Trials are experiences that human beings are all to familiar with. They are inescapable and are in every area of life. Jesus ensured His people that this would be the case. In John 16:23, He says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (ESV) Is there a purpose to all this hurt and pain? How can a good God allow terrible things to happen to people who love Him? What good could possibly be worth all of the hurt and pain? These are questions that are often raised by people in the midst of trials. Despite how much pain is involved, there is an amazing purpose behind trials; they purify and strengthen faith, resulting in something “more precious than gold.”
James 1: 2-4 assures believes that there is a purpose behind the trials that they so often experience. James says:
“Count it all joy my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (ESV)
Joy is defiantly not the default human reaction to trials. Out of their sinful nature, people naturally react to trials by becoming angry and bitter. However, James implores people to count all of these trials as joy. He does this not because he is crazy, but because he can see the end to which trials are the means: a believer who is “perfect and complete.”
Similarly 1 Peter 1: 6-7 gives believers the proper response to trials. Peter says:
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (ESV)
Peter in not numb to the hurt and pain experienced by believers. He knows that trials are grieving the people. He doesn’t give the typical modern Sunday School copout answer by telling them to put on a happy face and pretend everything is fine. He does, however, give them the appropriate response: rejoice. Rejoice because their faith is being tested and proved to be genuine. Rejoice because this process will give them something more precious than gold: genuine faith.
C.S. Lewis also deals with the issue of trials in The Problem of Pain. He explains it by saying that humanity has rebelled against its Creator and humanity needs to surrender. People must be broken and lay down their arms. He says, “The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender the self-will as long as all seems to be well with it.” (Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 90) People need trials to realize that the way that they do life is not working and that they need to surrender to God to set things right. Lewis says, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain, it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 90) Pain is how God gets through to humanity, it shatters that notions that all is well and that what people have is enough for them. “The full acting out of the self’s surrender to God therefore demands pain: this action, to be perfect, must be done from the pure will to obey, in absence, or in the teeth of inclination.” (Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 98) This quote echos exactly what the passage from James is saying. Through trials, faith is being perfected and people are being made to be more like Christ. Trials are people’s wake up call that they cannot do life on their own. In this realization, believers should rejoice because without it they would never be able to lay down their arms and truly surrender to God. (Lewis, The Problem of Pain)
The Screwtape Letters are also full of great perspective of trials. The perspective in the letters is not as direct as in The Problem of Pain, but with a little time and consideration some amazing truths about trials can be found in the letters from Screwtape to Wormwood. In Letter XII, Screwtape warns Wormwood not to move too quickly saying, “My only fear is lest in attempting to hurry the patient you awaken him to a sense of his real position.” (Lewis, The Srewtape Letters) Screwtape does not want the patient to realize that he is drifting away from God and that his present course of action is not working. Believers should rejoice in trials because they accomplish exactly what Screwtape is afraid of. As was said in the previous section, trials are God’s way of shouting to people. They awaken people to their “real position” by doing away with the notion that all is well. After they have been woken up to reality people must turn to God. Even though personal sin does not necessarily lead to many trials (John 9:3), trials present and amazing opportunity for believers to recognize sin and repent of it. In doing this they “spoil the whole game” according to Screwtape. Believers must take the opportunity to refocus their attention on God during trials. If they are reluctant to think about God and neglect their relationship with Him than Screwtape gets exactly what he wants. Screwtape says, “It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and into Nothing.” Christians must take each trial as an opportunity to have their faith strengthened, like James and Peter say, not to allow themselves to become separated from God. (Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)
There are also many great perspectives on trials in “We Have No Right to Happiness.” Believers must not allow themselves to think that they have a “right to happiness” in the midst of their trials. This attitude will certainly build up resentment toward the Christian and God: exactly what Screwtape is trying to do. Lewis says, “A right to happiness doesn’t, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or to have a millionaire for your father, or to get good weather whenever you want to have a picnic.” (Lewis, “We Have No Right to Happiness”) Believers might be inclined to think that this “right to happiness” is just a way for unbelievers to justify their sin. It is true that this is the case, but the “right to happiness” has also infiltrated Christianity. It has simply manifested itself in a more Christian way. They health and wealth gospel is full of claims to a “right to happiness” for Christians. Claims like the following are made all the time: “If you have enough faith you will experience victory in you finances, your relationships, and your health!” These claims are certainly tied to a “right to happiness” mentality and are very dangerous because they leave believers with a totally false perception of trials. Instead of the biblical view that trials are for strengthening faith, trials are seen as evidence that the Christian does not have enough faith. Trials must be understood through the Scriptures, not through the preaching of people on TV who do not understand the Bible. Believers are to rejoice when they encounter trials of may kinds, because they result in something more precious than gold. (Lewis, “We Have No Right to Happiness.”)
In Engaging God’s World, Plantinga also gives many good insights regarding trials. Plantinga does not often talk about trials explicitly, but his chapter on the fall is very helpful in understanding why trials exist. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God they allowed sin to enter the world. The fall has left all humans depraved; they are sinners by nature and by choice. Due to this reality, humans live against what is good for them and against one another. Evil is what is wrong and it has corrupted everything in the world. “We have in the world not just sins, but sin; not just wrong acts, but also wrong tendencies, habits, practices, and patterns that break down the integrity of persons, families, and whole cultures.” (Plantinga, p. 54) Without sin in the world there would be no trials. Trials are a direct result of the fact that humans live in a sinful world. As long as people are still sinners by nature and choice they will hurt each other and themselves. This is a sad reality of the fall. As a result of the fall, all people will die a physical death and there will be pain and suffering in the world. Christ is the answer to the two fold problem of trials. First, it is Christ who uses trials to strengthen the faith of believers and make them more like Himself. Secondly, it is Christ who has paid the ransom for sin and will someday return and heal all of the sickness, hurt, and death that is so often part of the human experience. (Plantinga)
Trials are a complex issue for believers to understand. They are a result of the fall and sin entering into the world yet Christians are to rejoice in them. They cause people who love God to grieve and hurt yet Peter and James compel believers to consider it pure joy. Like Lewis says in The Problem of Pain, pain serves as the wake up call for humanity that all is not well and what people have is not enough for them. Christians must avoid allowing resentment and separation, the things Screwtape wants, to build up between them and God by constantly reevaluating and repenting. Believers must also not allow a “right to happiness” mentality to seep in and cause them to misunderstand the purpose of trials. What is ultimately important is keeping the big picture in mind. God is using trials to strengthen believer’s faith and make this faith into something more precious than gold. Despite how great the trial and how much pain is involved, faith more precious than gold is worth it. When this is properly understood it calls for a proper response. This response, like James and Peter say, is rejoicing in the pain, hurt, and struggle. The response is not to put on a happy face and pretend that everything is fine, in this people are denying their God-given emotions and lying to themselves and others. The right thing to do is to cry, to grieve, to hurt, but to rejoice in the midst of this; because despite the pain, believers should trust and obey God when He says that the results are worth it.
The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008. Print.
Lewis, C. S., and C. S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letters: with Screwtape Proposes a Toast. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain,. New York: Macmillan, 1944. Print.
Lewis, C. S. "We Have No “Right to Happiness”…C.S. Lewis." Web. 25 Jan. 2011. <http://www.calvin.edu/~pribeiro/>.
Plantinga, Cornelius. Engaging God's World: a Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002. Print.