“Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Genesis 22:12).
FROM TIME TO TIME WE ARE TESTED IN WAYS THAT MAKE IT CLEAR WHAT KIND OF PERSONS WE ARE. When, for example, Abraham’s faith was tested by the command to offer his son Isaac, God could say, “Now I know that you fear God.” This is not an easy statement to fathom. But whatever may have been manifested to God by Abraham’s ordeal, we can be sure of this: Abraham learned a good deal about himself. After his agony, Abraham would have known his own faith in ways that were impossible before.
When we face difficulty, we find out what we are really made of. In times of ease, we think we know ourselves and we say what we believe in words that sound right to our own ears. And we’re not being deliberately deceptive. But A. W. Tozer probably had it right when he said, “Only after an ordeal of painful self-probing are we likely to discover what we actually believe about God.”
There are two things about us that need to be tested. One is the validity of our principles. It is something to have meditated on our principles, but it is something else to have field-tested them. We need the value of a faith that has found its beliefs to be consistent with reality, on the battlefield as well as in the church pew. And God invites us to test His truths in this very way. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). But also, our allegiance to our principles needs to be tested. And frankly, this often requires a trial by fire. “Adversity is the trial of principle. Without it, a man hardly knows whether he is honest or not” (Henry Fielding).
If it is through suffering that we learn our own mettle, then suffering is not altogether undesirable. James said, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2). Perhaps most of us will find that we can’t actually welcome difficulty, but we can at least give thanks for its usefulness. There are some very practical, as well as eternal, reasons why we need to understand ourselves, and if it takes hardship to help us understand, then so be it. Even if an ordeal shows that we’re less than we’ve made ourselves out to be in the past, the sooner we face the truth, the better we can make godly choices for the future.
“Adversity introduces a man to himself” (Anonymous).