• 04:33
  • Sunday ,07 November 2010

Life of Virtue & Righteousness (18)

Pope Shenouda III

Pope Shenouda Article


Sunday ,07 November 2010

Life of Virtue & Righteousness (18)

  Tests can be a proof of a person's virtue. Passing these tests determines one's personality and rank in the eternal life. Some people undergo tests only for a short period, like John the Baptist, whose ministry took only one year or a little more, but was very successful. He proved himself humble, self-denying, and brave. Therefore, that short period was enough, and God took him at the age of thirty-two.

   The same applies to the testing period of Ss Maximus and Domadios who departed to Paradise in their youth. St. Misael the hermit likewise began his ascetic life when he was fifteen. Although a short period, it was enough to reveal the type of their personality, spirituality, struggling, and love for God. If anybody enquires why the Lord took those holy souls in such an early age, it is because they have succeeded when tested, and their struggling was enough.
   Similar testing happened to some martyrs and confessors.+
   They underwent tests to prove their steadfastness and endurance for the Lord's sake. Days or months were enough, after which they moved to Paradise. Nevertheless, the whole life, not only a certain period, is considered a period of testing; for some people experience a certain period of weakness, but this cannot be evidence of the weakness of their whole life! The beginning for Augustine, Moses the Black, and Mary the Copt was not good, but when they repented their whole life changed. That is why the apostle says, "Remember those who rule over you … considering the outcome of their conduct." (Heb 13: 7)
   God takes the whole life as a measure, especially its end, to give us a chance to correct our way, or to grow. He never takes a person all of a sudden in a passing state of weakness.+
   Every body undergoes tests. Even our first parents did. God tested them by a command that seemed easy: not to eat of a certain fruit! That was a test for man's obedience, compliance, and steadfastness of the heart against temptations, lusts, and outer wars. What avails is not the kind of the test, but man's tendency.
   Our father Abraham passed a harder test, to leave his family and his father's house and go out "not knowing where he was going." (Heb 11:8). A harder test yet was testing his obedience concerning offering his son as a burnt offering (Gen 22: 1, 2)!
   Women were a test for Joseph the Righteous and David. One of them was single, and the war pressed on him hard from outside, but he conquered. The other was married and had many wives, but he failed and added to adultery other sins ensuing from it! Some may wonder why God permitted it to test David that way although He knew that David would fail! Actually, such fall caused David to be humble and contrite in heart, for he kept weeping all his life for it. He drenched his bed with his tears (Ps 6), became very humble, and gained much benefit from it. It is worth mentioning that God did not tempt David, for as St. James the Apostle says, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed." (Jas 1: 13, 14) God also did not tempt Joseph through Potiphar's wife, but her wickedness was a test to him.
   Some occurrences may be tests caused by the envy and wiles of the devils, as in the case of Job the Righteous. Satan complained against Job, alleging that if God's grace departed Job, he would surely curse God to His face! (Job 1: 11).
   Testing may be due to troubles caused by others. A wife, for instance, may cry to God because of her violent and troublesome husband, but God says such a husband is a test for her endurance. If she succeeds, she will win her husband, or at least receive crowns, for crowns are among the benefits of testing. As one of the saints says, 'Nobody shall be crowned unless he conquers, and nobody may conquer unless he is fought!'+
   As an example a student undergoes a test that reveals his intellectual ability, memory, and effort in acquiring knowledge, and based on it will be the reward, success, distinction, or otherwise. In all aspects of life, a person's qualifications are tested. In heaven, likewise, crowns are set for those who overcome, as the Lord said to the seven churches in the Revelation (Rev 2, 3). Tests serve as an evaluation of man's life, work, and spirituality, to measure one's firmness and strength or softness and weakness. Those who fail deserve the words of the divine inspiration, "You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting" (Da 5: 27). This is clear in the Parable of the two houses; the one, built on the rock, stood firm in the face of the wind and rains, whereas the other, built on sand, fell and its fall was great! The wind and the rains were a test of the real firmness of the house. God knows our reality without testing, why then He tests us? What is the purpose? Tests serve to reveal one's nature and weakness in case of failing. This will lead to humbleness, or in case of punishment God's justice will not questioned. A person will rather say with the thief on the right hand of the Lord, "We indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds" (Lk 23: 41). Tests also will make a person on his guard afterwards, and will be a lesson to the others. God was aware of Job's ability to endure the test, so He permitted it to make of Job a lesson to all generations, and to count them blessed who endure (Jas 5: 11). The Lord likewise knew well the ability of the Canaanite woman to bear the hard words, and knowing that she would succeed in the test, He permitted it. Upon hearing her humble words, which became a lesson to us, He said to her, "Great is your faith!" (Mt 15: 26)
