Academically speaking, I am an above average test taker. I have a good memory, study well, and don’t panic when I sit down in front of a test. Years of experience have taught me that I can face a test for which I am prepared with confidence. But I am still afraid of tests. In my experience, most people are afraid of tests. The idea that our knowledge or ability in some arena will be challenged, and it is up to us to prove that we know what we say we know and can do what we say we can do can’t help but give even the most confident individual pause. We may think we are afraid of tests, but the reality is, we are afraid of failure. And nowhere is this more obvious that when the thing that is being tested is our faith.
St. James tells us to “count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (James 1:2-3, ESV) What a remarkable, nearly unbelievable, command; how can we face the trial of our very faith with joy, let alone confidence? How can we face temptation to sin, or senseless tragedy, or injustice, with joy? Even if we ignore the circumstances of the test, however grievous they may be, we are still left with the idea that our faith may fail in the crucial moment, and we will come out the other side defeated and dejected. How can we face tests of faith with anything other than fear?
I believe that there is a way for us to make sense of this seemingly outrageous command, to find actual joy in the face of trial: don’t be afraid to fail. I know what you are thinking: he is only substituting one outrageous demand for another, but don’t stop reading just yet. First, you need to answer one question: why are we tested? Answer: To determine whether or not we know or possess what we say we know or possess. Tests, in general, tell us what we know, and likewise, trials of faith tell us in what we put our confidence. Tests of faith show us proof of who we are, and whom (or what) we worship.
Tests, and even failure, are good things, when seen from the right perspective. When a loved one dies tragically and unexpectedly – and we turn to God with anger and accusation – we are learning a truth about ourselves: we hold this loved one in higher esteem than we hold God. When we witness the cascade of injustice in the world, and we become angry and cynical, we reveal that we don’t have enough confidence in the justice of God. And when we are dissatisfied and overwhelmed by life and we turn to the fleeting comforts of sin, we reveal that we have not found full satisfaction in God, and that we think we have to make our own happiness. Failing these tests, as painful as it may be, serves a powerful purpose by exposing the truth about what we really trust when the chips are down.
The fact is, for a believer, failing tests of faith is part and parcel of the journey. God cannot leave us over-confident or deluded. Rather, He wants us to “be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:4, ESV) When we fail tests of faith, God seeks to reminds us that we are saved by and live by grace alone. He tests us, knowing beforehand whether we will fail, so we might once again turn to His limitless grace, confessing our weakness and sinfulness, that He may deepen and strengthen our faith in Christ’s goodness, mercy and justice. God wants us to know the truth, so that we may “worship Him in Spirit and in truth.” So, don’t be afraid of failure, for it is the door to deeper faith, deeper satisfaction and deeper worship, if you respond in confession and penitence. Embrace the outcomes of your tests, good or bad, because they are true, and be confident that God’s covenant of salvation with you can weather a little human failure.