinic (several states away) where the nurses told us in some awe that they had prayed for a for patient and family just like ours to be a testimony to their lead doctor. It was an adult clinic and Melody was the only child there for experimental treatment. This doctor had seen a lot of hopeless people die. They wanted him to see a Christian face death.
- He let Melody catch 3 giant steelhead that were “not in the river” according to fisherman that had been fishing regularly for weeks there; and she was too weak to reel them in, but they came in *sort of* attached to her line anyway. She was so weak that she could barely totter well enough to get into the boat. That was her last outdoor activity before she died. It was a clear message to her that God was closely watching over her.
- He heard our prayers that she not be subjected to a bone marrow transplant if she was going to die anyway. He took her to paradise after a round of chemo-therapy that was aimed at getting her ready for this procedure.
- He supernaturally communicated with a close friend-cousin of Melody’s the night she died, keeping the cousin informed and comforted since she couldn’t be in the same town at the time.
- He immediately gave me my request of a song of joy and hope as I lay struggling with my grief one night in bed. I don’t mean he reminded me of a song. I mean words and tune began filling my mind and I had to get up and write them down.
There is already plenty of evidence in the universe that God is the source of life for and takes care of everything. These other things were extra-personal touches for us, to make sure we absolutely knew He was taking care of this. Some people might scoff at them as coincidences, but that is like saying that it was just a coincidence when your spouse makes you chicken soup when you are sick or brings your flowers on your birthday.
We don’t need to be afraid of failing when our faith is tested. If we fall down, He will pick us up and dust us off. He will give as much help and encouragement as we need to get back on the bike. He just wants to show us that we can do things we were designed to do, even if it is unexpected, difficult, or we have trouble understanding the reasons. The end result will be joy and pleasure in both relationship and accomplishment. When it is our time to see Him in paradise, all the troubles we had here will either fade away or make perfect sense.