We all will encounter situations and circumstances that can be really hard. Anxiety, depression, doubt and anger are quite normal responses, along with the question: “Am I being tested by God?” I don’t believe that every problem or challenge that we face in life is somehow coordinated by God. Bad things happen: sometimes randomly, sometimes because we’re wronged by other people, and sometimes as a consequence of our own bad choices. I’ve always believed that our first reaction to problems should never be to blame God for what is happening – but rather to appeal to him for his compassion and strength.
The Bible is very clear about the fact that God does not tempt us (James 1:13). As Tertullian said in his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, “God is not unaware of the condition of our faith, nor does he seek to overthrow it.” God is not sitting up in heaven trying to figure out how to make us stumble. He knows our weaknesses and frailties, and he takes no pleasure in making things hard for us. We may wonder then why the Lord’s Prayer includes the petition “lead us not into temptation.” Why do we have to ask God not to do something that he already said he doesn’t do? He won’t tempt us, so why pray “please don’t tempt us”?
Part of the problem here is that “lead us not into temptation” is actually not a very accurate translation of the original Greek. The word peirasmos is more accurately translated as “a test”, and the first followers of Jesus would have equated this expression with the experience of ancient Israel in the Sinai desert. In Exodus 16:4 God says that he will feed the people manna to “test them” to see whether they will walk in his ways or not. In Deuteronomy 8:2 Moses explains that “the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart.” What these passages indicate is that sometimes God finds it necessary to test us, in order that the condition of our heart may be revealed. When we pray “lead us not into testing”, we are asking God to spare us from this painful process. We are in effect saying “strengthen our faith now” so that the difficult road ahead won’t be a test at all. Make us ready for anything. That’s why before his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus said to his disciples “Watch and pray that you might not be tested.” (Mt 26:41) Nothing could change what was about to happen – but vigilant prayer would have prepared them for it, and perhaps prevented them from stumbling. It’s too bad that they fell asleep.
So in our own lives, how can we know whether bad things are just randomly happening, or whether God is coordinating a test? My approach to this question is that it really doesn’t matter who’s behind the trial. Maybe its God trying to see what’s in our hearts. Maybe the Devil is attacking us. Maybe people are hurting us, with or without being aware of what they’re doing. Or maybe what we’re experiencing is just the random, senseless, crazy things that happen in a world that is in bondage to meaninglessness (Rom 8:20). It doesn’t matter what the cause is. The fact is that life is hard and that we need God’s help.
So I encourage you to heed the words of Jesus and pray every day “lead us not into testing”. The Lord will strengthen you for the road ahead, and you may even find that all the cagada that happens in life really isn’t so hard after all.