A word that we commonly use in Christianity is “trials.” By this we mean the times that we are tested to see if we will remain faithful or not. This word typically has a negative connotation, being used to express an unpleasant, yet necessary process.
Trials are different from consequences, in that they are actively put on us by another, not because we did something wrong and are just reaping the natural result of that. Usually those that mention trials are discussing some form of illness, persecution, doubt, or even death.
But I do believe that the tests we are subjected to in Earth life are much broader than just that one category of “affliction.” Trials can take the form of inherent weaknesses and personality traits. Trials can take the form of being given a choice, where we are tempted by that which is easy but wrong. Trials can even take the form of receiving a blessing.
I would like to examine all these different ways of experiencing a trial, how each tests us in its own manner, and how each is meant to help us develop into the person we were born to be.
1 Kings 3:13-14, 11:9-11
And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days.
And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days.
And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice,
And had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which the Lord commanded.
Wherefore the Lord said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant.
And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour
If thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments
Many of us think of trials as being forms of adversity in our lives. But as seen with the story of Solomon, they can also come in the blessings that are given to us. God gave Solomon great blessings: wisdom, riches, and honor. These were given to him with a charge, that he remain ever faithful.
At first Solomon performed the Lord’s will, and prospered greatly because of it. The initial blessings increased, and he became a most powerful sovereign.
And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God
But of course, in time Solomon’s heart turned. His great wealth and influence introduced him to strange wives, and they seduced him into idolatry. His very blessings proved to be his own undoing, and thus we see how those blessings were the trial of his soul.
Perhaps we wish that we could be tempted with riches and power like Solomon, instead of with pain and loss. But in the end, the outcome is the same. Either we are saved by our trials or we are broken by them. Either our soul is exalted, or it is lost. Whether we achieved that culmination by worldly pain or pleasure makes little difference in the eternal perspective.
Exodus 32:1, 7-8, 21-22
And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:
They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?
And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.
They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them
Thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief
We have previously examined that God tests His people with afflictions, but also with blessings. This is not all, though. Of all the ways that we are tested, perhaps the most prominent method is that of being tested by our own nature. Each one of us has our predisposition for sin. Some of us are drawn towards the bottle. Others are firm teetotalers, but then are drawn towards pride. Others are well able to remain humble, but fall prey to their lust. Doesn’t matter what it is, we all have our Achilles’ heel.
Throughout the scriptures we see people that are called to become something more than what they were, but are then tempted to slip back into their old nature. As we see in these passages from Exodus 32, the newly-freed Israelites struggled to cleave to God. Many times they turned back to their idols. In Numbers 22-24 Balaam was convinced by God to pronounce a blessing upon the Israelites, but then in Numbers 31 we learn that he went back and taught the Midianites how to corrupt the Israelites. In John 21 Peter returned to the provincial life of fishing, rather than answer the call to lead the church.
Yes we do have extraneous forces that tempt and try us, but by and large the old adage is true: we are our own worst enemy. The path to exaltation is attained less by powering through intense moments of adversity and blessing, and more by consistently looking ourselves in the mirror and choosing the better part.
Deuteronomy 30:19, Joshua 24:15
I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:
And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
I have set before you life and death, therefore choose life
Choose you this day whom ye will serve
We have just observed how the most common trial God places before us is the trial of our own nature. But the war with ourselves is certainly not some singular event, rather it is broken up into many skirmishes spread throughout each day. Therefore the trial of our nature is further divided into the trials of our individual choices.
Some daily decisions are made easily, but even if we dismiss all of these, there yet remain numerous times where we want one thing, but our conscience wants another. Each one of those is a trial. They might seem like small ones, but each one is a question from God that asks “will you choose Me, or will you choose you?”
That realization has aided me greatly when my small, daily trials come to bear. It is so much harder to deny God when I consciously know that that’s what I’m doing.
Hebrews 5:8-9, 1 Peter 1:7
Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;
That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered
If our own Savior required trials to be educated in the ways of righteousness, how could we claim to not need them ourselves? But why did he require them, and why do we? What is the value that makes them essential to our mortal experience?
