Are you prepared for your next test?


For the week of August 23, 2014 / 27 Av 5774
Torah: Devarim/Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:11 - 55:5

Do You Hate Tests?

Do you hate tests?

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, 'Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, 'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (Devarim/Deuteronomy 13:1-3)

Do you hate tests? I think most people do. I think most people consider them necessary evils that have to be endured to satisfy someone's arbitrary requirements. If that is what we think, then we don't really understand their purpose. Often if I have to take a medical test, I joke with my kids about having to study beforehand, as if studying will help me obtain a better result such as would be the case (hopefully) if it were an academic test. The joke is funny because we regard medical tests and academic tests as having nothing in common except that they are both called "tests." But are they really that different?

Medical and academic tests have more in common than you might think, especially regarding their purpose. Tests are designed to determine the quality or standard of something. Medical tests are designed to determine if a person has a particular medical condition. You either have it or you don't. The test can only reveal what is. This is no different from an academic test. A spelling test, for example, is designed to determine if your spelling ability is at a particular level. The spelling test doesn't make you a good or bad speller. It simply reveals your ability.

Of course, knowing a test is coming can motivate you to attempt to change your condition. This seems to be one of the reasons that an academic test is an educational tool. In anticipating a test, most people prepare in order to succeed. Medical tests too may also help to improve one's condition, for the fear of having to face a bad result may effectively motivate us to make significant lifestyle changes. But once the test is taken, it's reality time.

One could cheat, of course. We have heard stories of athletes masking banned substances to fool the authorities into thinking they won competitions fairly or students doing the same to pretend they have learned things they haven't. I suspect many have succeeding in fooling the authorities, even the world, but in the long term who are they fooling? I would like to think that at the very least cheaters know they are not really fooling themselves, but I wonder. Sometimes self can be the most gullible. We hide the truth, because we can't tolerate the alternative.

When God tests people, like most tests, he is not looking for some sort of achievement from us, but rather to reveal our true condition. We can try to cheat, for it's easy to pretend to be good, smart, strong, or spiritual until we're tested. Then who we really are is clarified. The real us is made manifest for all to see.

But how God tests us may be surprising. In our parasha (Torah reading portion), we read that God may allow false prophets to lure away his people by using signs and wonders. God knows how people are drawn to the supernatural and that the demonstration of miraculous power will demonstrate who are his faithful followers and who are not. God himself performs impressive displays of power, but they were never to be taken as necessary marks of authenticity. Miracles may find their source in God or demonic power. Determining what is actually of God has to do with truth, not power.

False prophets don't corrupt God's children; they clarify who they really are. Those lured away by the pretension, pride, arrogance, and false promises of misguided teachers, do so because up until then, they were pretending. The test reveals the truth.

Does the prospect of being tested in this way frighten you? Are you worried that you might fail such a test? Well, that's not necessarily a bad thing; that is if you do something about it. Once the test comes, it may be too late. But you can prepare for God's tests. Stop pretending and face the truth about God and yourself right now. With his help, you may just pass with flying colors.

Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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