In the Superman prequel series Smallville, Lex Luthor caught Lana Lang at a time when she was emotionally vulnerable and manipulated her into a relationship and then into marriage. Before he married her, however, he wanted to know if he could trust her. So he arranged for her to overhear a compromising conversation to see how she would react. Lana responded by working to protect Lex from what she perceived as a threat to him. Lex tested her but in a way that showed no respect for her.
Reading through Matthew’s account of the crucifixion, I recently noticed what might have been another test. Jesus was hanging on the cross and had cried out to God saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachtani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” And one of them at once, ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him” (Matthew 27:46-49, ESV). When Jesus was in emotional agony on the cross, feeling the separation that the sin of the world created between him and the Father, he cried out. One man wanted to take pity on him, giving him something to drink that might deaden the pain but the others wanted to wait to see if Elijah would come.
Some were likely mocking him as one might mock a guilty criminal still hanging onto the pretense of innocence. But others must have been watching this man, knowing that he claimed to be the Messiah and that Elijah was supposed to come before the Messiah made himself known. According to Jesus, John the Baptizer had fulfilled the function of Elijah, but no one had recognized him. So I wonder, how many of these people, uncertain whether or not they were crucifying the Messiah, wanted one last test to see if Elijah would respond before completely labeling him a false messiah.
Whether anyone was actually using these events as tests or not, we often engage in very similar behavior. We let something “slip” at just the right moment to see how a friend responds. We create a situation designed entirely to determine whether or not we can trust someone without thinking about the betrayal of manipulating them. Sometimes, we test God, putting God in a position of doing what we want or threatening to stop believing (or at least to stop trusting), whether that thing is really what we need or not. We test people and God in ways that are selfish and demonstrate a lack of respect and a lack of love.
Watching how people respond to natural situations is good and healthy. But manipulating people and forcing them into sometimes painful situations just for our own peace of mind is cruel, no matter how we justify it. Deciding whether we will trust God or anyone else based on artificial criteria or self-created tests is childish and immature.
Are you testing someone at the moment? Are you thinking about doing it? Creating a test for someone may not give you an accurate reading of their character, but it does create a very definite image of your own. Before you do anything, make certain you are treating the person in question with love and respect. If your test pushes the boundary of that standard, think twice before seeing it through.