And being made perfect
The trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold, though it be tried with fire
The passage from Hebrews continues to say that Jesus not only learned obedience by his trials, he even attained his perfection through them. Elsewhere, Peter calls to mind the oft-repeated analogy of our trials being like a refiner’s fire, whose purpose is to burn away all of the corrupted dross until only the pure metal remains.
We are all basically good, but that does not mean we are all perfectly good. Each of us is fundamentally flawed in one way or another. Or to put it in other words, our core is Godly, but it is encased in corruption. Each trial we endure, whether one of pain, pleasure, or nature, is an opportunity for us to scorch off a part of the corruption and bring forth the Godly. Each of these test will require a difficult denial of self, each will be a humbling process. But this is the way that the God or Goddess within us rises.
Thus far we have defined trials only by a few categories that are very broad, because any attempt to limit the definition of trials to a few, specific situations is quickly refuted by the examples of the scriptures. Just consider how many different ways mankind has been tested in those records.
Noah was commanded to build a ship, Moses to lead a nation, Zerubbabel to rebuild a temple. Aaron contended with idolatry, Elijah with Baalism, Jesus with overzealous extensions to the law. Adam was commanded not to eat the fruit, Samson to never cut his hair, Lot to not look back at the destruction of a city. Abraham was required to sacrifice his son, Saul (later Paul) his misconception of theology, Joseph his country of origin. Esau chose between pottage and birthright, Solomon between two women that claimed to be a child’s mother, the Israelite mob between Jesus and Barabbas. David stood against a mighty giant, Gideon against a massive army, Jacob literally wrestled with God. Naaman obeyed the instruction to bathe in the river Jordan, the widow at Zarephath to feed the prophet her least meal, Ruth to lay at Boaz’s feet. Esther accepted the role of queen, Peter the leading of the church, Elisha the mantle of the prophet.
These are stories of people being put to the test. And not just any test, in each example the trial would become one of the defining moments in that person’s life, a critical junction that helped them decide who they would ultimately become. God knew just what circumstance they needed to bring out their true identity.
That each of these tests was so unique is a reflection on how unique we all are as well. The trial that is custom-designed to divide me right down the middle might have little effect on you. Or it might overwhelm you.
A friend of mine once said “no one else has had my trials. You weren’t overshadowed as a child by two ‘perfect’ sisters. And if you were, then you didn’t have that trial and lose your father while young. And if you did, then you didn’t have those trials and struggle with an addiction. And if you did have all of those trials, then you still didn’t have them the way that I did.”
Your trials are yours and yours alone, so take ownership of them. No one else has tasted them except for your Savior. You two are the experts here, the only ones that can find in them the person you were born to be.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden
Life is difficult, even without trials. For trials are moments given by divinity to test us, but even in their absence there still remains a world that is unfair and consequences for our wrongs. As Jesus put it, there yet remains “labour” and being “heavy laden.”
People speak of how they are hesitant to give themselves to Christ, because then all manner of trouble will come to them. But I’ve seen the shambles that we make from a life without Christ, the trouble is already here.
Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light
The only question, then, is which hardship would you rather endure? Consequences or trials? Consequences that are the retribution for your failings, or trials that are the crucible for your success? Hardship comes either way, so would you rather face it alone, or with a companion? Would you rather suffer your brokenness, or suffer the purification that makes you whole? Trials are never easy, but they are always better.
1 Corinthians 10:13, Alma 26:12
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.
God will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape
Does God never allow us to be tempted more than we can bear? Or does He never allow us to be attempted more than His escape can overcome? As I consider this scripture under the context of other passages, I believe that it means the latter. God does allow us to be tempted with more than we can handle by ourselves. But He does not allow us to be tempted with more than we can handle with Him.
As to my strength I am weak; but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things
The purpose of our life-defining trials is not for us to solve them. In fact they are specifically given to us for the very reason that we can’t solve them on our own! They are designed to just be too big for us to handle.
Because the real purpose of our life-defining trials is for us to let Him solve them. It might take some humbling before we are ready to accept that. Many of us will break ourselves in two trying to move those mountains first. But hopefully, after being sufficiently humbled, we’ll finally submit, and tearfully ask God if He will do it for us. And He will.
