Every faithful or once faithful member of their respective religion should be familiar with the idea of a “trial of faith”. When hardship and tragedy strike, we are told that God is testing us. We are expected to endure and remain faithful through our trials, and after… AFTER… we will be blessed. There are many explanations for why the troubling experiences we have supposedly bring us closer to God.
- We are humbled.
- We are given opportunities to be forgiving.
- We learn compassion.
- We learn how to ask for help.
- Others are given opportunities to serve.
Mostly though, God just wants to see how much he can fuck with you before you give up on him.
Oh, struck a nerve there, didn’t I?
Well, isn’t that exactly what a “trial of faith” entails?
Take Abraham, for example. God kept him and his wife sterile until well into their elderly years. This, after promising that his prosperity would be as numerous as the grains of sand on a beach and the stars in the sky. Then, God allows his wife to become pregnant, but later asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Nevermind that He later reneges. The whole scenario was a “test” in which God wanted to see how far he could go, how much could he ask of his “servant”, would Abraham obey without question?
Probably the best Biblical example of this is Job. In this story, God made a bet with Satan, that Job would remain faithful and obedient despite having more and more taken from him. His wealth, his health, his friends, his home, his family… Bit by bit, piece by piece, Job lost one thing after another, experienced more and more hardship, but still Job was faithful, and God won his bet.
Sometimes, God even asks His followers to die for their faith. The ultimate test. The ultimate sacrifice. Someone demands you deny your faith or be killed. What do you do? Do you remain faithful and die, or do you deny your God and preserve your life? Religions glorify those who die for their faith, calling them heroes. Martyrs. And to deny God is the ultimate shame. In many denominations, it is believed that those who deny their God in these scenarios damn their eternal souls. And so, their lives seem a small loss in that grand scheme of eternity. A small sacrifice to prove one’s devotion.
Being raised with such stories, being told that God loves us with a love more profound than we can possibly understand, and reading that He does all these things for our good (Romans 8:28), leaves one thinking that these “tests” must serve a divine purpose that truly is good for us, even if we can’t understand how. And just like that, every bad thing that happens becomes part of God’s plan to spiritually strengthen us and prepare us for all that will be expected of us in eternity.
I used to believe that all the hard things I experienced were trials designed specifically for me. Meant to build my character and prepare me for future trials that would all eventually shape me into the person God intended me to be. So, I saw having an autistic younger brother as a trial meant to build my patience. I saw stumbling upon my mother’s suicide note she’d written for my father when I was twelve years old as a trial meant to help curb my temper and make me more compassionate. I saw my best friend’s mother dying of a heart-attack when we were fourteen as a trial meant to help me learn empathy. And all these things prepared me for one of the biggest trials of my life – marriage.
I was a late bloomer sexually. My interests didn’t start cropping up until my second year of college, and I was all messed up emotionally. Depressed, low self-esteem, desperate, sexually repressed… a perfect target. I met an abuser who quickly took advantage of my innocence and naivety. Within six months of dating, he practically had me wrapped around his finger, and when I became pregnant out of wedlock the church pushed us to begin our repentance process and to marry. Nobody suspected that he’d been emotionally and physically beating me into submission. I was pregnant. So their only thought was to hurry up and rush into a marriage. We could work out any problems in our visits with our bishop while we worked out our repentance for breaking the law of chastity.
Of course, in saying our “I do’s”, I’d effectively tightened the noose around my own neck. Things only got worse, and I kept questioning and blaming myself. I felt like an utter failure. I thought I was being punished for straying from the straight and narrow, and I thought I could fix it, if only I could pull myself out of my spiritual slump and rekindle my struggling faith.
Then, one night, my then husband woke with severe tooth pain. We had no means to get to a hospital in the middle of the night – no vehicle of our own, bus routes weren’t running, and no insurance to cover the cost of an ambulance ride. So, he took aspirin, hoping it would get him through the night and we could go in the morning, but the pain just wasn’t subsiding. He asked me to pray for him, so of course I did, but… nothing happened. I specifically prayed for the pain to be taken away, but it only seemed to be getting worse. After writhing for a couple hours, he was starting to get pissed. He suggested that God didn’t answer, because He didn’t care.
I “knew” that wasn’t true though. How could it be? I’d been raised to believe He loved and cherished ALL His children and that He ALWAYS answered prayers, but those answers would come in the way they were needed. Not necessarily what we wanted. I tentatively suggested that maybe God hadn’t taken the pain away, because we needed to go to the emergency room, and I immediately regretted it. My disagreement sent my then husband into a rage. He shouted at me, with spittle coming from his mouth, that God didn’t love him and insisted I “say it”. I thought right then that this was my trial of faith. This was my moment to prove myself to my God.
Knowing what would follow, I refused my husband’s demand, and he immediately started choking me. But I didn’t fight it. I was overcome with a sense of calm. If he killed me over this, I’d be a martyr, for I’d refused to deny my God. When things started to go black, he let go of my neck and as I gasped for air, he beat me upside the head, knocking me to the floor. He stood over me for a moment with a crazed look in his eyes, but then it dissipated and he collapsed in a puddle of remorse, apologizing and blaming his outburst on demonic possession. I’d heard it all before. It didn’t matter. I was convinced that I’d passed my trial and things would start getting better now.
It didn’t. Only when I took matters into my own hands, when my motherly protective instincts kicked in and I sought to defend my infant from the abusive hand of his father, did things finally start getting better. Still, I was a believer and I attributed my escape and recovery to divine intervention. It wasn’t until several years later that I finally started thinking: “What kind of God does that to His children?”
How is it “loving” to put your children in situations where they’ll be beaten, raped, and even murdered ON PURPOSE to “test” their devotion to you? Sure, we all allow our children to experience pain from their mistakes. It helps them learn. But letting a child fall and scrape their knees isn’t the same thing as letting a child get hit by a car. And letting a child experience the pain of their mistakes as a learning experience isn’t the same as pitting them against bullies and rewarding them afterwards if they obediently take it without complaint.
A God who does that isn’t loving. He’s abusive. The whole concept of a “trial of faith” is a form of control. It’s a God who fucks with you and rewards you for continuing to love him anyway. Like a dog owner who starves his dog in order to “master” it… a God who tests his children with such horrors is not worthy of worship any more than a man who chokes his wife is worthy of loyalty and love.