Ramblings on Trials

At church last week, the youth pastor was preaching the sermon.  The main topic of the sermon was sanctification, but a sub-topic was trials.  The preacher was saying that trials are a way that God refines us.  Suffering is not always God’s punishment for any sin on our part, but it can be a means that God refines us.  And the preacher said that everyone needs refining, whether they are religious or non-religious.

These points intersected with what was going on this last week.  We had a few days of trials.  I will not share what exactly they were, but we were scared.  For their own reasons, not everyone where I live would necessarily consider himself or herself a Christian believer.  Still, they are good people, people of integrity.

The trials lasted only for a few days, and they were resolved.

Trying to account for the trials theologically is difficult.  Refinement?  The trials only lasted a few days.  Not much time for refining, is there?  But people were better prepared for these trials this time around because they had gone through them before, and, as one person said, they knew more now than they did then.  I suppose that I have more gratitude now.  But I also have more fear.

What if people in the household are not turning to God for help?  Will God provide?  I cannot make anyone like God, especially when there are times when I wonder if I like him that much myself.  Something I pray every day is, “Lord, help me not to hate you or others as much as I do, if at all, but to have more love in my heart, or at least respect for you and others as beings of value, in their own right.”  People like what they like and believe what they believe for their own reasons.  My preaching was not something that people needed to hear, in this time.

It got to the point where I figured that I could do nothing more than I already was doing.  I prayed.  I did not have a prayer-a-thon, since there is no point making the same request over and over, as if God did not hear me the first time, or as if I did not make the request the first time.  But I prayed, sometimes formally, and sometimes informally.  But I pray every day anyway.  It was not as if my devotional routine was dramatically changed as a result of this trial.

During the trial, I did think about issues other than the petty issues I ordinarily think about.  But I was honest with God: if this trial passes, and things become normal again, then my mind will probably return to its usual pettiness.  I don’t like that.  I struggle with that.  But going through a trial does not necessarily change the way that I am, at least not entirely.

We got through this.  During the trial, I had to take a good hard look at how I viewed God.  And, even afterwards, I was perplexed, as relieved as I was, and as relieved as we all were.  Things are becoming normal again, but an experience like this is somewhat like what happened to Jacob after he wrestled with God: he still had a limp.

The preacher’s sermon was relevant to the questions I was asking, even if I did not find it to be a slam-dunk answer.  I have found that the sermons these last few weeks have been relevant to my situation, to questions I was asking or struggles I was having.  Maybe that has to do with God’s concern, or it may just be because a lot of people have these struggles.  A lot of people struggle with intimacy with God after botching things up, which was my struggle a couple weeks ago.  A lot of people have trials.

I hope my frequent use of “I” in this post does not come across as self-centered.  I was, of course, praying for others during this difficult time.  We were in this together, but we were also coping with it and handling it, in our own way.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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