   Ways of testing:+
1. God may use a weak point in a person for testing, as in the case of the rich young man. He kept all the commandments from his youth, and he longed and sought eternal life, but he had one weak point, love of money. That was his test, for the Lord said to him, "Go, sell what you have and give to the poor". He went out sorrowful and failed in the test. Examine yourself then for your weak points that may make you fall (Mt 19: 21).
2. Taking something from a person may be a test, such as the tithes and the first fruits required from us. One may find a way to escape paying them, give excuses, or at least postpone. The test may be keeping the Lord's Day, whether we give it to the Lord or not.
3. Diseases may be the test, as in the case of Job (Job 2), or in the case of Paul the Apostle who said, "Lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure." (2 Cor 12: 7) God wants to see if man can endure or not, can accept or grumble.
4. A person may be tested by not responding to his prayer, as when Paul the Apostle prayed that God might deliver him from the thorn in his body. He pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from him, but the Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Cor 12: 8, 9) St. Paul did not grumble.
5. A person may be tested by what he thinks delay of the Lord to respond. God may take this as a test for such a person, how such a person will act, and if he will he seek human means as Sarai did when her conception delayed and she gave Hagar her maidservant to her husband (Gen 16: 2). Rebekah did the same and sought a human device to deceive Isaac that he might give the blessing to Jacob (Gen 27). Alleged delayed response may not be a trouble to someone else, for he continues and persists in prayer, like Elijah the Prophet. God did not respond to his prayer for rain to fall, yet he continued in prayer without despair, till his request was responded in the seventh time (1 Kgs 18: 44)! 
6. Persecution or mistreatment may be a test. This applies to the church in the epoch of martyrdom, which extended from the rule of Nero to the rule of Diocletian, for over 250 years. The church suffered the hardest types of torment, and was firm throughout that period and succeeded. The reward was the Edict of Milan of 313 A.D. On the community, family or work level, the test may be mistreatment by some to the others, a matter which reveals a person's nature.
7. A person may be tested by express words or blaming. Some people cannot bear blaming and rage, while others cannot bear frankness and consider it accusation or insult. Their real nature which is concealed behind words of praise and flattery, will then be revealed. That is why one of Job's friends said to him, “If one attempts a word with you, will you become weary?" (Job 4: 2)
8. Temptations are another way of testing. A person may be tempted by flesh, money, posts, titles, or any other lusts. The martyrs were fought not only by torments, but also by temptations, and they conquered.
9. Success or greatness is a test for a person, will a person continue as he is if he achieves success, or will he look down on the others? Will he lose his humbleness, or remain stable? A writer once said about such a person who succeeds in this test: he becomes great, without arrogance, and keeps his steadiness though jumping up. Hagar for instance failed in this test, for no sooner had she conceived than her mistress became despised in her eyes (Gen 16: 4)!  
10.  Gifts like intelligence, beauty or art, also are a test. They reveal the way a person makes use of them, whether in good or evil. Do they make a person self-conceited, as happened to the disciples in their first mission, when they rejoiced that the spirits were subject to them in the Lord's name, and the Lord rebuked them for that (Lk 10: 17, 20). The gift of tongues was a test for many, to reveal if they use it for edification of the church (1 Cor 14: 5), to disseminate the word to the nations of other tongues, or for showing up, boasting, and vainglory.
11.  Modernism is a test to which people are exposed. In the wave of modernization and renewal they despise whatever is old, whether custom, traditions, or even great heritage. They want to renew everything and remove the ancient landmark (Prov 22: 28). They may even extend this to theological and dogmatic matters!
12.  Love also is a means of testing. St. John the Apostle says, "Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth." (1 Jn 3: 18) Peter on the other hand said to the Lord Christ, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.” (Mt 26: 33) “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” (Mt 26: 35) But When his love was tested he began to curse and swear, saying, “I do not know the Man!” (Mt 26: 74) The same happens when obedience is tested through something not pleasant to a person. When a person obeys a command that is acceptable to him, this will be fulfillment of his own wish, not of the command. But, when a person obeys a command that is against his desires, it will be true obedience, especially if one changes one's desire to comply with this command and is convinced that it is more useful. In such a case, a person will have gone beyond the level of obedience, to submission.