I first thought of this series during my study on Free Will vs God’s Control. At the time I wanted to explore trials as a simple curiosity, not because of an abundance of trials in my life. Then, while in the process of actually doing this study many trials began to stack up on me. They came on the global level with COVID-19, the local level with a flurry of earthquakes, and on the personal level with guilt and doubt.
Conducting a gospel study is useful for educating oneself and better understanding the workings of God. But it is also useful in how it allows God to seed preparation for what He knows will soon befall you. If we let Him, He will steer our focus not only to what we need to know for today, but also what we will need to know for tomorrow.
The principles that shone most brightly through this study are also the principles I have needed to implement in the trials that came my way. Eventually my hardships will pass me by, no matter what I choose to do in the midst of them. The only question is whether I will emerge better or worse for the experience.
Trials Can Come in Any Form
A trial can be thought of as any an event or situation that shows us who we are and where we stand. It is a test of some specific aspect of our character. We have trials of our faith, of our resolve, of our loyalty, and of every other virtue we hope to obtain in this life.
Anything that is put upon us to strain these virtues is therefore a trial. We feel a tension, one that seeks either to pull us down or lift us up, and the question is whether we break, move, or remain stationary. As the amount of tension is increased, the option to remain stationary is lost. At certain forces we must either break or move.
The trial might come in a single moment of intensity, it might endure as a constant weight for a very, very long time. It might weigh us down with pain, it might tug upwards with blessings. It might pull at us in both directions at the same time with a difficult choice. It might be external, or it might be pushing and prodding at us from within.
What a trial is not, though, is an equal and opposite reaction caused by us bashing ourselves into a wall. That is a consequence.
Abraham 3:24-25- And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
1 Corinthians 3:13- Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
Trials LEAD US TO BECOME OUR TRUE SELVES
A trial is not some final exam to prove what strength we have already obtained. A trial is the process by which that strength is discovered. It is not the moment when a blacksmith strikes his finished weapon to verify its resilience, it is earlier when the blacksmith melts the ore in its crucible.
Let me back up with that analogy. For a long time the ancient world knew that there were processes by which iron could be refined into something stronger. Specifically they were looking into ways to have it bind with carbon, which if it done perfectly would result in an entirely new type of metal, one many times stronger than the original iron. But how to perform that binding was a mystery that took centuries to solve. Eventually Indian metalworkers learned that the iron and carbon must be placed within crucibles, heated to astronomical temperatures, and then they would melt and bond together into that entirely new metal: steel.
The crucible is not just a test of force, and steel is not just stronger iron. The crucible is the process of transforming something old into something new, and steel is the result of permanent change. Our trials are the crucible by which we are broken down, until at last we are able to bond with God into an all-new alloy.
Peter 1:7- That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
Jeremiah 9:7- Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, Behold, I will melt them, and try them; for how shall I do for the daughter of my people?
Defining Trials EXCEED US
It is true that we can increase our moral resolve by constantly exercising it, like the gradual buildup of a muscle. We can achieve a greater strength by our own efforts, and be able to endure things that we could not endure before. This is a good thing, but there are limits to how far it can take us. Eventually there are things that we simply cannot endure, and it isn’t a question of needing more “spiritual exercise” to get there. At some point spiritual exercise needs to be joined by spiritual transformation.
You might remove as many impurities as you can from iron, and improve its strength by so doing, but eventually it will reach the limit that is inherent in the material. Eventually iron can only get so far. As I mentioned before, iron becomes steel only by being bonded with something else. It isn’t enough to just be near to the something else either. You cannot merely stack the iron on the wood and have the same strength as if you burned both down and fused them as one.
Our greatest, defining trials do not ask us to prove our own strength, and they do not ask to us to stand against that which we cannot withstand. They ask us, rather, to melt…into God. We have to bow, or else we will be broken. But if we lean into the Almighty, then we are transformed. And after the transformation we will rise again, resurrected as something new.
Alma 26:12- Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.
2 Corinthians 5:17- Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.