Sunday, September 26, 2010

Do not say to yourself, "God is tempting me"--the temptation to think God is testing you now to give you something later in this life

I really, really did not want to approach this point but in nine more days I will have hit the one year anniversary of having been laid off from my job. I have never been unemployed for so long a period in my life. There are all kinds of things that could be worse than they are but things are still pretty discouraging and depressing much of the time.


I have often wondered if I'm just bad at writing resumes and cover letters. I'm told by some folks that unemployment is at a very high level. If people who are counted as unemployed are only counted for a certain time period or if they are not counted if they never register then it may well be true that there are more jobless people out there than in official statistics. Some have told me that the problem may not really be that my resume and letter is badly written as that a job may get a thousand people interested in it. if so I feel like my credentials may be among the least impressive credentials a person could have in his given field.


In the realm of "I told you so" or "you were told so" the common denominator is that I should have gotten education back when I got laid off or that I should have gone on food stamps earlier. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. There are a lot of things we can look back on and wish we had done differently. Some of us wish we had never gotten married or that we had not had children (or, far more likely in some cases, that we didn't have children with THAT person). We may wish that we HAD gotten married or HAD had children (especially with THAT person, but usually this is circumlocution for coveting of another sort). There are things I wish I had done differently but whereas I have been told I should have gotten more education after I got laid off (when I had no income and limited money) I wish I had opted to get more education while I still had a job. But the ideas I was pursuing for continuing education at that time were neither smart nor plausible in terms of job market stuff or as a fit for any interests or competencies I had. So, in the end, it's hard to feel particularly regretful that I decided it wasn't smart to pursue further education of the kind I was considering. I do regret not taking the opportunities to learn programs that, in theory, I had access to at my old job because THAT stuff would have been useful! All of that, believe it or not, is just a rambling introduction for the thing I am about to say. When we go through difficult times we remind ourselves (and are rightly reminded) that the testing of our faith produces perserverence. This is rightly and truly said.


Yet there is a point where it is useful to know that the word that is often translated "tempt" in scripture can also be rendered "test". As Susan R. Garrett noted in some of her books, such as the Demise of the Devil in the writings of Luke and The Temptation of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, not all biblical authors broach the subject of temptation and testing in the same way. Abraham was tested by God by being told to kill his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Yet James wrote that no one who is tempted should say "I am being tempted by God". This is also true. And yet the Lord himself taught us to pray, as is so commonly rendered, "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one." And lest we forget God authorized a spirit in the heavenly court to go lie to the prophets of Ahab to entice him to his death after Ahab's wife Jezebel had falsely used Ahab's name to frame a man for blasphemy, get him executed, and then procur the dead man's property so that Ahab could plant a vegetable garden. God, we are told, cannot lie, and yet God commisions liars to lie to effect His purposes. God tests and does not tempt.


I don't have any particularly profound or useful insights from any of this and I am about to use a verbal twist to demonstrate how interpreting times of testing are themselves a temptation. It can be tempting to try to turn every good or bad experience into some life observation or some life-lesson-learned. There comes a point where attempting to find meaning in things you go through becomes a symptomatic of peculiar kind of idol, one we disguise in godly aspirations when we speak to ourselves or others. Particularly dangerous at times is the impulse to try to explain that "God wants me to learn X" from something. Or "God is testing me through X so that I'll be ready for Y." Any time you say anything like this latter formulation that Y, whatever it is, is your idol. There are timez when I wonder what God wants me to "learn" from what I have dealt with in the last year and increasingly I have concluded that this impulse to attempt to explain everything is actually most likely to be the problem.


Say, "God is testing my patience in being single during this time so that this will prepare me for marriage" is one I have heard once in a while. No, He's not testing your patience by you being single for a long time so that you will be prepared for marriage. A variation is "God is testing my patience in my desire for a husband/job/child/heealing/ etc." If you think that God's allowing you to suffer is so that you may one day be proven worthy of some kind of reward in this age then dispense with that thinking as soon as you can.


I very much want a job. A job, however, will not procure a future for me that is insured. I could land a great job tomorrow and I might die tomorrow and never get to work a day of that job. Or I might get laid off the first week of the job because of a budget cut or fired because I don't have the competence to perform the tasks I was hired to do or because the people who hired me decided they didn't want to keep training me. Or I might find a job that I work at for a year or two or ten. I don't know. As someone I used to know would sometimes say it, God only knows and He ain't telling.

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