Questions and answers

Doctrinal Commission – International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services

Year 2014


When people are in the midst of a difficult trial such as sickness, unemployment, or the loss of a loved one, it is not uncommon to hear them say: “God is testing me.” Or sometimes another person will tell the sufferer, “God is testing you.”

Is it true that God tests people? What do Scripture and Tradition tell us about how we should understand such trials?

In Scripture we find several different passages in which God is said to test someone. For instance, Genesis 22 tells us, “After these things God tested Abraham,” and then narrates the most difficult test imaginable: Abraham is asked to sacrifice his only beloved son, Isaac.

The book of Job describes how God allowed Satan to take away, first, Job’s children and possessions, and second, Job’s own health. In his anguish Job cries out to God, “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your mind upon him, visit him every morning, and test him every moment?” (Job 7:17-19).

God tests people not only through trials but also through blessings. During Israel’s desert journey, God told Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not” (Exod 16:4-5). God tested his people as to whether they would trust him and obey his command not to gather manna on the sabbath.

Not only in the Old Testament but also for Christians, being tested by trials is a normal part of human life. The First Letter of Peter says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet 4:12-13).

In all these examples, it is important to recognize that God does not test human beings to increase his own knowledge. He already knows us perfectly. Rather he tests us for our sake. His “tests” are not like a teacher giving a final exam, but like a goldsmith trying gold in the fire, to refine and purify it. So Scripture encourages us, “Now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may result to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:6-7).

It is also essential to make a distinction that was not yet clear in the Old Testament period: the distinction between what God allows and what God directly causes. God tests us in the sense that he allows us to encounter temptation or suffering, but he himself does not directly cause these things. He allows them for our good, that we might learn to resist evil and grow in humility, trust and reliance on God. As Moses told the Israelites, God “fed you in the wilderness with manna… that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end” (Deut 8:16).

We must avoid a very common misunderstanding in regards to sickness and other trials. Many people think that because God has allowed these adversities in our life, therefore it would be wrong for us to pray to be healed or delivered from an adversity. But this does not follow at all. In fact, the Lord wants us to grow in faith by confidently praying to him for all our needs, including our need for health and the fullness of life.

If a person is seriously ill, we do not hesitate to advise them to see a doctor as soon as possible. We recognize that to seek healing through a doctor is the proper response to illness, and it in no way implies that a person is unwilling to carry their cross. Likewise, if someone is suffering the loss of their job or home, or some other trial, we do not say, “Just grin and bear it.” Rather we seek to relieve their suffering and provide for their needs. Why then would we think that it is wrong to pray to God for healing from sickness or relief from other trials? Sirach expresses this balanced perspective: “My son, when you are ill, delay not, but pray to God, who will heal you…. Then give the doctor his place lest he leave; for you need him too” (Sir 38:9, 13). God works sometimes through doctors and sometimes miraculously through prayer.

Finally we should also make a distinction between a test and a temptation. God allows us to be tested by adversity, but he will never tempt us to sin. “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:13-14). Scripture also teaches us to have confidence that God will always provide a way to overcome temptations. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).

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