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Why I'm Glad Spiritual Tests Differ from College Entrance Exams

The following is adapted from the newly released book Answers Will Come: Trusting the Lord in the Meantime by Shalissa Lindsay.

I am convinced that God’s tests differ significantly from college entrance exams. They are not crafted to separate out the brightest students for entrance into heaven.

I believe His tests are of the developmental sort, specifically designed to cultivate growth in every child willing to undergo them. Human beings willingly submit to developmental testing in many contexts:

(1) Musical performances before an adjudicator
Often sponsored by a music teacher’s association, this evaluation partly tests the student’s preparation, but is mostly designed to increase students’ confidence in their own ability to perform.
(2) Product stress testing
Engineers submit inventions for iterative stress testing. When weakness is found, the product is then adjusted and reinforced for increased strength or resilience in the future.
(3) “Qualifying exams” for a PhD (in some social sciences)
For this long research paper (of fifty to a hundred pages), students collect and summarize all the research related to the question they plan to study for their dissertation. The students acquire the subject matter expertise as they work through the exam. When the faculty committee considers the collected research sufficiently extensive, the student “passes” the exam. The paper then becomes part of the first chapters of the student’s dissertation.

In each example above, the test itself provides growth and specific preparation for the next stage of work. So perhaps my tests are as much about preparing for an eternal future as they are about evaluating my preparation from the past.

Spiritual fluency comes from frequent, repeated tests.

At this particular stage in my life, I’ve begun to think that God is testing me the same way elementary schools teach multiplication tables. After learning the basic answers, kids begin timed quizzes to help them increase in fluency. How many times tables can they get right in five minutes? And the next week? And the next week? Getting faster yet?

The teacher is less concerned with today’s absolute scores than with the measurable progress of each student. These tests aren’t designed for the teacher’s benefit or evaluation. They are designed for the growth of the student.

I seem to be working on spiritual fluency by drilling through lots of repetitious testing on the same basic questions:

Will I control the flesh? When hungry? tired? pregnant? sick? imbalanced? in a rush? flooded by adrenaline?
Will I choose to love? siblings? neighbors? children? spouse? Regardless of difficulty? inconvenience? offenses? language barriers? age? social group? race? economic status?
Will I love God first? More than myself? friends? family? money? leisure? convenience? honors? pet projects?
Will I believe and trust Him? Even if it’s painful? unfair? boring? slow? confusing? unpopular?

For each category, I’ve given some correct responses, but I’m not fluent yet. As I keep testing, I hope to get better.

As I exercise control over my body, I become more disciplined. As I push past barriers to love, I become more loving. As I sacrifice for God, I grow closer to Him. As I practice trusting Him, I grow powerful in my ability to summon faith.

The conditions that test my willingness to love can also stretch and expand my ability to love. The conditions that test my faith can also grow my faith. This may be a large part of why I was willing to submit to testing. I really wanted to come out better—more like my Heavenly Parents.

We left heaven, in part, to master a power stronger than electricity.

But why would even strong faith be worth so much earthly distress? Why did we shout for joy at the chance to live blindfolded?1 This fallen world is perfectly designed to bewilder us with pain, failed logic, confusion, conflict, injustice, and doubt. If intellectual certainty about spiritual things were the goal, we definitely would have stayed in heaven.

Joseph Smith’s Lectures on Faith describe faith as the power “by which the worlds were framed . . . by which Jehovah works, and through which he exercises power over all temporal as well as eternal things.”2

Elder Boyd K. Packer said:

The kind of faith that is worthy and prepared and unyielding… calls forth things that otherwise would not be. It is the kind of faith that moves people. It is the kind of faith that sometimes moves things… It is a marvelous, even a transcendent, power, a power as real and as invisible as electricity. Directed and channeled, it has great effect.3

And Elder Neil L. Andersen added:

Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is not something ethereal, floating loosely in the air. . . . It is, as the scriptures say, “substance, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith emits a spiritual light, and that light is discernible (See Alma 32:35).4

Faith goes beyond praying through our daily challenges and waiting for heaven. Faith is pure, eternal, godly power. Planet-creating power. Orbit-governing power. Blind-healing, mountain-moving, sea-dividing, raising-the-dead, fire-from-heaven kind of power. Learning to summon the power of faith during trials was so important that we were willing to brave every earthly darkness, including and especially the opportunities to doubt that would surround us at every corner.

We practice best in the dark.

If faith comes too easily or automatically, it will not be strong enough. By definition, faith requires not seeing, not understanding, often feeling confused or even trapped. So earth life has to be hard. Really hard. Every time we push past doubt and difficulty, our faith in Christ multiplies. For now, miracles have to be the rare exception. Answers have to come slowly. God constantly withholds miracles He could easily perform, and answers He could easily give. As God delays answers and miracles, He offers us the time to weave increasingly powerful faith into the permanent patterns and habits of our souls.

When our faith in Christ amasses to the critical level, our mortal restrictions can someday be removed. Like Nephi and the brother of Jared, we can one day have sufficient faith to handle the responsibilities associated with meeting the Savior and experiencing the visions that explain everything.

“Faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.”5

Notes:

1 -Job 38:7.
2 - Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, Lecture First, vs. 15, 16.
3 - Boyd K. Packer, “What Is Faith?” in Faith [1983], 42–43, as quoted in Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion 121–122, 224; emphasis added.
4 - Neil L. Andersen, “Faith is Not by Chance, but by Choice,” Ensign, Nov. 2015, 65, emphasis added.
5 - Ether 12:6.

Lead image from Shutterstock

Answers Will Come: Trusting the Lord in the Meantime

When questions seem to go unanswered, it can become a burden on belief rather than a catalyst for personal progression. In Answers Will Come, readers are invited to experience one woman’s powerful journey from the depths of doubt to the rediscovery of the light of faith. Through personal narrative, sacred scripture, and the inspired words of Church leaders, readers are reminded that every believer’s path to God is paved with questions. It’s up to you where those questions take you.

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