I recently read a book written by Thomas Boston titled The Crook in the Lot. The term “lot” refers to the whole of one’s life. The term “crook” refers to a trial that one faces in life. Boston’s purpose in writing the book was to give a theology of trials. From reading Boston’s book, I think it would be beneficial for us to think through the purpose of trials as well.
A trial is a problem, hardship, affliction, or difficulty given to us by God. And below, I just want to walk through some (not all) of the reasons God providentially gives us trials in this life. I mean, if God is sovereign and infinitely wise, then the trials He gives are purposeful. Therefore, we need to know some of these purposes so that we can count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2). Let’s begin.
The Trial of One’s State
God will providentially send a trial our way to test whether we are genuine Christians or religious hypocrites. Just think back to Job’s trial. When the Lord mentioned Job’s name to Satan, Satan responded saying, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land” (Job. 1:9-10). Satan was arguing that the only reason Job’s faith in God was seemingly strong was because God had generously blessed him with a multiplicity of good gifts. Satan is going to go on to argue that, if the Lord were to take away all of these good gifts, Job would evidence that he did not have a genuine faith. So, if all these blessings were taken away then Job would show that he did not fear God simply because God was God but only because God had blessed him. With that in mind, Satan said, “But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (Job 1:11). And, as you are well aware, the Lord did stretch out his hand against Job and Job evidenced the genuineness of his faith by fearing God for no reason.
However, not everybody is like Job. Not everybody has a genuine faith. Some people, in the midst of a trial, evidence their religious hypocrisy. This is seen in the parable of the sower. People that originally received the word of Christ with joy eventually went through trials that led them to fall away from the faith (Mt. 13:21). So, it is evident that trials test one’s spiritual state. They evidence sincerity of faith or religious hypocricy.
Weans Us from the World
This wicked world system is under the rule of the Prince of the power of the air. Satan, that evil ancient serpent is the god of this world. And the consistent teaching of the Scriptures is that Christians are pilgrims, sojourners, strangers, and aliens in this world. Thus, our citizenship is not in this world. Rather, we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. And, as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, we are to journey through this dark world seeking to let the light of the gospel shine through us so that God might be glorified.
However, as we look at our own lives, it is apparent that we do not always do this. Often times we, as strangers of this world, seek to take up residency here. We become all too at home in this world that is at enmity with God and under the power of the evil one. We begin to over indulge in leisure, entertainment, comfort, prosperity, etc. We quit living with gospel urgency and begin to walk in complacency, indifference, and apathy. The thought of the New Jerusalem begins to leave our minds and we begin to live for the kingdom of this world.
It is at this moment that the Lord will providentially give us a trial to wean us from this world. He will gently remind us that this is not our home and that we are to be looking forward to, “The city that has solid foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). Simply put, trials wean us from this world and place our minds on eternal things.
Conviction of Sin
Trials will often serve as a memorial in remembering former sins. They are like the ex-high school football player that continues to have knee problems into his fifties and sixties. Every time he feels an ache in his knee, he is reminded of his high school football days. In a similar vein, the Lord will providentially give us trials to serve as reminders of previous sins that we have committed so that we will not fall into these same sins again.
For example, Joseph’s brothers probably would not have thought much about selling their brother into slavery had it not been for the famine in the land that forced them to go to Egypt in order to get food. However, upon enduring famine, going to Egypt, and enduring other hardships, they were forced to say, “We are guilty concerning our brother,” as well as “God has found out the iniquity of your servants” (Gen. 42:21; 44:16).
Also, Job would not have thought much about the sins of his youth had the Lord not stretched out his hand against him. But since the Lord stretched out his hand, Job said, “For you write down bitter things against me and make me reap the sins of my youth (Job 13:26). Thus, trials sometimes serve as a memorial. They make us recall certain sins that we formerly committed so that we might remember them afresh and make efforts not to commit them again.
Correction, or Consequences of Sin
Every good father disciplines their children for wrongdoing. Each father does this for their children’s good. They want their children to learn that wrongdoing is unhealthy, and that doing right is healthy. So, if this is the case with a good father then how much more will our heavenly Father discipline the children whom he has adopted. When we sin, God will most assuredly discipline us so that we may share in his holiness and righteousness (Heb. 12:10-11).
Also, and this is incredibly important to understand, though our sin has been forgiven and we have been credited with the righteousness of Christ, God will still give us trials and hardships as consequences for sins that we have committed. One of the most beautiful verses in Scripture is found directly after David committed some of the most heinous sins that one can commit (adultery and murder). In 2 Samuel 12:13, David says to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan responds to David saying, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” The Lord graciously put away David’s sin. That is simply remarkable. However, we must not miss what else the Lord said. The Lord also said to David, “The child who is born to you shall die,” and “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from you house.” Those are two major consequences for David’s sins. Thus, David’s sins were covered, yet he was going to endure consequences for the sins that he had committed.
So, you can repent of sin, be forgiven of sin, and not have to worry about eternal wrath, yet still face certain earthly consequences for sin. This is just of God. Consequences for sin is way different than condemnation for sin.
Reveals Dormant Corruption
All of us have certain corruptions that are not lying dormant within us. And by that, I mean sins that we, as well as others around us, are very much aware that we are committing because it is outwardly apparent. We see them. Others see them. Everybody sees them. Therefore, we are able to acknowledge it, repent of it, and then seek to put it to death.
There are other corruptions that lie dormant within us. And by that, I mean certain areas of sinfulness that we are not committing at the time, but are most certainly capable of committing when the right buttons are pushed! So, we are sinful in these areas, but certain things have not happened in our lives that bring out our sinfulness. And, as you can tell, this is not a good place to be. It is not good to have dormant corruption within us that we are unaware of. If we are unaware of this corruption then we are unable to acknowledge it, repent of it, and then seek to put it to death.
With that in mind, sometimes our Heavenly Father will give us a trial to bring this dormant corruption to light. For example, think about the meek and humble Moses. Who would have thought he would have been capable of becoming so angry and bitter? Who would have thought that he would be able to speak so rashly? Yet, that was dormant corruption within him, and, because of the stubborn Israelites, it rose to the top and became apparent (Ps. 106-32-33; Num. 20:13).
The Exercise of Grace
There are certain graces that cannot be exercised apart from some trial. Two of these graces would be patience and steadfastness. These graces are only manifested in the midst of a trial. Therefore, the Lord will providentially give us a trial so that we can exercise these graces. He will give us a co-worker that is not that delightful to be around so that we can exercise our patience in order to demonstrate to the world around us that we are a different. Or, if you are a pastor, he may give you an unruly church member so that you can exercise patience in order to demonstrate to the church what it looks like to be long-suffering.
With that said, there is a reason we look at the humility and meekness of Moses and regard it as something to imitate. I mean, he was with an irritable and quarrelsome people that would have drove us crazy! Praise God Moses was able to show humility and meekness (most of the time) in the midst of that trial. Also, there is a reason we look at the patience of Job every time we are enduring a hardship in this life. The guy was patient and steadfast through some of the most horrific trials that one could ever endure. Praise God that Job was plunged into those trials and was able to exercise patience and steadfastness in a way that has benefitted the church for thousands of years! Thus, trials show certain graces that bring remarkable glory to God.
As Christians, we ought to take comfort in these truths. A season of barrenness is not purposeless. A nagging co-worker is not meaningless. A rebellious child is not fruitless. Cancer is not valueless. They all serve a purpose. As a refiner places his silver into the fire to achieve the good purpose he has, so the Sovereign God of creation places his children through trials to achieve the good purpose he has. This is a truth we are to take comfort in. This is why we can count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds.