A Trial – a Test – an Opportunity to validate your beliefs

Which way.jpgAccording to “Worldometers” there will be 7.4 billion people on the earth by the end of this decade. It’s amazing that among so much humanity that we’re all so unique. Our uniqueness results from the people, environment and culture where we’re born and raised, how we’re governed, our race, ethnicity, education level, health status, economic status, religious affiliation, age and every personal experience past and present. Even though in terms of DNA sequence every human is 99.5% similar to every other human, it’s that other ½ % of variances in our genome which make us even biologically unique.

Our uniqueness takes expression in what we believe about and relate to a variety of subjects. Surveys reveal that some of the strongest beliefs a person has concern his or her understanding and degree of acceptance of things, events and beings that transcend our natural world (i.e.: humanity’s beginnings, its purpose for existence and its future, the supernatural realm, morality, etc.)

From the 1st Century AD on, evangelical Christians like myself who today make up barely a tenth of the population of the earth seem to have successfully usurped the term “believer” to define us. At the same time we characterize the 90% outside our circle as “unbelievers.” In reality, every one of the persons that currently inhabit this earth, as well as all those that have preceded us throughout history and those that will someday replace us are “believers – in something.” Even those who do not affiliate with any religion as well as those who claim to deny the existence of anything outside of the natural realm “faithfully” adhere to their persuasion.

And in the midst of these 7.4 billion unique persons, it’s amazing that most “believe” that theirs is the one and only true truth. In reality, none of us has the total truth – for we’re all imperfect beings. But clearly, some of us are closer to true truth than others; in fact, much closer. But how do we know which of us?

If only there was a way to “test” the validity of our beliefs!

I’m convinced that most people are satisfied with just believing they have the true truth. They have no interest in testing or validating those beliefs. In fact “testability” troubles a lot of people. Because it implies that their or someone else’s doctrine might be proved wrong, or that their “faith” is so incongruous to the real world that it will reveal their need to compartmentalize and segregate their belief system life from their natural life.

Personally though, I’m on a quest to understand and grasp true truth. If I’m on the wrong path and have an opportunity to get my life on a more accurate track, then that’s what I want to do. If there is some means that a human being with an open mind can avail himself or herself of to test the validity of their beliefs, then I want to find and pursue it.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve found at least one such means, and I found it in the most unexpected of places. In the midst of our billions of unique experiences and unique constitutions, there is at least one common thread.  It’s a factor that every human being on this earth must deal with – and that common element is referred to by many names. In the Christian vernacular it’s often referred to as “tribulation.” But “tribulation” is just a synonym for the difficulties or challenges or trials that every being faces throughout our days on this earth. No one born on this earth is immune from tribulation; not even an incarnate spirit-being which Jesus claimed to be.  In fact it was one of the last things Jesus cautioned His followers to prepare for when He said: “In the world you will have tribulation.” In other words, at the same time as He was trying to convince people that following Him was a good thing, He didn’t want them to get the false impression that it would immunize them from the troubles and evils of the world around them.

How can the trials of life be a revelator and validator of our belief system?

Regardless of the monotheistic, multi-deity, pantheistic or no-theistic belief system each individual identifies with, he or she must still function in the natural world. A “true-true” belief system must be able to deal with every known fact in the past and present universe and even have an answer for what awaits us in the future. Human reason demands it.

As a result, the truest belief system is the one that provides the closest world view “fit”, i.e.: that paints a picture of the world that matches the way the world really is. As such, it must be based on real evidence. It’s the one that allows me to live a non-compartmentalized life, a holistic life where my belief system (be it religious or non-religious) and everyday life come together.

Tribulations (or trials) present us with the opportunity to test and validate our belief system whatever it is. However who amongst us has the courage to subject both our belief system and our personal “faith” or trust in that belief system to an independent and fair evidentiary hearing? Many do not. In fact, there’s a great investment in society (evolution theory, religious pluralism, social engineering, post-modernism, etc.) to discourage one from pursuing such a validation effort.

Instead of seeing these difficulties and challenges as learning opportunities, society would have us (1) try to explain the problem, including why it exists, (2) try to fix the problem, or (3) assign blame for the problem. Unfortunately most of life’s complex problems are neither accurately explainable nor fixable to the affected party’s satisfaction; and it rarely if ever accomplishes anything to assign blame. But assign blame many of us do nonetheless.

