A Time of Testing
Dr. Mark Braun, Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, WI
Some [seed] fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. . . . Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. (Luke 8:6,13)
Jesus words are a portion of the well-known parable of the sower, specifically the description of what happened to the seed that fell on the second of the four kinds of soil. Unlike the seed that fell on the path — which seems never to have had a chance of germinating and beginning to grow — this seed quickly sprouted but soon withered. In explaining the meaning of this part of the parable, Jesus said this kind of listener did believe for awhile but in the time of testing soon fell away. This verse is helpful if we meet a person convinced of the notion that Christians are once saved, always saved. If you are a true believer, this thinking goes, you can never fall away. Jesus words show us, however, that it is indeed possible to really be a believer but then to lose that faith. But the NIV translation of Jesus words obscures a bit what He said. Luke wrote, literally, They believe for a time but in time of testing they fall away. The same word is used twice for time, and the word, kairos, refers not simply to the passage of time in general but to a significant, momentous time. There is a time for believing, and in that time our faith may seem to go along comfortably and without attack. But a different sort of time may come to any of us, without warning. Then, what we believe is challenged. I have never been a soldier, but I have heard from those who have been in military service that their time is not all spent in battle. Far from it. There may be numerous routine tasks for a soldier to do, which are neither difficult nor dangerous. Even for a soldier, day-to-day life may become easy, even boring, and danger can seem far away. But the battle may come suddenly, unexpectedly. No matter how much preparation a soldier may receive, and no matter how courageous a soldier may seem to be in times of peace, one can never be sure how he or she will react in battle. As we get older, we realize that it is more and more likely that a time of testing will come to us, and it too may come suddenly and without warning. During the last year, one high school classmate of mine died of a heart attack on the basketball court, while another was unexpectedly diagnosed with a long-undetected illness and forced to take early retirement. Many of us who work on the front lines as pastors and counselors and at pregnancy counseling centers are likely to see people when their time of testing has just hit them head-on. It may be an unmarried college student who discovers she is pregnant. It may be a son or daughter who must make traumatic end-of-life decisions for an aged loved one. Biblical truths learned and believed in less troubled times may seem impossible to count on now. Things we said we could never do may now appear to be the only way out of an awful predicament. Pastors and counselors (and friends) will always benefit from having more information about beginning- and end-of-life issues. But when troubled souls are in front of us, our educated heads will matter less than our sympathetic hearts. It will help that we have experienced similar times of testing, and of God’s mercy. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, wrote the Apostle Paul, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5) It will help to remember that Jesus also went through a time of testing, more severe than we must ever face. Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence and receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15,16). It will also help to listen carefully and frequently to the Word of God during the times when we are not being tested. The seed withered because it had no root. Appreciate and take advantage of all the times you have now to strengthen your roots, to make you ready for your time of testing.
Dr. Mark Braun is a retired Professor of Theology from Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, WI.
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