Tests are not for the sake of the teacher, but for the benefit of the student.
As a teacher, I don’t ask test questions because I need to know the answers. I ask questions because my students need to know the answers. Likewise, God ordains tests for us, not for his sake, but for ours. He ordains tests today just as he did in the Old Testament with the testing of his people, and in the New Testament with the testing of the disciples.
From those who have gone before us, we find several reasons for tests in Scripture. And knowing that tests are purposeful, we can rest, understanding that the Master is fully in control of both the test and the outcome.
I remember seeing the eyes of the people around me for the first time in elementary school once I got glasses. I didn’t know I couldn’t see until I took a vision test in fourth grade. My eyesight had gradually weakened, until I thought that blurry faces and faint lines on the chalkboard were normal. That simple diagnostic test revealed an issue I never knew existed.
Just as medical tests reveal our health conditions, God tests us to reveal our spiritual condition, as he did for Israel:
And you shall remember the whole way 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, whether you would keep his commandments or not. (Deuteronomy 8:2)
Their forty-year test in the wilderness revealed just how easily the Israelites could forget the God who brought them out of Egypt. Likewise, our tests may reveal just how easily we fall back into old patterns of:
God tells us that he never tempts us to sin (see James 1:13). The tests we face are not designed to lead us to sin; rather, they reveal the sin that already lurks in our hearts, ready to show itself at any opportunity.
The next time you’re put to the test—whether it’s conflict with a loved one, bad news, or horrible traffic—and react in an ungodly way, remember that God ordains some tests to “know what was in your heart.” This is his grace —to reveal our need of him more clearly, and we throw ourselves on his mercy.
I hate exams as much as my students do. Like all teachers, however, I know that without the pressure of a quiz or exam, my students are not likely to learn the necessary lessons.
The disciples faced an educational test when they found themselves in the midst of an unexpected storm:
And when [Jesus] got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. (Matthew 8:23-26)
Jesus’ followers included several experienced fishermen, and if they were frightened, then the situation must have been alarming. They saw the looming waves, but they failed to see the test of faith. They could have passed the test had they remembered that the one who created the storms was with them in the boat. Instead, they were met with Christ’s words: “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”
We face similar educational tests when the unexpected financial crisis hits, the frightening diagnosis is delivered, or a heartbreaking betrayal is revealed. In all cases, Christ is the perfect teacher, and he can be trusted to prepare and carry us through the crisis. If, like the disciples, we fail the test, we can also trust Christ to handle the storm, bringing us through by his grace to the other side.
Sometimes tests are necessary to demonstrate that a candidate is certified in a particular field. We take driving tests, college entrance exams, professional licensing exams, and more. In all cases, standards are set, questions are asked, and the answers are evaluated by experts who determine whether candidates pass or fail.
Likewise, God knows those who love him. He is patient, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). However, a day is coming when he will test the minds and hearts and determine whether we are righteous or wicked:
Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous—you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God! (Psalm 7:9)
On our own merit, the test of righteousness is impossible to pass. But thank God he provided a way when he sent Jesus to die for our sins, including all our failed tests. Christ willingly traded places with us, signing himself up, enduring, and finally passing the most eternally-significant test, so we could be named among the righteous:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Trust in the Testing
Not all tests are designed with the same purpose (and some we may never grasp in this life). But we do know this: God is good. And the clearest demonstration of his goodness was at the cross. In the face of every test, we can remember Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”