Why Test?

Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “test all things.” That wording sounds broad, but given that the line immediately prior is a reference to prophecy (5:20), it seems that testing what we think we are hearing from God is the context Paul had in mind. In our listening for whether God might speak, why should we take care to test what we believe we are hearing?

What are the risks of being too credulous about believing that God has spoken?

Here are three possibilities:

1. Evil

Evil still lives. At the very least, it lives in me. People have become shy about the word “evil,” out of a sense that the term is simplistic, but in fact we have allowed a simplistic picture to define the term. A sneering villain provides only a cartoonish portrayal of evil. The more accurate way to understand evil is our fearful obedience to death (think of greed arising from fear of scarcity; think of slander arising from fear of someone else’s success) in place of freely and bravely loving life.

About the Bible’s evil one, the being named Satan, the text offers less detail than you might expect. However, one clear statement the Bible makes about this being is that he is a liar—John 8:44. His tool is the lie. As far as we know, this might be the only tool he has for affecting us. The implication is that I am prone to hearing lies. In the fragile part of my inner life in which I harbor my hopes, some of what comes to my mind, including some thoughts that initially seem comfortable or expedient, are not informed by truth. Instead, some of the thoughts competing for my attention are the whispers of a voice that wants me to reject life and lose my way.

2. Idolatry

Idolatry is the practice of revering a created thing as if that thing is somehow a special avenue to the divine. Moses’ people had their golden calf. They believed the false claim of Moses’ brother Aaron that bowing down to this object provided access to God (Exodus 32:4). When we lift up merely human notions and pronouncements as divinely inspired messages, we are doing the same thing.

Paul’s longest teaching about mystical experiences of God covers chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians. He begins his argument across these chapters with a warning about idolatry. In 1 Corinthians 12:2, he reminds readers that they were idolaters in the past. In their newfound search for God’s presence and voice, they could be waylaid by this same old tendency.

3. Futility

God created you and me each for a purpose, for some way of living this life, for some expression or experience of love or fruitfulness that is going to have value even beyond this world. Every moment in which we pursue something or are fascinated by something unrelated to this purpose is a moment that ultimately will amount to nothing.

That’s OK. The purposes of our lives are unveiled subtly and slowly, and God gives us far more time than we need. He even redeems some of the time that has been blighted—Joel 2:25. However, enough neglect of the seed of joy within us, enough listening to the wrong voice (often the voice of fear), ultimately leads to a season of life or even an entire lifetime being spent on nothing that lasts.

So how do we test? How do we put weight on what we think is God’s will, to see if it will hold?

Other blog posts offer some ways. Look for affirmation in what God is doing. Lean on scripture. Look for what you are hearing to show attributes that are God’s. There is another way that I hope to explore in posts to come. That way is movement—walking. Take a step in the direction he seems to be leading. Test with your own weight.

Why should we take care to test? Look to 2 Corinthians 11:14 for how the devil presents himself (hint: he dresses like an angel of light). Look to Jeremiah 17:9 for what your emotions do to you (hint: they deceive). We test because our own inner feelings are an unreliable guide. We cannot fully trust what we “feel” to be good. An evil choice might initially feel right. An idol can come from someone we feel we ought to trust. And futility is often the result of the way that feels the safest.