And who do we blame? We blame ourselves and our past indiscretions. We blame our parents, siblings and the circumstances of our upbringing. We blame society, the education system, our business relationships and our leaders for failing to meet every personal desire or need. Many religious people blame the devil and some even blame God or gods. Some of our difficulties are of our own making – bad past decisions and choices; but most we have little to no control over.

Though there may be some value in knowing the reason for each difficulty we face and its source, I believe it’s more important how we respond to each. We have the choice to look at a trial as an inconvenience or a hardship that we pout or fret about. But what good does that do? None at all! Or we can choose to look at that same trial as an opportunity both to learn from and to validate or disprove our beliefs. It becomes an opportunity to prove our faith, our character and our commitment in a particular area.

Let’s consider a few examples

Every parent faces trials that test the consistency of applying their belief system to some deeply troubling personal circumstances. No matter where you reside in the world, every parent, whether Hindu, Muslim, atheist or Christian, at some point in their life is going to have to deal with pain and suffering. How does their belief system and their personal trust in that system contribute to their response to these real-life situations?

Will the Hindu father adhere to his faith’s teaching when one of his children faces sickness and disease and its accompanying pain and suffering? His faith claims that all pain and suffering is a natural consequence of the moral laws of the universe in response to some negative behavior of a soul’s past-life. If his ailing child asks “why me?” or feels her circumstances are “not fair,” will the father reply as his Hindu “faith” demands, that the child’s current situation is the exactly correct situation for her to be in, given her soul’s previous actions in a former life. Or will that father take the path of human normality and try to comfort his child and seek medical help to alleviate the pain and suffering?

Will the Muslim parent whose child is struggling with emotional and behavioral problems stick to his Qur’an’s teachings? His faith claims that “all of life is a test and that those who fail this test shall see the evil consequences of their sins and corruption?” The conclusion is that the all-great but “impersonal” Allah allows suffering to occur when one or more of his laws are broken. Will the parent explain to his child that he or the child has somehow failed Allah and thereby must learn to cope with his deserved lot in life? Or will that parent also do what comes natural to fathers and mothers everywhere; namely seek to help their child improve his circumstances?

How would the atheist mom respond to similar circumstances and still adhere to her “faith principles” which proclaim that her child is merely a conglomeration of evolutionized molecules with little or no intrinsic value. Will she even recognize the conflict between her “faith principles” and her motherly instincts to protect and care for her young, traits which have been engrained into her being by One greater than herself?

Will the Christian father faced with economic hardship continue to trust in the promises of his God to meet all of his loved ones’ needs as he puts the Kingdom of God first? There is no “or will he” alternative that will ever yield a better and more compassionate result. For Christianity addresses every part of life. It’s not a religious thing; it is true-true.  Every fact in the known universe confirms Biblical truth. And that bothers a lot of people too and they’ll use every means available to prove it ain’t true.

Every non-Judeo-Christian religion forces its adherents to separate their religious life from their everyday life – then they rationalize the religious part – since it doesn’t make any sense otherwise.  They have a religious life over here and an everyday life over there.  When you talk to them about religion, it’s as if the law of non-contradiction doesn’t apply. It never makes sense, and it really doesn’t matter to them.  However, in their everyday life they have to do the same kinds of things you and I have to do.  (e.g.: look both ways before crossing the street; balance a checking account; feed a baby.)  Rationality and the laws of logic apply.

Most Eastern religions identify things such as pain and suffering as illusory. They teach that mankind is called to “transcend” pain and suffering.  Is this the way real families deal with it?  I think not!   Just tell a person who lived through the Holocaust, or who’s child was murdered or who’s suffering in the hospital that it’s only an illusion.

As Christians, we know pain and suffering exists; we identify with it; and we’re called to deal with it in particular ways; and be with those who do suffer. Christianity brings our belief system life and our everyday life together.  “Come let us reason together,” is God’s challenge to all of mankind. I worship God with my mind, as well as my heart.  My faith is not blind, but is based on real evidence.

