Genesis 22 contains one of the most famous Old Testament stories. Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac, and his complete willingness to go through with it had it not been for the Lord’s intervention, is often cited as an example of total submission to God’s will. Moreover, the story serves as an allegory for God’s sacrifice of His Only Begotten Son.
It’s a great passage. A lot of great things have been written about it. But there’s one interesting question I want to hone in on.
At the very start of the chapter, we read that “it came to pass that after these things, that God did tempt Abraham.” Of course, to “tempt” in this case means to test, or prove.
This begs the question, “Why did God want to prove Abraham if he already knew what he would do? Doesn’t He know our hearts perfectly? If God commanded Abraham in order to find out whether he would obey or not, then he isn’t really omniscient, is He? What’s the deal?”
Of course, the same can be said about any and all trials we face. If God knows our hearts, and knows the outcome of all situations, why does he make us go through trials at all?
Well, here’s why:
God’s Justice Requires It
God is God because he is perfect, and that perfection means he completely follows the divine laws of Justice. Justice demands that men be recompensed not only for the desires of their hearts, but for their actions. Remember,
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
It wouldn’t be just for God to punish men based only on their thoughts if they never actually did anything wrong. Likewise, it wouldn’t be just for God to reward men merely for righteous intentions. That’s why He gives us the opportunity to take action, be it for good or evil. It makes His judgments, his punishments, and his blessings righteous.
God may have known beforehand that Abraham would be obedient to the fullest. But He let his servant go through with it–or at least as close to going through with it as possible–so that Abraham could rightfully claim the plenitude of the promised blessings.
Trials Are Meant to Help us Grow
The second reason God has us go through trials is that they aren’t only for Him–they’re for us. The Lord’s work is to guide us to a higher level of perfection.
Going through tough situations and being put to the test helps us become stronger, more righteous people. It’s like exercise for our spirit.
Abraham was commanded to be perfect (see Genesis 17: 1). After demonstrating that he was truly willing to go the distance, Abraham descended from the mountain a spiritually more powerful man. His relationship with the Lord was stronger.
Before going up the mountain, Abraham had faith in the Lord.
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:
19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
Abraham had faith that God would raise up his dead son, or do some other miraculous thing to ensure the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant (which depended upon Isaac) would come to fruition. After the ordeal, Abraham no longer had faith–he had a surety. He had a testimony. He had become steadfast and unwavering.
God may know all things, but he lets us go through trials to be just in assigning judgment and blessings. Trials also helps us grow and progress on our path to salvation.
As we align ourselves with God’s will, we come to learn that the existence of trials in our life are a manifestation of His great love for us.