For as long as humanity has dialogued with God, the debate about whether the divine tests His people has continued. Ancient pagans would sacrifice in order to appease their deities. They did not want the calamity they believed the gods could inflict. Sometimes they even sacrificed children.
In the western world, belief in one God dominates. Far from belief in fickle gods that would cause, or prevent disasters, belief in one loving God tends to characterize what most hold. A careful examination of the Scriptures shows, however, that even the loving God tests His people.
No one wants to be tested. Some have speculated that the decline in morality over the last 100 years has partly to do with a desire to avoid all struggle. Instead of resisting struggle through divine grace, embrace of any and all impulse seems to be favored.
For those who wish to follow the God of the Bible, testing throughout life should be expected. Genesis 22 says God tested Abraham. He had promised that Abraham would finally have a son and when God provides, the Lord asks him to sacrifice Isaac.
It sounds morose that the God we worship would be so bloodthirsty that He would ask a parent to sacrifice their child. It wasn’t uncommon in the ancient near east, however.
Infant sacrifice was widely practiced in Canaan and the Phoenician colonies of North Africa — 2 Kings 16:3 and Micah 6:7 shows this even happened in Israel as a means of averting divine wrath. As Abraham takes out his knife to comply with God’s instruction, the Lord sees the depth of Abraham’s loyalty and orders him to spare Isaac.
In this act of mercy, God reveals that He is not interested in human sacrifice. On the way to make the offering, Isaac had asked Abraham what they would offer God. Abraham replied that God would provide a lamb. Yet when He tells Abraham not to use the knife on Isaac, all of the sudden a ram appears with its horns caught in the brush.
Common sense says Abraham would have noticed the ram, but he doesn’t until just after God sees Abraham has passed the test. God provided and Abraham becomes the father of all who will follow the Lord with the same depth of loyalty.
The story of Abraham and Isaac foreshadows the story of God sacrificing His only Son on the Cross. Such heights of love are for God alone to do. Like Abraham, Jesus was tested. The test of the Passion leads to the provision of the Resurrection.
In our own time, the Pew Research Center recently reported that in 102 of 198 countries in the world, Christians are “harassed” by governments and/or social groups. That’s half the world! Why are we being tested? It’s only so that God can provide. We see this in every Mass when we follow through on Christ’s challenge to us to do in His memory so that God can feed us with the bread of heaven.