Christianity is indeed testable and verifiable.  There is actually objective evidence, both for it and against it.  Each of the primary doctrines of Christianity can be tested as to whether they are true or not.  In fact, many of the writers of the Bible challenge people to do the research and find out if there is or is not corroborating evidence for the claims made. The Christian apostles did not back away from even the most controversial doctrines of faith, such as the resurrection of the dead. What other religion links their faith to a historical event (especially a miracle) that could be checked out? None that I know of! Yet, the apostle Peter told the early Christians, “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.  But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”  That’s the nature of Christianity – to be willing to seek the truth and to give an answer to its harshest critics.

Contrast this with Buddhism, where the test is the experience of enlightenment.  It takes 10 to the power of 63 (or 1 followed by 63 zero’s) reincarnations to reach enlightenment. That’s a long time to wait to see if it’s true!

Trials come to all mankind – but for the Christian believer they are of special significance

“Why must all men endure trials?” I can’t answer that question. It’s beyond my pay grade. But if you ask me, “Why should a person’s belief system be tested?” I can take a stab at that one. For every one of us faces difficulties, tribulation, trials, whatever title we give them, and it sure would be nice to have the confidence that my belief system has some value in helping me understand and deal with such trials. Absent a strong belief system that we can place our trust in, we’ll view every impending trial with fear and hopelessness and/or an attitude of rebelliousness. Instead, if we’re going to be able to help ourselves or our families or associates get through these times of tribulation, we’re going to need to approach them with courage.

Whether the trial comes from God, from the world, or from the enemy, it’s really not relevant. In fact, some come precisely because we are or claim to be followers of Christ. No one relishes a trial when it enters their life. It’s human nature to try to avoid such circumstances. But is it better that our lives be comfortable and safe, or that they be rich and purposeful?

What we say and how we act when things are going great have little meaning to the casual observer. But when we are going through a trial – our response is noted by all. So what should be our response?

If we’re one of His followers, God expects us to not shrink back from any trial; rather to persevere through each one. How we respond will not be a surprise to Him. Still, our response to the test validates each of His true followers before the court of heaven and it becomes the basis for God justly rewarding us for staying faithful.

Our response also declares to the world and the enemy the degree that we believe God and trust in Him and His Word and promises. These observe our response to each trial and assess our position in the Kingdom and whether we believe our own proclamation of our beliefs. Our response serves as a witness – both of our genuineness and of God’s miraculous power to deliver those who believe in Him and His Son.

As strange as it may sound, we are also observers of our own responses. Without testing there would be no way for our faith, character and commitment to be refined, to be strengthened or to be proved genuine. Testing begets blessing, because only through testing can these be strengthened, thus hastening our spiritual growth and the blessings that accrue to that growth.

And a successful conclusion is God’s glory, our confidence and increased strength.

Prepare yourself for times of tribulation

The worst thing a person can do is not be prepared for challenging circumstances in their life. Not only have we all been put on notice that struggles will come, it’s also simple common sense to expect to face difficulties from time to time. So here are a few simple suggestions.

  1. Don’t preach to others what you don’t believe. For the word you speak to others will be “tried.”
  2. Validate your belief system and once you are confident in that system adhere to it. I have done this with my Christian faith. Have you? If yours doesn’t yield the same degree of confidence that it will take you through any trial you may face in the future, then check out mine.
  3. Don’t look back to your past mistakes and failures. Every time the people of Israel were faced with a test, they looked back at Egypt. It just made things worse.
  4. Don’t take an opinion poll before you act. At the border to the “Promised Land,” 10 out of 12 supposed representatives of God voted to turn back and not enter because their eyes focused more on the appearance of the enemies they’d have to fight and less on the promises of God (the Author of their belief system).
  5. Every trial appears like we’re in a desert (like we’re facing it alone). There’s nothing further from the truth if we have confidence in our belief system. Being “alone” just forces us to acknowledge the presence of and our dependence on the One greater than yourself.
  6. Predetermine to whom you will turn to when faced with a trial. Decide whether it will be God or yourself?

One last thought

In one instance described in the 16th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus demonstrated for His disciples how to address tribulation. He first took His disciples’ attention off both His impending personal crisis and off the “tribulation” that was coming down the pike in their lives. Then He refocused their attention on (1) believing in Him, (2) removing the guilt they would experience for abandoning Him in His hour of need, (3) relying on the Father and His faithfulness, (4) having inner peace and being of good cheer regardless of the circumstances, (5) and trusting in Him for He had overcome the world.

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